During The Agitations Of
The Veto, Emancipation, And Repeal.
A MUNSTER FARMER.
The controversies which raged round O’Connell in his life-time pursue him to the tomb. It seems to be agreed, on all hands, that he was un grand homme manqué, but it is fiercely disputed which was his precise deficiency. A possible solution is, that there were several, and that it is an error to attribute the unquestionable barrenness of his career exclusively to one. Few who have acted with him have not also acted against him: as an ally, they appreciated his merits; as an opponent, they sought for his defects. The Munster Farmer has known him in both capacities during the greater part of his long career; and though he presumes not to pronounce judgment himself, he believes that his Reminiscences will furnish valuable materials to guide the judgment of others. Previous to 1824 O’Connell was unknown in England; and that mighty engine, the Catholic Association, which he so ably developed, and so efficiently worked, caused the vacillations of his early career to be forgotten in Ireland. But as the character of a powerful mind and impulsive nature is moulded, and the course of such a life predestined, by surrounding circumstances— more especially in the first stages of progress—the Munster Farmer has taken account of the sowing of the seed, the germination of the grain, the development of the plant, and the ripening of the harvest for the sickle. He was too deeply interested in the crop, to neglect watching every process of its growth. These Remimiscences might easily have been extended; but it was not the writer’s purpose to make a book. O’Connell is said to have left behind him an autobiography, and until this is before the world, his life cannot be fairly written. Enough, however, is known, to enable us to comprehend the nature of his mission, and his adequacy to its fulfilment. These are the points to which attention is chiefly directed in the following pages. Protestations of impartiality from Irishmen are not unjustly received with suspicion, and Munster Farmers are not more free from political bias than the rest of their countrymen; the writer therefore limits himself to claiming perfect accuracy in his statement of facts—many of them little known: the soundness of his opinions is a very different question, which he leaves to be solved by his readers.
Suirdale in the Glens,
June 8th, 1847.
It has been said that the Martello Towers, like the more ancient Round Towers, were erected in Ireland for the express purpose of puzzling posterity; but Ireland has left many more difficult problems to be solved by future generations, and some of the most perplexing will probably be those connected with the political career of the remarkable man who has just departed from amongst us. Daniel O’Connell, who used to boast that he was the best abused, and who might have lamented that he was the most indiscreetly praised, man in Europe, has already become the hero of more than one historical controversy: it is disputed, before the tomb has closed over his remains, whether his life was a blessing or a blunder—whether Ireland has most reason to lament his birth or his death. It is our purpose to state the facts by which this controversy ought fairly to be decided; and the strange combinations of circumstances which have raised such a controversy, not on remote and distant events, but on matters with which so many of us have been contemporary.
The family from which he sprung, the time and place of his birth, the peculiarities of his early education, and the public events which occurred in his childhood, had each and all a powerful influence in moulding his mind, and directing his future career; around his cradle were formed the passions which follow his hearse. Few personal anecdotes of his infancy and his childhood have been preserved, but all his speeches, to the very last, showed that it was a period of deep impressions and treasured recollections.
Like all the native Irish in Kerry, the O’Connells claim descent from the Catholic royalists who shed their blood in the cause of the ungrateful Stuarts, whom Charles II. allowed to be stripped of most of their property by the Act of Settlement, for loyalty to his father; and from whom William III. took the remainder, for fidelity to his father-in-law. Time has now set the broad seal of prescription on the Cromwellian and Williamite settlements of Ireland; but in the last century, the descendants, or reputed descendants, of those whose estates had been forfeited, were accustomed to point out the broad lands of their ancestors to their children, and to impress upon their minds the cruelty and injustice of those by whom they had been confiscated. Like Roderick Dhu, the pauperized descendant of a line of kings could point to
Deep-waving fields and pastures green,
With gentle groves and slopes between;
and, with more truth than the Highland chieftain, he might add,
These fertile plains, that soften’d vale,
Were once the birthright of the Gael;
The stranger came with iron hand,
And from our fathers reft the land.
Daniel O’Connell, the grandfather of the subject of the present memoir, resided at Darrymane, in the county of Kerry, where he possessed a small estate which had escaped confiscation, and held some valuable leases, which having been granted previous to the passing of the penal laws, were not subject to the enactments of that iniquitous measure. He left behind him three sons—Maurice, who inherited his lands; Morgan, who opened a kind of miscellaneous store in Cahirciveen; and Daniel, who entered into the French service. Maurice, the head of the family, was childless; but Morgan had a family of ten children, the eldest being the subject of this memoir, who was born at Carhen, near the post-town at Caherciveen, in the county of Kerry, August 6th, 1775. The penal laws were then in full force; priest hunting was as favourite a sport with the ultra-Protestant gentry, as fox-hunting and hare-hunting at a later period; the ritual and services of the Catholic church, proscribed by law, were celebrated in the rocky ravines and remote recesses of the mountains; any Protestant could compel his Catholic neighbour to give him up his best horse for five pounds, and this law was absolutely enforced by a Protestant squire, whose horse was worsted in a race by the steed of a Catholic gentleman. He consoled himself for his defeat, by the compulsory purchase of the winning horse. The peasants of Ireland, goaded to agrarian insurrections by intolerable oppression, were coerced by laws, which Arthur Young declared to be “fit only for the regions of Barbary;” and the great bulk of the Protestant clergy neglected almost every clerical duty save the levying of tithes, but in this they exhibited a zealous energy, almost amounting to severity, as if to compensate for their deficiency in everything else. But hope had already dawned for Ireland, as one of her popular prophecies predicted, in the far-distant West; the war of independence had begun in America, and, as the successes of the colonists increased, so the galling restrictions on the Irish Catholics were relaxed, partly from the necessity of conciliating them during a dangerous struggle, but chiefly from the growing liberality and intelligence of the age.
Having said so much of the time, we have next to notice some peculiarities of the place, of his birth. The rocky coast of Kerry, indented by numerous small harbours, afforded means of embarkation for the young and adventurous Irish Catholics, who, finding themselves excluded from the British army on account of their religion, sought to gratify their love of excitement by entering the Irish brigades in the service of France. “The flights of wild geese,” as the evasions of these emigrants were whimsically called, are said to have been periodical from Valentia harbour; and in consequence of this form of intercourse, what the law called smuggling, and what those engaged in it called free trade, was very active between the French ports and this part of Ireland. Morgan O’Connell’s store, or shop, at Cahirciveen, received many a cargo of French laces, wines, and silks, which were sold at an immense profit in the south and west of Ireland, and enabled him rapidly to accumulate a large fortune. English cruisers avoided the iron-bound coast of Kerry, which then had a reputation even worse than its reality. It was said that the men of the Kerry coast combined wrecking with smuggling, and that for both purposes they had organized a very complete system of posts and telegraphic signals along the bluff headlands. When a suspicious sail was announced, nice calculations were made, to ascertain her probable position after nightfall; a horse was then turned out to graze on the fields near that part of the shore opposite to which she most probably was, and a lantern was tied to the horse’s head. Viewed from a distance, this light, rising and falling as the animal fed, produced precisely the same effect as light in the cabin of a distant ship. The crew of the stranger-vessel, thus led to believe that there was open water before them, steered boldly onward, and could not discover their error until they had dashed against the rocks. There is no reason to believe that the O’Connells ever engaged in such treacherous transactions; but there is indisputable evidence that they were largely practised in this part of the country, and that they afforded great protection to smuggling, by deterring the English cruisers from the coast.
Daniel O’Connell’s infancy was thus passed amid scenes likely to impress his mind with stern hostility to the Protestant ascendancy, and the English government by which it was supported. In the name of that ascendancy, he was taught that his ancestors had been plundered; in the name of that ascendancy, he saw his religion insulted and his family oppressed, for the penal laws opposed serious impediments to his father’s investment of the profits of his trade in the acquisition of land. All around him were engaged in a fiscal war with the English government, and, in the code of Kerry ethics, a seizure by the officers of the Custom House was regarded as a robbery, and the defrauding of the revenue a simple act of justice to one’s self and family.
His education singularly confirmed and strengthened these feelings. At the age of thirteen he was sent with his brother Maurice to a school kept by the Rev. Mr. Harrington, a Catholic clergyman in the neighbourhood of Cork. This was the first school publicly opened and held by a Catholic priest since the penal laws; its proprietor, a gentleman of piety and learning, had suffered for his religious zeal in the past age of persecution, and he often quoted his reminiscences to illustrate the doctrines of Christian perseverance and resignation. About the year 1790, Mr. O’Connell was sent to study at the Catholic seminary of Liege, but being too old for admission, he went to Louvain, from whence he subsequently removed to St. Omer and Douay. His scholastic career has been described to us as pre-eminently successful by some of his contemporaries; his diligence in study could only be equaled by his punctual attention to the ritual of his religion, and his teachers held him up as an example to his fellow-pupils both as a scholar and as a saint. Religion in O’Connell was not so much a principle, as a part of his existence; but it was the religion of an age when the Papacy and the Reformation were engaged in mortal conflict, not of a century when all except bigots saw the necessity of a treaty on the basis of uti possidetis, when each should rest satisfied with what it had gained, or what it still held, in Europe.
Animated by such feelings, it was impossible that the young O’Connell could view the outburst of the French Revolution with any other feelings than those of unqualified abhorrence. His uncle Daniel, whom he sincerely loved and respected, was strongly attached to the Bourbons, and was the personal friend of the king; consequently, every insult offered to royalty was a source of grief to a young man, the best sympathies of whose heart were engaged in the royal cause. The vulgar infidelity of the French soldiers disgusted a refined intellect, and revolted a religious mind. There are fanatics of unbelief as well as of belief; such then abounded in the French army, and, on their march to the frontier through Douay, the British students there had to endure many insults and injuries from their irreligious bigotry. The difficulty of communicating with a remote part of Ireland delayed the O’Connells at Douay during part of the reign of terror; it was not until the 21st of December, 1793, the day of the execution of the unfortunate king, that they left Douay, and they reached Calais only just in time to embark on board the packet which brought the melancholy intelligence to England.
Among the passengers were Henry and John Sheares, two ardent young men, whose republican zeal was so violent, that they had actually bribed two national guards to lend them their uniform, that they might witness, and in some degree share in, the execution of the unhappy Louis. John is even said to have displayed as a trophy a handkerchief which he had dipped in the blood of the wretched king. O’Connell felt more than the ordinary disgust which such conduct must have produced in every honourable mind; the hatred he felt to the French republicans was directed against those who entertained similar opinions in his own country; and so strong was his anti-revolutionary feeling, that, while a law-student in London, in 1794, he attended the trials of Hardy, Thelwall, and Horne Tooke, with the hope of seeing those supposed offenders against social order brought to condign punishment.
In 1798 Mr. O’Connell was called to the Irish bar, and began to take a part in political life. What is called the independence of the Irish parliament had at this time lasted about sixteen years, and the result of the experiment was an amount of misery, oppression, and misgovernment, which drove the great bulk of the people to desperation. The era of 1782, which O’Connell, and many of his followers, have represented as a just source of national pride and thankfulmess, was really the commencement of the most corrupt and calamitous period to be found in the annals of any country. Grattan’s boasted revolution established, not the independence of Ireland, but the independence of the Irish Protestant ascendancy, and compelled the English ministry to support the power, and wink at the excesses, of that ascendancy, rather than peril the integrity of the empire. That ascendancy, aware that its iron rule was odious to the great mass of the population, strove to maintain its power by passing a melancholy series of statutes, not to be rivaled by the ukases of the worst of the Russian despots; they enacted, in rapid succession, a Convention act, a Riot act, an Arms’ act, a Gunpowder act, an Insurrection act, an Indemnity act, a Suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and finally, they placed the greater part of Ireland under martial law. It is utterly absurd to impute these atrocious misdeeds of the Irish parliament to the will of the English minister: it is a strange defence to make for that body, that it united excessive servility to excessive tyranny: but the excuse, such as it is, was untrue; the English ministers were deliberately deceived by the Irish ascendancy, and the tortures openly inflicted in Dublin were unblushingly denied in London.
A rebellion, to establish a republic, was planned by the United Irishmen, and was nipped in the bud. An insurrection to put an end to intolerable wrongs, was raised by the peasantry, and, after its first burst of irrepressible violence, was extinguished in blood. The two events, though nearly contemporary, were perfectly distinct; though it has served the interest of too many parties, to confound them together. It is of the greatest importance to Ireland and the empire, that the different characteristics of each should be carefully pointed out; and we shall endeavour to do so with as much brevity as the subject will allow.
The Irish rebellion of 1798 was essentially Protestant; it was planned by men, some of whom, like Lord Edward Fitzgerald, enjoyed rank and station; their minds had been inflamed by the success of the Americans in achieving independence, and by the bright promise of the early stages of the French revolution. Their great popular strength lay among the Presbyterians of the North of Ireland, lineally descended from the old Covenanters; inheritors of their principles, and, like them, intrepid assertors of freedom for themselves, without any great regard for the rights of others. The projects of the republicans were betrayed to government by a contemptible bankrupt named Thomas Reynolds, for a sum of money in hand, and a promise of future provision in another country. Reynolds had obtained a valuable lease through the influence of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and his vehement protestations of gratitude, instead of exciting the suspicions, won the confidence of that unhappy nobleman.
Government made short work with the republicans: Lord Edward Fitzgerald died of his wounds in prison; the brothers Sheares and some others were hanged; the rest made their peace with government, and after having been for some time detained in prison, contrary to the terms of the agreement, were permitted to emigrate to other lands, where most of them attained higher rank and fortune than they would probably have reached in their own country. The northern republicans, though deprived of their leaders, took the field, and were irretrievably routed at the battles of Ballimahinch and Saintfield.
During all this period, O’Connell was a zealous royalist; he was a distinguished member of the yeomanry corps called the Lawyer’s Artillery, and there was no more enthusiastic supporter of the government in that body. In 1840 we find him denouncing the violent measures of 1798 and 1799–“the deprivation of all legal protection to liberty or life—the familiar use of torture—the trials by courts-martial—the forcible suppression of public meetings—the total stifling of public opinion—and the use of armed violence.” But while these deeds were being actually done, he raised not his voice to protest against them; they certainly had his tacit sanction, and not unlikely, considering the violence of his anti-republican feelings, his warm approbation. The insurrection of 1798 was Catholic, simply because Catholics were engaged in it; the Catholic peasants of Wexford and the midland counties. It was the work of a peasantry deliberately goaded to resistance by local oppression and military outrage. It was the desperate struggle of men destitute of arms, organization, or leaders— who fought with the courage of despair, because they had no hopes of mercy. A civil war had been planned, but a Jacquerie exploded; the only connection between them being that both were the obvious and necessary result of the misrule of the Irish parliament.
A Union was necessary for the salvation of Ireland, when it became evident, to every man in his senses, that the Irish parliament was quite unable to govern the country; an opinion which was further confirmed by its consenting to be bribed to effect its own annihilation. The Union was the vindication of the United Irishmen, and the exculpation of the misguided insurgents; it was therefore naturally opposed by O’Connell, who had been zealous against both. “Let us,” said he, “show to Ireland that we have nothing in view but her good—nothing in our hearts but the desire of mutual forgiveness, mutual toleration, and mutual affection: in fine, det every man who feels with me proclaim, that if the alternative were offered him of Union, or the re-enactment of the Penal Code in all its pristine horrors, that he would prefer, without hesitation, the latter, as the lesser and more sufferable evil—that he would rather confide in the justice of his brethren, the Protestants of Ireland, who have already liberated him, than lay his country at the feet of foreigners.” “This sentiment,” says the report, “was met with much and marked approbation.” A more unworthy sentiment was never uttered by the lips of man. The Orangemen, who then arrogated to themselves exclusively the title of “Protestants of Ireland,” would, had they not been restrained by the English minister, have re-imposed the penal code with still more stringent and sanguinary enactments: they had nicknamed Lord Cornwallis, then lord-lieutenant, Lord Croppy-wallis, because he granted pardon to the unfortunate insurgents, whom the loyalists called “croppies,” because they did not wear pig-tails, which in those days were regarded as cognizances—more than thirty Catholic chapels had been burned, in various parts of the country—and the only complaint heard in the land was, that too much lenity had been shown in the suppression of the rebellion. The bar of Ireland was naturally opposed to the Union, which threatened to transfer a share of their business to the courts of Westminster; the shopkeepers of Dublin disliked a measure which threatened to deprive them of some portion of their trade; a large body of the Orangemen disliked it, because they dreaded that the Imperial Parliament would set limits to the ascendancy which they had so grossly abused; and a more enlightened body, to which O’Connell belonged, felt proud of nationality, and not unreasonably jealous of that spirit of commercial monopoly which has too often been a guiding motive in the policy of England.
It is generally known that Pitt intended to make the Union complete, by effacing all the differences between the two nations, and admitting Catholics within the pale of the constitution. He entered into negotiations with the Catholic prelates and aristocracy, who manifested an honourable readiness to consent to any securities which might be deemed necessary to conciliate prejudice, or to draw closer the bonds of allegiance. But Pitt, who had long treated George III. with rather less respect than is due from a minister to his sovereign, made no mention of his negotiations to the king; probably delaying the communication for the purpose of bringing his plans to maturity. One of his colleagues, Lord Auckland, who thought that Pitt had underrated both his talents and his services, discovered the secret, and immediately invoked the aid of the Archbishop of Canterbury to rouse the religious prejudices of the king against the proposed measure. This was no very difficult task: to opinions he had once formed, George III. adhered with all the obstinacy of latent insanity; Pitt vainly endeavoured to change his determination, and, finding him inflexible, resigned. We may add, that, at the moment, Pitt was not sorry to find so plausible a pretext for evading the necessity of concluding a peace with France, which was loudly demanded by the nation.
The rebellion of Robert Emmett, if so maimed and ridiculous an insurrection deserves such a name, gave Mr. O’Connell a second opportunity of appearing in the character of a flaming loyalist. It is commonly said that the English administration of the day deserved most severe censure, for not having discovered and disconcerted that insane attempt; but the fact of the case is, that the government was misled by being too well informed. Peculiar sources of information enable us to give the real history of an event which hitherto has been most grossly misrepresented.
The peace of Amiens put an end to the pretexts raised for continuing the imprisonment of the United Irishmen in Fort St. George. Several of them went to France, where, soon perceiving that the peace was likely to prove nothing better than a hollow truce, they began to speculate upon the renewal of the struggle in Ireland. Talleyrand opened a communication with them, through Dr. M’Nevin; and Robert Emmett, who had only just attained the age of manhood, was admitted to an interview with Napoleon.
In 1798, Robert Emmett had been a distinguished student in Trinity College, Dublin; and he was one of those expelled by Lord Clare, when he held his memorable visitation. His elder brother, Thomas Addis Emmett, was one of the leaders of the United Irishmen, and had been one of the state prisoners. Robert had adopted the same principles, but with greater zeal and enthusiasm. He formed a plan for raising an insurrection in Ireland, simultaneous with a French invasion of England; but, with all the self-reliance of youth, he trusted more to his own inventive genius than to the promises of allies, or the advice of associates. A plot of a different nature had been previously formed by a remnant of the United Irishmen. It was connected with Colonel Despard’s insane attempt of 1802, the intention being to raise an insurrection at the same time in Ireland and England. The son of an English marquis, possessing a large property in Ireland, of whose sanity some suspicions may be reasonably entertained, is said, on some authority, to have been the link of connection between the insurgents in the two islands. When information of these proceedings reached the refugees in Paris, they sent Robert Emmett home, to ascertain the state of public feeling. This he estimated more from his preconceived opinions and imagination, than from any careful inquiry. Emmett had another reason for acting alone; in the course of his brief interview, he had detected the immoderate ambition of Buonaparte, and he was resolved that Ireland should not be emancipated from England, merely to become a dependency on France. Actuated by these feelings, he broke off all communication with the parties in Paris, and, supported only by two or three as enthusiastic as himself, resolved to act quite independently. The attention of the English ministry was fixed on Paris; they had accurate information of all the transactions and discussions between the Irish refugees and the French government; they therefore knew that no recent intelligence had been received from Ireland, and they were therefore without any apprehension of danger from that quarter. The very imprudence of the leaders of the insurrection tended to disarm suspicion. On the 14th of July, they lighted bonfires to celebrate the French revolution; on the 16th, their carelessness led to an explosion and fire at their depôt in Patrick-street; and the approach of an outbreak was a common topic of conversation in Dublin. In fact, Emmett’s plans were so wholly his own, that the failure of his arrangements, at the critical moment of outbreak, seems to us far more likely to have been the result of defective organization than of wilful treachery.
On the night of the 23rd of July, he set out from the place of rendezvous to storm the Castle of Dublin, with not quite two hundred men, imperfectly armed, and half intoxicated.
They had but a short distance to march; and, had they advanced at once, would, probably, in the first moment of surprise, have mastered the seat of government. But they had not gone through half a street, when the front ranks were separated from the rear, and the stragglers from the rear forgot everything but assassination and plunder. While Emmett was endeavouring to form his followers into something like order, he received intelligence of the murder of Lord Kilwarden. He hastened to the scene of outrage; and, when he beheld the result, at once abandoned the enterprise. The insurrection was begun and ended in less than two hours. We have conversed with many citizens of Dublin contemporary with the event, who were quite unconscious that any attempt had been made on the government, until they read the account in the newspapers on the following morning. No one can fail to see that this lame and impotent conclusion was inevitable from the beginning, if he has examined Emmett’s own plan of attack, recently published by Dr. Madden, in his history of the United Irishmen. It is a sad illustration of the perils which civilians encounter, when playing at soldiers; his only chance was that which he ultimately embraced—to push forward direct to the Castle, and trust the rest to fortune. But he formed a plan which required disciplined soldiers and experienced leaders; he committed the grievous fault of taking everything for granted, and when the moment of action arrived, as he himself informs us, nothing was ready.
Alarm was raised when danger was over: O’Connell appeared in arms, to support the government, as a member of the lawyers’ corps of yeomanry, and, according to his son’s account, exerted himself to save the people from the military outrages with which they were menaced by the terrified partisans of the ascendancy. Others, however, assert that he was most exuberant in his loyalty on the occasion, and that he lent efficient aid in delivering over the insurgents to the vengeance of the law.
A romantic interest is thrown over Emmett’s case by his passionate attachment to Miss Curran, which was fully returned. It is, indeed, believed that he could have made his escape, had he not lingered about Dublin in the hope of obtaining a parting interview. Though much inquiry was made on the subject, all research completely failed to discover by whom the young man was betrayed to Major Sirr; but his capture must be attributed rather to his own neglect of ordinary precautions than to any deliberate treachery. We have recently been put in possession of a correct copy of the remarkable speech which Emmett delivered before sentence of death was pronounced. We shall quote the concluding paragraph:—
“My lord, you are impatient for the sacrifice. The blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your victim; it circulates warmly and unruffled through its channels, and in a little time it will cry to heaven. Be yet patient 1 I have but a few words more to say—I am going to my cold and silent grave—my lamp of life is nearly extinguished—I have parted with everything that was dear to me in this life, and for my country’s cause, with the idol of my soul, the object of my affections. My race is run—the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom. I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world—it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace, my memory be left in oblivion, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times and other men can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.”
This speech effected what few efforts of eloquence could have accomplished—it shook the firm nerves of Toler, Lord Norbury. For the first and last time in his life, he exhibited symptoms of emotion in pronouncing sentence of death upon a prisoner. Emmett, however, met his doom unmoved, and seemed to take a pride in rejecting sympathy and commiseration; his end was that of one who had little regret for the past, and bright hopes for futurity.
Sympathy for this young man’s fate by no means implies approbation of his cause. Indeed, none felt more for him than the members of the government he had endeavoured to overthrow. Even the speech which Mr. (since Lord) Plunkett delivered to the jury, while it denounced his attempt, did justice to the purity of his personal character. Intentions alone are not sufficient to confer the title of patriot; and we think that Emmett had as imperfect a conception of the end at which he aimed, as he had of the adequacy of the means by which it was to be effected. He speaks, in the paper to which we have already referred, of a thousand pounds as a sufficient supply of money, and of a thousand men as an adequate army. He trusted to the chance of success, for the means by which the success was to be achieved. He had resolved to overthrow the British government in Ireland, but he never appears to have considered what form of government he would erect in its place. He talked, indeed, of a provisional government, with defined and limited powers, but did not know of what materials it could be framed. Ardent young men, impatient of real or imaginary grievances, are anxious to destroy existing institutions, without considering that they have no right to pull down until they have settled what to build up. The destructive and constructive faculties are very different in their nature. We respect Washington and Franklin not so much for having resisted England, as for having organized America. We do not refuse pity to Emmett, but can accord him little more. He was inadequate to the task he had undertaken; and only added a lamentable illustration to the many proofs of the aphorism, that patriotism is pernicious to the objects of its choice when it is not accompanied and tempered by prudence.
This was the view which O’Connell took of this event: later circumstances brought him into contact with some who had taken a share in the insurrections of 1798 and 1803; he always denounced both attempts, as most injurious to the cause which they were designed to serve; and when remonstrating against the imprudence into which younger associates were often betrayed, he quoted to them the lamentable fate of Robert Emmett, and the miserable result of his insane attempt, both as a warning and an example.
Pitt returned to power; but instead of stipulating for any favour to the Catholics, he fettered himself by a promise not to disturb the prejudices of the royal conscience. He even refused to present the petition which had been entrusted to his charge by the Catholic body. His late Majesty, William IV., when speaking, as Duke of Clarence, on the Catholic question, in 1829, more than insinuated that Pitt could have redeemed his pledges to the Irish nation, had he not been actuated by jealousy of Fox, whom he was unwilling to admit into his cabinet with a substantive share of power. Fox presented the petition, but the motion to take it into consideration was lost by a majority of more than two hundred.
O’Connell had married privately in June 1802: his uncle was displeased with the match, and withdrew from him the aid which had formerly been extended. Feeling sensibly his responsibilities as a husband and father, he devoted himself to the study of law with a zeal and diligence which nothing but a frame of iron could support. At the first dawn of day in summer, and by the light of a glimmering taper in winter, he might be seen daily entering his solitary library, and seating himself at his task before a characteristic piece of furniture, a crucifix and Holy-water vase, after a few moments of silent devotion, he bent himself to the study of the law, sanctified by the presence of the symbol of religion. By these labours he soon became one of the best pleaders at the Irish bar: his professional reputation extended, and his emoluments were proportionately increased.
When breakfast was over, his burly form excited attention, as he moved towards the Four Courts, at a pace which compelled panting attorneys to toil after him in vain. His umbrella, shouldered like a pike, was invariably his companion; the military step which he had acquired in the yeomanry, strangely blended with the trot characteristic of an active sportsman on the mountains of Kerry, gave him the appearance of a Highland chieftain—a similarity increased, when his celebrity as an agitator began to ensure him “a tail” of admiring followers whenever he appeared in public.
In 1806 Mr. O’Connell first began to take an active part in Catholic affairs; he opposed and defeated the great Catholic leader, Mr. John Keogh, on the question of petitioning parliament in that year. On the dismissal of the Whigs, in 1807, for proposing to allow Catholics to hold commissions in the army, O’Connell shared in the indignation, but not in the despair, with which the intelligence was received in Ireland. In advocating the presentation of the Catholic petition, in 1808, he assailed the new ministry very bitterly, and introduced into his speech some of that personal vituperation which was the greatest blot on his oratory, and not unfrequently a serious impediment to the success of his cause. “I am ready,” he said, “to admit that the present administration are personal enemies of the Catholic cause; yet, if the Catholics continue loyal, firm, and undivided, they have little to fear from the barren eloquence of the ex-advocate, Percival, or the frothy declamations of the poetaster Canning; they may meet with equal contempt the upstart pride of the Jenkinsons, and with more than contempt the pompous inanity of that Lord Castlereagh, who may well be permitted to hate the country that gave him birth, to her own annihilation.”
Hitherto Mr. O’Connell might be considered as belonging to that party which, at a subsequent period of his career, he used to stigmatize bitterly, as that of the Orange Catholics; but the dismissal of the Grey and Grenville administration greatly abated the fervour of his royalist feelings; and the tameness with which the Catholic aristocracy of Ireland seemed to endure their exclusion from the pale of the constitution, diminished in an equal proportion his sympathies with that body. From the first time that he tasted the sweets of rapturous applause, bestowed by an enthusiastic multitude on his speech advocating a Repeal of the Union, in 1810, he felt that it was his vocation to become an agitator, and he thenceforward organized the force of democratic movement, to impel forward his favourite measure.
The Catholic Committee became every year more popular in its construction, as the middle classes began to take a deeper interest in the question of emancipation; and as the strength of the democracy increased, the leadership of O’Connell became more decided. Percival’s ministry became alarmed at this new phase of agitation, and recklessly plunged into what must be called an undignified squabble with the Catholic leaders. Wellesley Pole, then secretary for Ireland, addressed a circular letter to the magistrates of the country, commanding them to put in force the Convention act, which prohibited the election of delegates; and Alderman Darley was sent as a magistrate, to disperse the Catholic Committee. This was done in a very temperate manner; but the Catholic leaders, resolved to bring the right of interference to trial, held a second meeting on the 9th of July, 1811, in which several resolutions were adopted, designed to set the government at defiance. O’Connell, who happened on that day to be engaged in a cause of considerable importance, did not arrive until the proceedings had nearly concluded, and he thus escaped being included in the prosecution which was commenced against several of the gentlemen who had attended the meeting. They were arrested under the warrant of Lord-Chief-Justice Downes; and they, in turn, gave notice of action against Downes. Dr. Sheridan was the first of the traversers brought to trial, and he was acquitted. The prosecutors resolved to be more careful on the next occasion: a jury was carefully packed from a list supplied by Sir Charles Saxton; and though the traversers challenged the array, and proved the unfairness of the panel, by the evidence of the crown-solicitor himself, the case was allowed to go to trial before this very jury. Mr. Kerwan, the second of the traversers, was found guilty: but the government was ashamed of success thus obtained; he was allowed to go at large on his own recognizance, and was never called up for judgment.
On the formation of the regency, in consequence of the mental incapacity of George III., the hopes of the Catholics were raised to the highest, as the regent, when Prince of Wales, had pledged himself to their cause. When, on the formation of the Fox administration, in 1806, the Catholics, seeing their friends in power, were about to urge their claims, the Duke of Bedford, then lord-lieutenant, and Mr. George Ponsonby, then lord-chancellor of Ireland, were authorized by the Prince to dissuade the Catholics from bringing forward their question at that moment, and to promise that he would admit their claims whenever he had power. A promise was also given, personally, to Lords Fingal, Petre, and Clifden, when they visited the Prince at Carlton House. The delay of the performance of this pledge was at first attributed to the restrictions imposed on the regent, and then to the influence of Mr. Percival; but when, on the assassination of that minister, a new cabinet was formed, hostile to the Catholic claims, the Irish were filled with sorrow and indignation; especially as the defeat of the attempt to form an administration favourable to their claims was attributed to the venerated Earl of Moira.
Lords Grey and Grenville would have been placed at the head of affairs in 1812, had they not insisted on reforming the royal household. They were aware that the Prince Regent was under the influence of a mistress, and a convenient husband, who had more power over his mind than his ministers; and they refused to enter the cabinet so long as the Hertford family held possession of the closet. Earl Moira, to whom the negotiation had been entrusted, indulged in those feelings of courtly chivalry which moralists stigmatize by the name of criminal connivance; he refused to place any restraint upon the amorous predilections of the Prince, and Ireland was sacrificed to a worthless woman, whose only claim to respect was her title.
O’Connell assuredly must be pardoned for having denounced such proceedings with all the powers of his fervid eloquence; but the Catholics cannot be acquitted of imprudence for having adopted the “witchery” resolutions, which proclaimed the scandal to Europe. These resolutions derive their name from the fourth, which we must quote—“That, from authentic documents now before us, we learn, with deep disappointment and anguish, how cruelly the promised boon of Catholic freedom has been intercepted by the fatal witchery of an unworthy secret influence, hostile to our fairest hopes, spurning alike the sanctions of public and private virtue, the demands of personal gratitude, and the sacred obligations of plighted honour.”
On this pregnant text O’Connell delivered a long and eloquent discourse, in which he lashed, with unsparing severity, the Regent, Lady Hertford, and all the members of the new ministry. This offence was never forgiven; sixteen years afterwards, George IV. made it a condition of his consent to Catholic Emancipation, that O’Connell should not be allowed to take his seat as member for Clare.
On the 22nd of June, Mr. Canning, in the House of Commons, proposed a resolution, pledging the House to take the Catholic claims into consideration early in the next session, with a view to their satisfactory and final adjustment; which was carried by a majority of 119. A similar resolution proposed by the Marquis of Wellesley was lost in the House of Lords, but only by a majority of one. Such a result seemed to promise speedy triumph, but the Prince Regent, who was more inveterately hostile to the Catholics even than his father, joined the ascendancy-portion of the cabinet, and dissolved the parliament.
The struggle was now transferred to the hustings, and the most strenuous efforts were made by the government and its agents to obtain the return of men opposed to concession. The Duke of Richmond, who was at the period lord-lieutenant of Ireland, exerted all the influence of his high office against liberal candidates; and many Catholics voted against the supporters of their cause, particularly at Newry, where the celebrated Curran was defeated. Mr. Lawless, subsequently better known as “Jack Lawless,” proposed that the Catholic Board should pass a vote of censure on the Catholics who had thus acted: O’Connell opposed the proposition on the ground that the Board had no right to exert an inquisitorial power over the exercise of individual rights; but Lawless prevailed, and thus an element of discord was introduced into the Catholic body at the moment when unity was most valuable.
Further signs of disunion became apparent at the beginning of 1813: the Catholics of England, and a large body of the Catholic aristocracy and gentry of Ireland, viewed with dislike such rash proceedings as the adoption of “the witchery resolutions,” and lamented the violent and intemperate language too often used at the Catholic Board. Mr. O’Connell, who was himself one of the chief delinquents, not only defended the use of intemperate language, but made a sharp attack on the eminent Catholic barrister, Mr. Charles Butler, whose private character and public reputation had greatly tended to advance the cause of emancipation in England. O’Connell also complained that Mr. Grattan had exclusively consulted Mr. Charles Butler in framing the bill for Catholic Emancipation, and had not admitted any Irish Catholic into his confidence. Finally, he had the imprudence to go out of his way to affront the Prince Regent at this crisis, by proposing an address to the Princess of Wales on her escape from the charges which had been brought against her.
Mr. Grattan’s motion for leave to bring in the Emancipation bill was affirmed by a majority of forty. No sooner, however, was the bill printed and its contents made known, than O’Connell published a most captious and spiteful criticism on its details, which, though little noticed in Ireland, placed a mischievous weapon in the hands of the opponents of the bill in England. A fiercer discussion was raised on the ecclesiastical clauses or “securities,” as they were termed, by which the king or lord-lieutenant, aided by a Board of Commissioners, would have a qualified veto on the appointment of prelates and other Catholic dignitaries, while a second Board should have a right of inspecting all correspondence with the see of Rome. A similar arrangement had been proposed to Mr. Pitt by the Catholic prelates themselves, in 1799, but now they denounced them in strong terms; and their representative in England, the Rev. Dr. Milner, who had previously expressed his approbation of the securities, not only withdrew his assent, but addressed a circular to the members of parliament, reprobating the bill in unmeasured language and unseemly temper. When the House went into committee on the bill, the speaker (Abbot, afterwards Lord Colchester) moved that Catholics should be excluded from seats in parliament; and this having been carried by a majority of four, the friends of the measure withdrew it, as the leading clause was lost.
This result, mainly attributable to the interference of Dr. Milner and the imprudence of the more violent Irish agitators, gave rise to a fierce controversy in the Catholic body, which delayed the success of emancipation for more than a quarter of a century. As this controversy forms a leading feature in O’Connell’s career, we shall briefly state its nature and its consequences.
It must, in the first place, be remarked that the veto had no proper or natural connection with the question of emancipation; the former related purely to the clerical body, the latter was exclusively confined to the laity; it was, therefore, unfair to require any sacrifice whatever from the Catholic hierarchy, to purchase political privileges for the Catholic aristocracy. Mr. Pitt had made no such blunder; he proposed the veto in connection with a plan for paying the Catholic clergy out of the funds of the State, where such a security for the loyal and peaceful character of those who were pensioned by the government seems both natural and reasonable. But the veto was obviously a limitation of the spiritual jurisdiction of the pope, and could not, on Catholic principles, be carried into effect without his concurrence. This would probably not have been refused: England might have obtained a Concordat, like France or Prussia, only that laws exist prohibiting all diplomatic relations with the Court of Rome. It is, however, obvious that the veto, after all, would be worthless as a security: during the first half of the last century, the exiled Stuarts had the nomination of all the Catholic prelates in Ireland, and yet this power did not in the slightest degree advance the interests of the pretender. As the veto would have been useless to the government, so it would have been harmless to the Catholics; the invidious privilege of rejection would have been so rarely exercised as to fall into practical desuetude: in fact, England would have a far greater share in the nomination of the Irish Catholic prelates than any domestic arrangements could bestow, by establishing a diplomatic agency at the Vatican, and stationing a frigate at Ancona. Of the veto it may be said, with more truth than it was of Pope Gregory’s reformation of the Calendar, that “it found out an evil which did nobody any harm, and provided a remedy which did nobody any good.”
The Catholic Board met, for the first time after the withdrawal of the bill, on the 29th of May, 1813; and signs of dissension, menacing future and dangerous discord, soon became manifest. Lord Trimleston, on taking the chair, lamented the loss of the measure, which he called “the Great Charter of Emancipation.” O’Connell, on the contrary, denounced it as a covert means of perpetuating degradation and slavery. In describing the probable composition of the Ecclesiastical Commission, he indulged his unhappy taste for vituperation, and most bitterly assailed Mr. (since Sir Robert) Peel, who had recently been appointed secretary for Ireland. “Well,” said he, “this hopeful commission, this ‘charter of emancipation,’ was to be framed by his grace the Duke of Richmond; and upon whom is it likely that his choice would fall? Recollect, however, that before even his selection commenced, you were certain of having, as president of this commission, that ludicrous enemy of ours, who has got in jest the name he deserves in good earnest—that of Orange Peel—a raw youth, squeezed out of the workings of I know not what factory in England, who began his parliamentary career by vindicating the gratuitous destruction of our brave soldiers in the murderous expedition to Walcheren, and was sent over here before he got rid of the foppery of perfumed handkerchiefs and thin shoes, upon the ground, I suppose, that he had given a specimen of his talents for vindication, that might be useful to the present and future administrations of Ireland; in short, that he was a lad ready to vindicate anything—everything.
“This special vindicator was to be at the head of the proposed commission. And let me dismiss him for ever, by venturing to conjecture what he may hereafter be in our country. But, no; I will not, I cannot estimate his future qualities. It is impossible to say what the man may be in old age, who, young—with the first impressions of nature about him—with a heart uncontaminated at least by much intercourse with the world—with any charities of his nature unsullied—with any milk of human kindness unexhausted—whose first step in life was the vindication of the most foolish and the most cruel—the most absurd and the most fatal—the most useless and the most murderous expedition, that human insanity ever directed, or human depravity ever applauded.”
Neither Peel nor the Walcheren expedition had the most remote connection with the matter in debate—a vote of thanks to the Catholic prelates: but we have quoted the passage as a specimen of the gratuitous attacks and wanton personalities in which O’Connell so frequently indulged, and which were often as injurious to himself and his cause, as they were galling to his enemies.
An amendment was moved by Mr. Hussey; it was supported by Sir Edward Bellew, who showed that the Catholic archbishop of Dublin (Troy) had been consulted on the subject of the ecclesiastical clauses by Mr. Canning; that he had consented to them, though with reluctance, and had suggested some alterations in the construction of the commission, which had been adopted. This was subsequently confirmed by Archbishop Troy himself, in an explanatory letter; he only added that the consent was more qualified, and the reluctance more strongly expressed, than had been stated. Mr. Bellew, an eminent counsellor, went farther, and accused the Catholic prelates of something like duplicity and covert hostility to the measure. O’Connell replied in a vehement philippic, marked throughout by a spirit of rancour, which, at this day, seems quite too strong for the occasion. A division took place; sixty-one supported the vote of thanks to the bishops, and twenty recorded their dissent.
The conduct of the Rev. Dr. Milner next became the subject of angry debate. The Board of English Catholics assembled under the presidency of the Earl of Shrewsbury denounced his interference as unwarrantable, declared that the charge he had brought against Mr. Charles Butler was a calumny, and expelled him from his seat in their select committee. In Ireland, after a sharp contest at the Catholic Board, it was resolved, by a majority of fifteen to ten, that a vote of thanks to Dr. Milner should be proposed at the next aggregate meeting. The task devolved on Mr. O’Connell, who fiercely assailed the advocates of emancipation in parliament, the Irish Catholics, who had accepted the securities, and all the English Catholics without exception. Still more indiscreet, and certainly unprophetic, was his allusion to the political aspect of affairs in the summer of 1813. “Yes,” said he, “the hour of your emancipation is at hand; you will, you must be emancipated; not by the operation of any force or violence, which are unnecessary, and would be illegal on your part, but by the repetition of your constitutional demands by petition, and still more by the pressure of circumstances and the great progress of events. Yes, your emancipation is certain, because England wants the assistance of all her people. The dream of delivering the Continent from the dominion of Buonaparte has vanished. The idle romance of German liberty—who ever heard of German liberty?—is now a cheerless vision. The allied Russian and Prussian armies may perhaps escape, but they have little prospect of victory. The Americans have avenged our outrages on their seamen, by quenching the meteor-blaze of the British naval flag. The war with the world—England alone against the world—is in progress. We shall owe to her good sense what ought to be conceded by her generosity.”
The minority of the Catholic Board absented themselves from this mischievous meeting, which seemed to have been assembled for the express purpose of dividing the Catholic body, and alienating their Protestant friends and supporters. They also abstained from sanctioning the address to the Princess of Wales, which was too obvious a piece of spite against the Prince Regent; and they protested against the depreciating attacks which O’Connell repeatedly made on the character and merits of Grattan. To complete the vagaries of the Board, a proposal was seriously entertained to solicit the interference of the Spanish cortes with the Prince Regent, in behalf of the Catholics of Ireland.
Saurin, in the summer of 1813, renewed his vindictive prosecutions of the press, his selected victim being John Magee, proprietor of the Dublin Evening Post, then, as now, one of the most respectable journals in Ireland. O’Connell was chief-counsel for the defence, and he entered on his task in a spirit of indignant defiance to the Attorney-General, whom he foiled in the very first encounter, by obtaining an adjournment of the trial. At the trial the traverser challenged the array; but the court decided in favour of the panel, and an anti-Catholic jury was sworn. On the 27th of July, O’Connell delivered his speech for the defence, which is generally regarded as the greatest of his efforts at the bar.
Of the Attorney-General’s speech, he said, “It was a discourse in which you could not discover either order, or method, or eloquence: it contained very little logic, and no poetry at all; violent and virulent, it was a confused and disjointed tissue of bigotry amalgamated with congenial vulgarity. He accused my client of using Billingsgate, and he accused him of it in language suited exclusively for that meridian . . . I trust his speech will be faithfully reported; and if it be but read in England, we may venture to hope that there may remain just so much good sense in England as to induce the conviction of the folly and the danger of conducting the government of a brave and long enduring people by the counsels of so tasteless and talentless an adviser.”
O’Connell artfully turned the Attorney-General’s appeal to the religious prejudices of the jury, against himself. “Gentlemen,” said he, “he thinks he knows his men—he knows you; many of you have signed the no-popery petition; he heard one of you boast of it: he knows you would not have been summoned on this jury, if you had entertained liberal sentiments: he knows all this, and therefore it is that he, with the artifice and cunning of an experienced nisi prius advocate, endeavours to win your confidence, and command your affections, by the display of congenial bigotry and illiberality.
“You are all, of course, Protestants: see what a compliment he pays to your religion and his own, when he thus endeavours to procure a verdict on your oaths; when he endeavours to seduce you to what, if you were so seduced, would be perjury, by indulging your prejudices, and flattering you by the coincidence of his sentiments and wishes. Will he succeed, gentlemen? Will you allow him to draw you into a perjury, out of a zeal for your religion? And will you violate the pledge you have given to your God to do justice, in order to gratify your anxiety for the ascendancy of what you believe to be his church? Gentlemen, reflect on the strange and monstrous inconsistency of this conduct, and do not commit, if you can avoid it, the pious crime of violating your solemn oaths in aid of the pious designs of the Attorney General against popery.”
O’Connell’s personal appeal to the jury, at the close of this magnificent address, was very pointed, and ought to have been effective. “Is there,” he asked, “amongst you any friend to freedom ? Is there amongst you one man who esteems equal and impartial justice, who values the people’s rights as the foundation of private happiness, and who considers life as no boon without liberty? Is there amongst you one friend to the constitution—one man who hates oppression? If there be, Mr. Magee appeals to his kindred mind, and confidently expects an acquittal.
“There are amongst you men of great religious zeal—of much public piety. Are you sincere P Do you believe what you profess? With all this zeal—with all this piety—is there any conscience amongst you? Is there any terror of violating your oaths? Be ye hypocrites, or does genuine religion inspire you? If you be sincere—if you have conscience—if your oaths can control your interest, then Mr. Magee confidently expects an acquittal.
“If amongst you there be cherished one ray of pure religion—if amongst you there glow a single spark of liberty —if I have alarmed religion, or roused the spirit of freedom, in one breast amongst you; Mr. Magee is safe, and his country is served: but if there be none—if you be slaves and hypocrites, he will await your verdict, and despise it.”
The jury had been carefully selected, and of course found a verdict for the crown. O’Connell’s speech was less a defence of the traverser, than a bold and startling assault on the prosecutor, and the Irish government of that day; but he did not neglect a y material point in his client’s defence; and even if he had confined himself strictly to his duties as an advocate, the issue would still have been the same, for the jury shared the prejudices, and the court participated in the vindictive feelings, of the prosecutor. Magee, however, thought otherwise: his friends, indeed, assert that the alleged libel was written by Mr. O’Connell himself, and that he ought either to have avowed the authorship, or avoided raising the prejudices of the court against his client. Another scene of personal altercation between O’Connell and Saurin ensued, when the traverser was brought up for judgment, and O’Connell indirectly menaced the Attorney-General with personal chastisement. The judges promptly checked such indecency, and he continued his argument in a milder strain. When he had concluded, he had the mortification to find himself repudiated by his client, who instructed his second counsel, Mr. Wallace, to disavow Mr. O’Connell’s speech in unequivocal terms. Magee was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and a fine of five hundred pounds; and it is still a common reproach against the great agitator, that he never made any exertions to procure compensation for the losses and sufferings which the unfortunate man endured in the Catholic cause.
In the December of 1813, the Catholic Board engaged in correspondence with Lord Donoughmore and Mr. Grattan, on the course that ought to be adopted in reference to the Catholic cause during the ensuing year. Both these patriotic legislators refused to be fettered by the dictation of the Board in their course of action, while Mr. O’Connell insisted that they ought to be guided by the instructions of the Catholic body. A new source of discord was opened by Dr. Drumgoole, a Catholic of the middle-ages, a black-letter fanatic, who could never comprehend that he lived in the nineteenth century, and who perplexed his hearers to discover by what accident he escaped being born in the sixteenth. He proposed a positive and distinct declaration of the Catholics against all “securities” whatever, and even against entertaining any proposition in which they should be suggested. Such an impolitic course was strongly opposed by Richard Lalor Sheil, now master of the mint, in one of the most brilliant harangues ever delivered in a public assembly; its poetic eloquence, its rich imagery, its glowing periods, were not more conspicuous than its liberal and conciliatory recommendations, and the prudent course of policy which the orator advocated. O’Connell replied with scarcely inferior power; the meeting adopted his views, and Dr. Drumgoole’s proposition was carried. Such, however, was the reprobation bestowed on some violent and intolerant passages in the learned doctor’s speech, that the Board was compelled to enter a protest against its dangerous doctrines, on their journals. O’Connell attempted to defend Drumgoole, but finding that the current of opinion was against him, finally acquiesced in the propriety of the disclaimer.
Early in 1814, a new impulse was given to the veto controversy by the announcement that the prelates entrusted with the administration of ecclesiastical affairs at Rome during the captivity of the pope, had sanctioned a approved the “securities” in Mr. Grattan’s Emancipatic bill of the preceding year. The rescript containing this assent was addressed to the English vicars-apostolic, and was signed by Quarantotti, vice-praefect of Rome. An aggregate meeting denounced this document; the Catholic prelates of Ireland declared that it was not mandatory; and meetings of priests protested against its doctrines in every part of the country. The Catholic aristocracy and gentry were generally, however, disposed to acquiesce in an arrangement sanctioned by such high authority: such enlightened Catholics as Sheil, Wyse, Woulfe, and others, were disposed to meet the government in a conciliatory temper, but they were overborne by the clamour of the multitude; O’Connell had raised a cry against the veto not to be stifled by any dictates of prudence, or resisted by any force of argument. Such disunion and such violence drove the parliamentary friends of the Catholics to despair: Mr. Grattan presented their petition, but declared that it was not his intention to found any motion on it during the session. The Catholic Board was summoned to debate on this result, which, as they had occasioned, they ought to have expected; when, suddenly, Whitworth, the lord-lieutenant, issued a proclamation denouncing that body. A meeting was held at Mr. O’Connell’s house, where it was resolved to submit to the government, by not assembling the Catholic Board, but to convene an aggregate meeting, to consider what course ought to be pursued at such a juncture. In all the preliminary consultations the question of “securities” was prominently brought forward, and angrily debated: O’Connell insisted that they should petition for unqualified emancipation, while Sheil appeared as the leader of the moderate party, which was willing to conciliate the British parliament by such concessions as would allay the fears of timid Protestants. Sheil’s course was sanctioned by the Pope and the court of Rome, long eager, have recognized diplomatic intercourse with Britain; it was supported by the English Catholics, by the Catholic aristocracy and the greater number of the Catholic gentry in Ireland; many of the Irish prelates were not reluctant to its adoption; and the most distinguished advocates of emancipation in parliament believed that the proposed securities were essential to success.
Against such a powerful combination, O’Connell arrayed the passions of the priests and the prejudices of the people; both of which were greatly aggravated by the delay of the measure of emancipation, and by the arguments used in opposition to concession. It was O’Connell’s belief that the hostility of the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, and the Tory party, could not be overcome by any equitable arrangement which could possibly be devised; he therefore believed that emancipation would not be conceded until some perilous crisis would compel the government to conciliate the Irish people. In 1813, as we have seen, he trusted to the hazards of the war, which then seemed certain to terminate by laying all Europe prostrate at the feet of Buonaparte; at a later period he sought an alliance with the English radicals; and, to the very last, had no confidence in the increasing intelligence of the country, and the justice of the imperial parliament. The two great errors of his career were, that he opposed the veto on religious grounds, which, if valid, would go far to justify the exclusion of Catholics from parliament; and that he attributed to the English people the obstinacy and bigotry of the Liverpool and Sidmouth administrations. If it would have been dangerous to allow Protestants to interfere with the discipline and government of the Catholic church, it must have been equally dangerous to allow Catholics to interfere with the discipline and government of the Protestant church; and this they must do as members of parliament, for the Anglican church is a parliamentary establishment. This consequence did not escape the acute intelligence of O’Connell; but whenever it was pressed upon his notice, as we know that it was at the period of which we write, both privately and publicly, he evaded it by violently assailing Henry VIII. and the English Reformation. This introduction of theological controversy into political discussion, served only to exasperate prejudices, and to weaken the chance of making converts. Still more impolitic was the continued abuse of the English people. There was a rapid growth of opinion in favour of Catholic emancipation, produced mainly by Moore’s melodies, which O’Connell checked, if he did not destroy. Emancipation was more popular in England from 1813 to 1819, than from the latter year to 1829. Moore’s songs had brought the wrongs of Ireland within the range of female sympathy; lords might vote against emancipation in the senate, but ladies reversed their decision in the drawing-room. There was not a piano in the empire which did not refute the anti-Catholic sermons of grave divines, and overthrow the legal arguments of antiquated chancellors. Liberality became a fashion; all the rising young men of the country were won to the Catholic cause by fair vocalists pouring forth “the thoughts that breathe, and words that burn” of the sweetest poet and purest patriot that Ireland ever produced, or England ever saw. We refuse not to O’Connell the praise of having carried emancipation by a bold stroke in 1829, but we must not withhold blame for a course of conduct which had delayed its success for at least ten previous years. Few even of its opponents were at any time unconvinced that its final success was inevitable.
In 1815 the folly of the opponents of the veto reached its highest point: at the instigation of O’Connell, the management of the Catholic cause in parliament was taken from Mr. Grattan, its old, tried, and consistent friend; the presentation of the Irish petition was entrusted to Sir Henry Parnell, who performed the invidious task with obvious reluctance. In the debate on the question of taking the Catholic claims into consideration, Mr. Grattan said—“I condemn those applications for unqualified emancipation. I am sorry that in doing so, I have offended some gentlemen; but my conviction is, that such a proposition cannot pass. When they desire emancipation without conditions, they ask two things—first that they should obtain their object, and secondly, that they should not obtain it; for they put their demand in a shape which must ensure its rejection. If I had flattered the Catholics, and told them,—’you have a right to make this demand, urge it, and you will succeed’—I should have deceived the Catholics. I have supported their question with a desperate fidelity. I do not mean by desperate, that my zeal would lead me into any unworthy or unconstitutional compromise, but that it has always sustained me, even when there was no hope of success. Unless the Catholics come to this House in a spirit of conciliation, they will not succeed. I told them so before. I will go farther and say, that conciliation is not only necessary to their interests, but essential to their duty, to the duty which they owe to the state, and the duty which they owe one another. If they do not succeed, it will not be owing to any illiberality in the Protestants, but to a want of moderation in themselves. If they do not succeed, their want of success will arise from their want of discretion. I regard the Catholic body with sentiments of strong attachment. The warmth of young minds may have betrayed some of them into errors, which I regret as injurious to their cause; but unless conciliation is adopted, nothing can be of any use.”
No better proof could be given of the impolicy of the course pursued by the Catholic Board, than the result of Sir Henry Parnell’s motion; it was rejected by a majority of eighty-one in the very parliament which had previously sanctioned a similar motion of Mr. Grattan’s, by a majority of forty, just two years before. Many bitter reproaches were addressed to Mr. O’Connell by the moderate Catholics, at this obvious consequence of his intemperance: he replied, “that he was an agitator with ulterior views, and that every year’s delay of emancipation increased the chances of obtaining that repeal of the Union which was his remote object.” This reply was not satisfactory to the Catholic aristocracy and gentry; the Catholics of the county of Roscommon presented an address to Mr. Grattan, and animadverted strongly upon the ingratitude with which he had been treated.
A more legitimate object of O’Connell’s splenetic attacks, was the Orange Corporation of the city of Dublin—about the most corrupt, bigoted, and contemptible body in the empire: he lost no opportunity of holding up “the beggarly corporation,” as he styled that body, to the scorn and hatred of the empire; and they laboured in their vocation to supply him with abundant materials for ridicule and indignation. It was therefore natural that enmity to O’Connell should be deemed a qualification for corporate office, and Mr. J. N. D’Esterre, who was a candidate for the office of city-sheriff, resolved to ensure his election by fastening a quarrel on the vituperative agitator.
Mr. D’Esterre was a gentleman of pleasing manners and liberal feelings; as representative of the Guild of Merchants, he had actually opposed the resolution which had provoked the offensive comments of O’Connell, and on more than one occasion he had given utterance to liberal sentiments, far from being in accordance with those of his brother corporators. But D’Esterre had been a soldier, and had obtained just reputation for his bravery as an officer of marines; it was further said that he was “a dead shot,” and could snuff a candle with a pistol-ball at the distance of twenty paces. We do not believe that he could have accomplished any such feat except by chance; he was too passionate to be steady—too hot-headed to be cautious. Instigated by those who winced under the contemptuous sneers of O’Connell, D’Esterre demanded that the offensive terms applied to the corporation, of which he was a member, should be retracted: O’Connell sent back a positive but temperate refusal. D’Esterre persevered in his demand, and menaced O’Connell with personal chastisement in the streets; while O’Connell, who was far the more powerful man, paraded the streets of Dublin, without encountering his adversary. This rather braggart scene continued from Thursday, the 17th of January, to the following Wednesday, when D’Esterre at length sent a formal challenge, which was accepted.
The parties met in a plot of ground forming part of the Ponsonby demesne, about twelve miles from Dublin, on the evening of the same day; Major M’Namara, the present member for Clare, was O’Connell’s second—Mr. D’Esterre was attended by Sir Edward Stanley. During the arrangement of the preliminaries, Mr. D’Esterre took occasion to say that his quarrel with Mr. O’Connell was not of a religious nature, and that he had no animosity whatever towards the Catholics or their leaders. The parties took their ground, and fired almost simultaneously. O’Connell escaped uninjured—D’Esterre fell mortally wounded; he survived a few days, and then died in great agony. His friends and family, of course, declined to institute a prosecution.
The secret of the intended duel had not been kept; all along the road, and through the streets of Dublin, crowds were collected, deeply anxious for the fate of “the man of the people.” Had D’Esterre escaped the pistol of O’Connell, he would probably have fallen a victim to the excited multitude; the injudicious boasts of his certain aim, circulated by his foolish friends, led him to be regarded not as a fair combatant, but as a privileged assassin. When the result was announced, the voice of the people pronounced the sentence uttered by the judges of the field in the ancient ordeal of trial by battle—“It is the judgment of God.”
O’Connell sincerely lamented the death of his adversary: he had no personal knowledge of the gentleman before he met him in hostile collision; all that he learned of D’Esterre’s private and public character, deepened his regret for having been instrumental in his death; and we know that the friends and family of Mr. D’Esterre cherished no resentment against O’Connell, but firmly believed in the sincerity of his sorrow.
Soon after this event, Mr. O’Connell, at a Catholic meeting, took notice of a subject on which he subsequently acted a conspicuous part, the corn-laws, which were then about to be imposed. He protested against this restrictive monopoly with great earnestness. “I cannot avoid,” he said, “as the subject lies in my way, to put upon public record my conviction of the inutility, as well as the impropriety, of the proposed measure respecting those laws. I expect that it will be believed in Ireland that I would not volunteer thus an opposition of sentiment to any measure, if I was not most disinterestedly, and in my conscience, convinced that such measure would not be of any substantial or permanent utility to Ireland.”
During the debate which terminated in the rejection of Sir Henry Parnell’s motion, Mr. Peel, in opposing it, made a skilful and dexterous use of O’Connell’s unguarded violence: having described the great influence of O’Connell, he read some extracts from the most intemperate of that gentleman’s speeches, which certainly deserved any name rather than that of elegant extracts. These quotations had a powerful effect on the House, and greatly contributed to swell the majority by which Sir Henry Parnell’s motion was rejected; indeed, it must be confessed, that their violence was calculated to alienate all men of sense, temper, or moderation. They were universally reprobated on all sides of the House, and by none more emphatically than by the leaders of the liberal party. O’Connell felt this keenly: the Catholic nobility and gentry pointed to him as the cause of their signal defeat; many even of his own adherents doubted his prudence in supplying weapons to their leading opponent, the Irish secretary. O’Connell had two onerous tasks to perform: he had to retract his excessive adulation of the Rev. Dr. Milner, who had again changed his opinions, and become an ardent supporter of the veto; and he had to show that his own conduct on that question was advantageous to the Catholic cause. The latter topic opened the way for an attack on Peel; having stated that the veto would increase the power of that “worthy champion of Orangeism,” he continued: “I do not—indeed I do not—intend this day to enter into the merits of that celebrated statesman. All I shall say of him, by way of parenthesis, is, that I am told he has in my absence, and in a place where he was privileged from any account, grossly traduced me. I said at the last meeting, in the presence of the note-takers of the police, who are paid by him, that he was too prudent to attack me in my presence. I see the same police-informers here now, and I authorize them carefully to report these my words, that Mr. Peel would not DARE in my presence, or in any place where he was liable to personal account, to use a single expression derogatory to my interest or my honour. And now I have done with the man who is just fit to be the champion of Orangeism. I have done with him, perhaps for ever.”
Peel was not the man to bear such an attack patiently; he at once sent the under-secretary, Sir Charles Saxton, to intimate to O’Connell that he was ready to waive his parliamentary privilege, and hold himself personally responsible for anything which he had said respecting that gentleman. Mr. Lidwill, as Mr. O’Connell’s friend, had an interview with Sir Charles Saxton; they agreed that there ought to be a duel, but they were at issue as to which of the gentlemen ought to be the challenger. Both parties appealed to the press, and their statements differed so much that they became involved in a quarrel on their own account, which they agreed to decide by a duel at Calais. O’Connell sent a letter to the Freeman’s Journal, denouncing the whole affair as “a paltry trick,” and regretting that Peel “had ultimately preferred a paper-war.” Upon this, Mr. Peel took the initiative, and sent Colonel Brown with a challenge to Mr. O’Connell, which, was accepted. But the matter had been noised abroad by the press: Mrs. O’Connell watched every transaction with the vigilant solicitude of an affectionate wife, and suspecting the object of Colonel Brown’s visit, which indeed was not very carefully concealed, she gave prompt information to the police authorities. Sheriff Fleming at once arrested Mr. O’Connell, and brought him before the Lord Chief Justice, by whom he was bound over to keep the peace within the United Kingdom.
The duel, however, was not yet abandoned; the seconds of the parties consulted, and agreed that there should be a meeting at Ostend; but on his way through London Mr. O’Connell was again arrested on a warrant from Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough, and bound over not only to keep the peace, but to remain in the kingdom. The matter did not end here : Sir Charles Saxton and Mr. Lidwill met at Calais, where the latter received, but did not return, his adversary’s fire; and thus this episode was decided. Mr. Peel, who certainly proved himself the most pugnacious of the two champions, then wanted to have a separate duel with Mr. Lidwill, which the seconds refused to permit, and the supplement to the original duel left all parties pretty equally dissatisfied.
If there was but the shadow of a pistol-war, there was a very substantial paper-war between the parties; but no one in the present day could feel the slightest interest in the statements and counter-statements. Some amateur of dueling at the time collected and published the whole correspondence, with the pithy motto, “For the instruction of those who wish to know how to send or receive a challenge without any intention of fighting.” Not the least amusing part of this farce was the conduct of the journalists both in England and Ireland; the publicity they had given to the matter, and the care with which they had chronicled the movements of the parties, were said to have guided the police in making the arrest; but they one and all disclaimed any share in such a result, evincing the greatest anxiety to exonerate themselves from the charge of having been accessory to the obstruction of a fight.
The battle on the veto question was renewed in 1816: the seceders from the Catholic Board, hopeless of overwhelming O’Connell’s influence with that body, resolved to act for themselves, and entrusted a petition to Mr. Grattan praying for qualified emancipation. It was presented to parliament, but the motion for taking it into consideration was lost by a majority of thirty-one. It was, however, significant that this majority was less by fifty than that which had rejected Sir Henry Parnell’s motion in the preceding session. The hopes of the vetoists were raised, and those of O’Connell proportionally abated, especially as he learned that the propositions of the British government were viewed with favour by the court of Rome. He prepared a remonstrance to the Pope, which was forwarded, but was refused official acceptance, and he procured the appointment of the Rev. Richard Hayes as a delegate of the Irish Catholics to Rome. Poor Hayes was rather scurvily treated in the metropolis of Catholicism; he was pointed at in the streets, and universally laughed at for “being a better papist than the pope;” his remonstrances were treated with neglect; and when they were so often repeated as to become troublesome, he was very unceremoniously arrested, and conducted by a military force beyond the frontier. This result the discomfited friar attributed to the coming of “young Wyse, late of Waterford (Thomas Wyse, the present representative of that city) and a Counsellor Ball (now one of the brightest ornaments of the Irish bench); these youths had repeated to Cardinal Gonsalvi, to Cardinal Litta, to other officials, and to the Pope himself, that all the property, education, and respectability of the Catholics of Ireland, were favourable to the veto, and that the clergy were secretly inclined to it, but were overruled by the mob.” From our recollections of Mr. Hayes, we should have many scruples in vouching for the accuracy of his report; but if Messrs. Wyse and Ball made such allegations, they only stated what was the simple and notorious truth. A single sentence from the friar’s letter will show how utterly he was unqualified by anything but bigotry for the important charge with which he had been entrusted. Speaking of such intelligent and respected gentlemen as Messrs. Wyse and Ball, he has the ignorance and assurance to say, “you may judge of the intrigue, when to the miserable farce of these silly boys is given the importance of a diplomatic mission.” It was in consequence of the publication of this letter that he was so ignominiously expelled from Rome; and he well merited the treatment he received. Hayes returned to Ireland, but was used as one of the broken tools that agitators cast away; he sunk into the obscurity from which he ought never to have emerged, and his very existence was speedily forgotten.
The veto was not the only point at issue between Mr. O’Connell and the seceders. O’Connell’s great anxiety was to make the Catholic clergy the political leaders, as well as the religious instructors, of the body to which they belonged. On the other hand, the Catholic aristocracy could not forget the humble origin of most of the priests, in the sanctity of their order. Lord Fingal, for instance, could hardly be expected to yield to the dictation, or follow the guidance, of the son of one of his own tenants; and as little could the wealthy merchants of Cork be induced to submit to the rule of those whom they had subscribed to educate and support at Maynooth. This was never mentioned in the whole veto controversy, but it was really the point in issue. The aristocracy sought the veto, because they hoped that the government would use its influence to preserve the prelacy at least “unvulgarized,”—to use the phrase of one who was as sincere a Catholic, and as strenuous a vetoist, as ever lived; on the other hand, the Maynooth priests strenuously opposed a measure which threatened to exclude them from all chance of ecclesiastical promotion. Similar feelings divided the Catholic prelates themselves: we have heard more than one of their body complain that their caste has been lowered by the present system of domestic nomination; adding, that though they had entered holy orders, they had not abandoned the feelings of gentlemen. O’Connell’s education at St. Omer was narrow and sectarian; in no seminary were hierocratic doctrines more rigidly inculcated; and the duties and labours of his arduous profession, prevented him from having these notions corrected by general reading and literary acquirements. O’Connell was neither a sound nor an elegant scholar; his classical attainments were below the average of a schoolboy; in history he had read little beyond the compilations with which men of large business are too generally contented; and though he had some taste for mental and moral philosophy, it was never cultivated. He relied entirely for his success on his own mental resources, and they were unquestionably vast ; never did any man make so great a show with so limited a stock of information. It was not until he turned author, and gave the world his puerile History of Ireland, that men discovered how scanty was the stock on which he traded. The theology of St. Omer, which attributed a sanctity, and almost an impeccability, to the sacerdotal character, was the predominant feeling of O’Connell’s life: he honestly believed that the best service he could render Ireland, was to increase and strengthen the power of the Catholic priesthood; and it is therefore no wonder that he received, through life, the zealous support of that body, which is indebted almost entirely to him for its present existence as a power in the state.
But let it be a warning to any who may be ambitious of succeeding to O’Connell’s post of Irish leader, that the most bitter, the most wanton, and the most unjust attack on his memory, has come from the pen of an Irish priest. We quote one or two paragraphs, but we recommend our readers to obtain and preserve the whole.
“To the Editor of the Nation.
“Il ne faut craindre rien quand on a tout à craindre.”
“My DEAR SIR,-Upon seeing your number of last Saturday, the first since first I saw the Nation, that jarred with my sentiments, the gloom misplaced upon your columns fell heavily on my heart. Whether any section of Irishmen sympathize with my feelings, I cannot know as yet. . . .
“Mr. O’Connell’s death, in my deliberate opinion, has been no loss whatever to this Irish nation. On the contrary, I think that Mr. O’Connell has been doing before his death, and was likely to continue doing as long as he might live, very grievous injury to Ireland; so that I account his death rather a gain than a loss to the country. He was the vaunted leader, the prime mover, the head and front, the life and soul, of a system of policy so servile at once and despotic, so hollow and so corrupt, so barefacedly hypocritical and so dreadfully demoralizing, that the very organs of the government to which it pandered, laughed it into scorn. That his slavish minions, his selfish followers, or his deluded dupes, should have deemed his death a loss, I was prepared to learn; but that the Irish confederates, whom he insulted, spurned, and would have hanged—the representatives of the manhood of the nation which he was degrading, which he had degraded into brutish beggary—that these should adopt the error, and make it the foundation of a further and more fatal mistake ; this was an event for which I was utterly unprepared—a midnight inundation from which I know not where to hope for shelter. All seems confusion, and it is intensely dark. . . .
“O’Connell has boasted that he guided us, and his toadies have vouched every word he told us for fifty years. Well, then, let us look about and calculate our obligations for the service. Whither have we been guided ? Where and how has he left us We have been guided, step by step, self-hoodwinked, to such an abyss of physical and moral misery, to such a condition of helpless and hopeless degradation, as no race of mankind was ever plunged in since the creation. We are a nation of beggars—mean, shameless, lying beggars. And this is where O’Connell has guided us. But it will be said that he could not help this. I deny it. . . . Unfortunately for his fame and for his country, he was a mere time-serving politician, a huckster of expediencies. He said things, and did them not. He issued orders, and jeered the men who obeyed him, as the powder-monkies of Cork can testify. He patronized liars, parasites, and bullies. He brooked no greatness that grovelled not at his feet. He conducted a petty traffic in installments. He boasted. He flattered grossly, and was grossly flattered. He forestalled his glory, and enjoyed with a relish a reputation that he forgot to earn. Above all, he was unsteady, because he was unprincipled. . . .
“I deny not the good points of O’Connell’s character. And if I do not enumerate them, it is only because all his points, good, bad, and indifferent, have been extolled over-frequently and overmuch. He was, all in all, un grand homme manqué, possessing great elements of greatness, but alloyed below the standard. He failed in his mission, and he deserved to fail in it.”
In 1817, Mr. Grattan again brought forward the motion for emancipation, and the majority against the Catholics was reduced to twenty-four. It was not mooted in the following year, which closed the existence of that parliament, and the subject was hardly mentioned at any of the hustings in the ensuing general election. But that election was marked by an event which we could wish to be spared the pain of recording. O’Connell had laboured, and not unsuccessfully, not merely to lessen Grattan’s merited popularity, but to point him out as a deserter of the popular cause. The result was one which he did not foresee, and which he seriously lamented. Grattan was returned for the city of Dublin without opposition; but after leaving the hustings, he was attacked by an infuriated mob; his chair was demolished; a blow of a stave covered his face with blood, and nearly deprived of him an eye; faint and bleeding, the venerable patriot fell into the arms of his son, and he was with difficulty conveyed to an adjoining house.
This detestable outrage on the great father of his country, brought odium on the name of Irishman throughout the civilized world. We who witnessed it could not be mistaken as to its source; the cry of vetoist was the signal for attack, reproaches for abandoning the Catholics accompanied the assault. We do not remember that O’Connell, in any of his numerous speeches at the time, said a word in reprobation of this atrocity; and there is no reference to it in the collection of his speeches published by his son; but that he sincerely lamented the occurrence we happen to know, and it was this circumstance which induced him to acquiesce in confiding the Catholic petition once more to Mr. Grattan. The last motion of that eminent statesman in favour of his Catholic countrymen was defeated by a majority of two only; and as the debate went off unexpectedly, this result may be attributed to accident. O’Connell took a very different view of the case; he wrote a long, verbose, and ill-tempered letter to his Catholic countrymen, advising them to make no further applications to parliament, but to fraternize with Hunt, Cobbett, and the radical reformers of England. Mr. Sheil reprobated this impolitic proposal in a sharp, clever letter, and O’Connell rejoined. Here the matter ended; the Irish Catholics could not be induced to sympathize with the English radicals, and radicalism itself soon began to exhibit unequivocal symptoms of decay: O’Connell did not renew the effort; in the excitement produced by the Queen’s trial it was speedily forgotten.
In 1821, Mr. Plunkett brought forward the subject of the of Catholic claims in one of the most eloquent speeches ever delivered in any deliberative assembly. The motion was carried by a small majority; and two bills were introduced—one for repealing the exclusive laws against Catholics, and the other for regulating the intercourse of Catholic ecclesiastics with the see of Rome. The latter being a measure of security, was strenuously denounced by Mr. O’Connell in Ireland, and petitioned against by Dr. Milner in England; neither, however, succeeded in exciting popular clamour, and Plunkett delivered a philippic against Milner, unrivalled for its sarcastic severity. “I have never,” he said, “expected a general concurrence: it is visionary to expect the concurrence of bigotry. Bigotry is unchangeable: I care not whether it is Roman Catholic bigotry, or Protestant bigotry—its character is the same—its pursuits are the same—true to its aim, though besotted in its expectations—steady to its purpose, though blind to its interests. For bigotry, time flows in vain—it is abandoned by the tides of knowledge—it is left stranded by the waters of reason—and worships the figures imprinted on the sands, which are soon to be washed away.” Plunkett’s measures were carried through the House of Commons by small majorities, but were rejected by the Lords.
Mr. O’Connell had endeavoured to get up an aggregate meeting in Dublin, to oppose the measure, but he could not induce so many as nine persons to sign the requisition. His conduct, however, furnished the semblance of argument to the parliamentary opponents of the measure, and was brought under the notice of the House, during the debate on the third reading, by Mr. Ellis, the Orange member for Dublin. “I conceive it clear,” he said, “that the Catholics are hostile to the bill, from the opposition it has met with from an eminent Catholic barrister, who is always considered as speaking their sentiments. Why is that gentleman the acknowledged leader and organ of the Catholic body? It cannot be on account of his family, which, though respectable, is of yesterday, compared with some of the aristocracy of Ireland: neither is it on account of his talents; for his eloquence is but of mushroom celebrity, and is far outshone by the talents opposed to him. What then is it that gives him the confidence of the Catholic body? It is, that he really and truly expresses their feelings and sentiments.
To this, Mr. Robinson (since Earl of Ripon) very properly replied: “I am no more disposed to take the feelings of the Protestants of Ireland from the honourable and learned gentleman, than I am to take the feelings of the Catholics from that nameless barrister, that mushroom orator, as the honourable and learned gentleman has called him, who, eloquent as he may be—active as we all know he is—does not, I am persuaded, in the ravings of his eloquence, speak the true and honest feelings of the Irish Catholics. It is on this account, that—although I know Mr. O’Connell is dissatisfied—although I know Mr. O’Connell always has been dissatisfied—and although I believe that he always will be dissatisfied—I have no doubt that if the present measure is passed, it will be highly satisfactory to the great body of the Catholics of Ireland.” Had it then passed, O’Connell would never have attained the dangerous eminence which he reached, and would never have acquired the pernicious influence which he gained.
The defeat of the measure in the House of Lords was mainly owing to the influence of the king. His favourite brother, the Duke of York, then presumptive heir to the crown, denounced the measure in a most uncompromising speech, and the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV., though known to entertain liberal sentiments, voted against emancipation, in deference to the royal prejudices. Though these circumstances were well known, yet no sooner was it announced that George IV. was about to visit Ireland, than O’Connell was roused to a perfect frenzy of loyalty, which lasted without abatement through the whole of the year.
He embraced, with an eagerness which savoured of servility, the advances of the Orange corporation of Dublin, to coalesce with the Catholics in giving to the king a most enthusiastic reception; he refused to resent the wanton insult offered to the Catholics, after these advances had been made, by dressing up King William’s statue in tawdry finery, on the 12th of July, the great Orange anniversary; and he vehemently opposed Mr. Sheil’s proposal, that the Catholic address to the king should be accompanied by a petition for redress of grievances. Many Catholics remonstrated against this injurious and servile course. At one of the meetings in the Corn Exchange, Mr. Macarthy said, “I clearly see that the trick intended by getting the Orangemen and Catholics to appear cordial together, is to show the king that all the reports, which have gone abroad concerning this country, are ill-founded; and when the king will see O’Connell, the Agitator, and Abraham Bradley King, the Orangeman, cordial together, he will conclude that it must be unnecessary for Mr. Plunkett to be labouring for the repeal of laws which are not injurious.”
It has often been remarked that Mr. O’Connell ever showed himself more anxious to please the Orangemen than the liberal Protestants of Ireland. To gain the favour of the former, he gave the fraternal embrace to Abraham Bradley King, he drank the pious and immortal memory of King William in a glass of Boyne-water, and he wore a scarf of mingled orange and green in token of conciliation. On the other hand, whenever opportunity offered, he assailed the liberal Protestants with virulent vindictiveness; and no sooner was Catholic emancipation passed, than he publicly declared, that the greatest difficulty he had had to endure through the whole course of the previous agitation, arose from his having been compelled to suppress his feelings of hostility to the Protestant advocates of the Catholic cause. His enemies accounted for this by declaring that he felt he could only secure power and profit by perpetuating the religious divisions and dissensions of Ireland. We know that he was actuated by no such mean and mercenary motives; through life he believed that the purity of the Catholic religion in Ireland could only be maintained by keeping the Irish Catholics distinct and apart from the Irish Protestants. A fusion between the liberal and enlightened men of both churches, would, he feared, generate a cold latitudinarianism, such as prevails in France; and this he dreaded as little better than infidelity. That bright ornament of the Catholic church in Ireland, Dr. Doyle, differed from O’Connell on this point, and hence arose that want of cordiality between the great agitator and the estimable prelate, which led them more than once to engage in paper war. It was from the same dread of fusion and latitudinarianism, that he so fiercely assailed the measure for establishing Provincial Colleges in Ireland. It was for these same reasons, that he almost worshiped Archbishop Mac Hale, while he looked with suspicion on Archbishop Murray.
George IV. arrived, and was received by the Irish Catholics with the most frantic excess of joy: O’Connell’s fervour of loyalty was carried to the extent of servile adulation; he and his followers professed the most unbounded devotion to the person of the sovereign; and the Ascendancy stood aghast at finding itself surpassed in extravagant declarations of passive obedience. Sheil held himself aloof from these degrading demonstrations; he and a few more felt that to hope to win George IV. by such excess of homage, was less wise than the childish plan of catching birds by throwing salt on their tails. In fact, O’Connell’s self-imposed humiliation produced an effect directly contrary to that which he intended and expected: as the king heard no complaint of grievance, and was offered no petition for redress, he very sagely concluded that the Irish were very well satisfied already, and that emancipation was only sought by some obscure faction—a faction which he thoroughly detested, because it had presumed to meddle impertinently with his mistresses, and had taken part with his injured wife.
The hollowness of the pretended conciliation was rendered obvious to every man who retained his senses, before the king had quitted the shores of Ireland. Even at the dinner given to his Majesty at the Mansion House, the standing Orange toast was proposed the instant that he left the room, and received with the most rapturous applause. The king himself was worn out by the passionate servility of the Irish, and hastened his departure. To the obtrusive manifestations of Irish servility, he responded with a theatrical display of sentiment: at parting, he pressed the shamrock, as the national emblem, to his heart—shed a few sentimental tears, such as he always had at command—and left the shores, “overpowered by the acclamations of his faithful people.” It is no wonder that such scenes afforded a precious theme for ridicule to the facetious muse of Moore, and provoked a bitter invective from the sterner spirit of Byron.
But the farce did not end here; at the moment of departure, George IV. directed Lord Sidmouth to address a farewell letter to the people of Ireland, recommending peace and union. This precious document contained as little meaning as could possibly be comprised in so many words; yet, for some months, the Catholics clung to the wretched illusion that this empty letter heralded a change of system in their favour; it was printed at their expense, and circulated studiously throughout the country. O’Connell seriously got up a subscription to build a palace, so as to induce the king to repeat his visit; and laboured to establish a Royal Georgian club, to commemorate the graciousness of the least reputable monarch of the house of Brunswick. At length the bubble burst; the subscription, utterly inadequate to build a palace, was devoted to the more worthy purpose of erecting a bridge; and the royal letter, which in the first burst of enthusiasm had been framed and glazed by thousands of dupes, was deposed from its place of honour, and consigned to the usual fate of waste paper. The Catholics were slowly and reluctantly undeceived, but they could not resist such evidence as the continuance of their political opponents in office, and the more stringent maintenance of exclusive measures and policy. The Protestants laughed at the credulity of the Catholics; Sir Abraham Bradley King, whose clever management had been rewarded by a baronetcy, declared that “he had taken off his surtout;” the Orange party ostentatiously and scornfully resumed their ancient ascendancy; the Catholics, ashamed of their delusion, and indignant at the deception, sunk for a season into hopelessness and lethargy. In the rural districts of Ireland, the gaudy bubble of conciliation burst more speedily ; the peasantry of Limerick, Mayo, Tipperary, and Cavan, renewed their agrarian outrages, and a system of tumult, robbery, and organized assassination commenced, scarcely to be paralleled in the annals of any country pretending to civilization.
In the beginning of the year 1822, the Marquis of Wellesley was sent as lord-lieutenant to Ireland, Plunkett was appointed attorney-general in the place of Saurin, and Bushe was elevated to the chief-justiceship on the resignation of Lord Downes. These desirable changes resulted from the coalition of the Grenville party with Lord Liverpool’s ministry, and they inspired hope in Ireland at a time when the country was suffering from famine and fever to as great an extent as in the present hapless season. There was consequently little political movement throughout the year. Canning introduced a bill for restoring the privileges of the Catholic peers; it was carried by narrow majorities in the Commons, but was lost in the Lords: the only reference to the general Catholic question arose from the publication of a letter from Saurin to Lord Norbury, exhorting him to use his influence as a judge to get up petitions against the Catholics; a proceeding which brought down general disapprobation on the judge and the late attorney-general for Ireland. The dressing of King William’s statue in July caused some tumult in Dublin, and the Marquis of Wellesley very properly prevented a renewal of the obnoxious demonstration in the following November. This deeply provoked the Orange faction; a party of them combined, to hoot and insult the Lord-Lieutenant when he visited the theatre; several missiles, including a bottle and a piece of a watchman’s rattle, were flung at his box, and a scene of disgraceful confusion ensued, which was only checked by the interference of the police. The Attorney-General preferred bills of indictment against the offenders, which were ignored by the grand jury; he then filed ex-officio informations against them, but the sheriff, who sympathized deeply with the feelings of the accused, took care to place none but their friends on the jury, and they were virtually acquitted.
The Catholic question encountered a strange fate in 1823; on the evening that it was to be brought forward by Mr. Plunkett, Sir Francis Burdett took the opportunity of the presentation of a petition, to deprecate the annual farce of discussion, fruitless of all benefit, and the fertile source of irritation and discontent. In the course of his speech, he reproached Peel with insincerity, declaring that he was too enlightened to be imposed on by childish apprehensions of “the pope, the devil, and the pretender.” Peel, who, at this time, by his admirable conduct as home-secretary, had reaped a rich harvest of golden opinions, made a very sharp reply. This bit of personal altercation was preliminary to another of a more grave and serious character. Brougham, who had come into the House after the commencement of the debate, pronounced a terrific invective against Canning, whom he accused of having betrayed the Catholics, and of having truckled to Lord Eldon. Canning declared the assertion a falsehood. Then followed a tedious scene of soothings, and recommendations, and awkward apologies—after which Plunkett brought forward his motion: when he rose, the greater part of the Whig leaders left the House; and when he concluded, the debate was abruptly but indefinitely adjourned, amid the most admired confusion.
But while the hopes of the Catholics were thus baffled, O’Connell had matured that great project which he ultimately rendered the engine of their success:–the plan of the Catholic Association was formed. Its machinery was devised by O’Connell, and by no other man could it have been so efficiently worked. When he first mentioned to Sheil his plan of a comprehensive association, including two classes of members, subscribers of a pound and of a shilling annually, that gentleman expressed some doubts of its success, and during the year 1823 it gave few symptoms of healthy and permanent existence. One of its rules required that an adjournment should take place if ten members were not present at half-past three o’clock. O’Connell’s plan of small subscriptions had not been propounded in the earlier stages of the Association; and when he had it prepared, he failed several successive days in procuring a sufficient attendance. At length, on Wednesday, the 4th of February, 1824, by pressing into his service two Maynooth priests, who happened to be in the shop of Coyne, the Catholic bookseller, in whose house the infant Association was held, O’Connell was enabled to make up the required “council of ten.” He forthwith developed his plan: its simplicity and its efficiency were equally obvious; and it was adopted with greater enthusiasm than he could himself have anticipated.
The Association rose suddenly into power; the Catholic aristocracy and gentry agreed to forget their old feud with O’Connell on the veto question, and gave the new institution the support of their purse and their name: the priests adhered to it with a zeal and enthusiasm which frequently led them beyond the limits of their sacred vocation; and the peasants, invited to take a share in the movement by the payment of a penny per month, under the name of the “Catholic Rent,” came forward with extraordinary eagerness, to join in the first movement that had ever recognized their political existence. Though the object of the body was professedly to obtain emancipation, its efforts were extended to a greater variety of useful and sometimes doubtful purposes; every complaint of local, wrong arising from the oppression of landlords or the misconduct of magistrates, was investigated by the Association, and public attention directed to the subject.
“The village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The petty tyrant of his fields withstood,”
instead of, as heretofore, being crushed in the unequal controversy, now found himself supported by a powerful organization, and hurled defiance at the oppressor. Archbishop Magee, elevated to the see of Dublin by the friendship of Plunkett, whom he had deceived by his professions of liberality, just at this period added fresh fuel to religious rancour in Ireland by extending his bigotry from the Catholic living to the Catholic dead. He and his clergy refused to allow the services of the Catholic church, in whole or in part, to be recited at the burial of a Catholic in a Protestant churchyard; and we have ourselves seen the recital of David’s penitential psalms interrupted by a charge of bayonets. The orators of the Association assailed with indignant ridicule those who mistook everything Latin for something Popish; and though the Irish church then and now could show a tolerable sprinkling of bigots callous to contempt, far the larger portion shrunk from the exposure of what they soon discovered to be palpable absurdity.
Emancipation had, previously, few attractions for the peasant. It promised little more than the re-admission of the Catholic gentry to the privileges of their order, and the extension of legal honours and emoluments to Catholic barristers. The Association extended its protecting influence to every peasant’s hearth; it promised to the poor man who felt himself aggrieved, the redress of the law against the law; and every Munster farmer who can remember the magisterial administration of justice thirty, or even twenty years ago, can well appreciate the importance and value of such a promise. It offered to the wronged tenant-farmers and labourers—a far more numerous body than the people of England ever believed—assistance in their struggles for redress, from a body which at once comprehended and sympathized with their condition. Hope and confidence, thus infused into the breasts of the people, produced an immediate and almost total cessation of agrarian outrage; the Association and its volunteer agents, the priests, taught that justice could best be attained by peaceful and legal means, and that every man who violated the law gave an advantage to the enemy. The lesson was impressively inculcated, and was, beyond all precedent, effective.
But this good was, to some extent, counterbalanced by much positive evil. There are more Irishmen than Smith O’Brien who are ambitious of the honour of a mockery of martyrdom. Perverted ingenuity was used to get up grievances, and more than one Protestant landlord was wantonly provoked into acts which might bear the semblance of persecution. False charges, even against the most virtuous men, were involuntarily circulated by the agency of the Association; orators at the meetings not unfrequently indulged in what they designated rhetorical artifices, but what everybody else called simple fabrications. The bitterness between sects and parties was aggravated by weekly harangues, in which the aim of too many orators seemed to be, to find an excuse for their own intemperate passions by exciting those of their hearers.
Religious controversy was super added to other causes of hatred. The Kildare-Place Society, a voluntary association, but supported, to some extent, by a parliamentary grant, undertook the task of national education in Ireland, but made it a fundamental rule, that the Bible without note or comment should be read in the schools. The Catholics protested against this rule as inconsistent with the discipline of their church : many Protestants declared that the Bible ought not to be degraded into a school-book; and all men of common sense contended that the right of laymen to read the Scriptures included the right to leave them unread, if they pleased. at the committee of the Society, most of whom were members of other societies, established for the avowed purpose of proselyting Catholics, refused to alter the obnoxious rule; which thus, generally, and not unreasonably, was regarded as a dishonest means for facilitating proselytism. Controversial meetings on the subject were frequent: O’Connell, Sheil, poor Birc, and several others, met missionary crusaders on the platform, and indulged in theological tournaments, which would have been infinitely amusing, if they had not been infinitely mischievous. There was a regular religious duel, of several days’ duration, between the Rev. Mr. Pope and the Rev. Mr. Maguire, towards the close of the campaign, followed by a paper war, which spread over several years. No one was near, to read the passionate disputants that impressive lesson of Edgar Quinet—“When Protestant and Catholic theologians rush into the controversial arena, calling upon Reason to act as umpire, they should address her as the gladiators of old did the Roman emperors, ‘Behold, those who are come to die before thee, salute thee!’”
This troubled atmosphere of Ireland seemed O’Connell’s natural element; it gave vent to the fiery activity by which his soul was consumed. The happiest moments of his life were those in which political and religious strife raged around. He felt like Samson engaged against the embattled Philistines; but the jawbone he wielded belonged to a much nobler animal than that which the Hebrew champion used as a weapon. Every blow told: one stroke sent down a Dublin alderman; another, a Cork evangelical; and another, a Galway landlord. Two proselyting missionaries, Captain Gordon and the Hon. Baptist Noel, came from England, to aid in advancing that most incomprehensible of delusions and blunders—the New Reformation; but from the moment they landed they were thrown into a state of perplexity, from which they will probably not recover during the rest of their lives. They could not comprehend that the chief recommendation of all this turmoil (to Irishmen) was “the fun of the thing :” they took everything seriously; and so, in Clonmel, they got savagely pelted, instead of being laughed at like the more mercurial itinerants. Thus passed the year 1824, during the whole of which the Catholic Association practically administered the government of Ireland, and a more noisy, merry, and efficient administration never existed; nor, we must added, an administration more fraught with peril to constitutional government, and the cause of social order.
Aware of the king’s prejudices, Canning and Plunkett were unwilling that the Catholic claims should be discussed in 1825, while, with obvious inconsistency, they assented to a measure for the suppression of the Catholic Association. Under these circumstances, the management of the Catholic question was entrusted to Sir Francis Burdett, whose motion for a committee was carried by a majority of four. At the unusual stage of the first reading of the bill, a sharp discussion was raised, chiefly in consequence of an act of characteristic imprudence on the part of O’Connell. He had been consulted in the framing of the measure, but his vanity and his jealousy of the recognition of the claims of others, induced him to address a letter to the newspapers, claiming the authorship of the bill, though he thereby endangered its success. Mr. Tierney found it necessary to disavow Mr. O’Connell’s participation; a duty which he performed in a manner by no means calculated to win that gentleman’s favour. Two measures, known under the name of “wings,” were connected with emancipation, though introduced as separate bills; one for the disfranchisement of the forty shilling freeholders, which O’Connell had himself recommended in his evidence before a committee of the House of Commons during the preceding year; the other, for the payment of the Catholic clergy by the State.
In the debate on the second reading of the Emancipation bill, Mr. Brownlow (the late Lord Lurgan), who had been one of the most violent opponents of the Catholics, declared himself in their favour, and the majority on their side was increased to twenty-seven. A further division took place in the House of Commons, and gave a majority of twenty-two; but before the bill reached the Lords, the Duke of York bound himself by a solemn oath—though rather irreverently introduced into a political speech—that he would oppose the Catholic claims in whatever situation of life he might be placed. The second reading was consequently defeated by a majority of forty-eight, in which was included the Marquis of Anglesey, who had previously been favourable to the Catholic claims.
A great majority of the Catholic aristocracy and gentry, including some of the leading prelates, viewed the proceedings of the Catholic Association with some alarm, and became anxious for the settlement of the Catholic question more through dread of the evil consequences likely to result from delay, than from anxiety to reap the advantages which admission to their constitutional franchises and privileges would open. The members of the Catholic Association itself became alarmed at the extent of the power which they possessed, and afraid of the fearful responsibilities which it involved. Even the more rational portion of the Orangemen of Ireland felt alarmed by the success of the Association, and were infinitely more inclined to a compromise than at any previous or subsequent period of their history. The Catholic Association yielded without a struggle, and was dissolved; the Orange lodges were equally obedient to the new law; but the speech of the Duke of York, and the rejection of the Emancipation bill by the House of Lords, produced a new series of agitations and excitements, from which the empire will not recover during the rest of the century.
The Irish Catholics had expected an equitable adjustment of their claims; they had come to parliament willing to concede much which they would find it difficult to retract subsequently, and sincerely anxious to make such arrangements as would tend to harmonize the two religions, and to identify the two nations. They were met in a similar spirit by the English representatives, and, as we have good reason to believe, by the English people; Catholic Emancipation was more popular, or rather, less unpopular, in 1825 than it was in 1829; and, had the opportunity of settling the question then offered been taken, much subsequent danger and difficulty would have been averted from the empire. Never since then have ministers found England so acquiescent, and Ireland so calm and tranquil.
The tranquillity of Ireland was at an end so soon as news arrived of the rejection of the Emancipation bill by the House of Lords, and of the Duke of York’s speech, by which chiefly that rejection was occasioned. The news was received with a burst of indignation so profound and intense, that serious apprehensions were entertained for the public peace; moderate men became violent, and violent men became insane. The Irish had expected Emancipation, and they received restriction; the law for suppressing associations was stigmatised as “the Algerine act;” vehement vituperations were poured on its authors and abettors, including even Plunkett, Canning, and many other zealous supporters of the Catholic claims. “The wings” were denounced as acts of treachery, and a storm of reproach was directed against those who consented to disfranchise the forty-shilling freeholders, and to make the Catholic clergy pensioners of the state. Even O’Connell found that his influence had been seriously impaired, and it was only by the loudest professions of sorrow and repentance that he succeeded in winning back the confidence which he had lost.
On the return of the Catholic delegates from England, a meeting was held in North Anne-street Chapel, and it was one of the most enthusiastic ever assembled in Dublin. Sheil, in one of his most brilliant speeches, announced the determination of the Catholics to persevere until their efforts were crowned with success, concluding with an adjuration to that effect, as solemn as that pronounced by the Duke of York. The whole vast multitude, actuated by sudden and simultaneous impulse, rose as one man, and, with the right hand raised to heaven, joined in the patriotic oath. We have attended meetings where there was louder cheering and more ostentatious manifestations of feeling, but never have we seen an assembly so terribly in earnest, so manifestly actuated by fixed and indomitable resolution. O’Connell at once denounced and ridiculed “the Algerine act;” he declared that he could “drive a coach-and-six through it,” and that he would revive the Catholic Association in spite of its enactments. He kept his word; the law was clumsily worded, and easily evaded; the Catholic Association sprung into life with new vigour and greater power than ever. In their indignation and disappointment the Catholic aristocracy and gentry not only submitted Jo the leadership of O’Connell, but supported him with an ardour not surpassed by that of his more ancient followers.
A general election took place in the summer of 1826. O’Connell, by his plan of shilling subscriptions, had calculated and organized the popular strength; he resolved to assail the ascendancy in the very strongholds of their power; and he struck the first blow in the county of Waterford, where at first sight success seemed most hopeless. Hitherto the forty-shilling freeholders had been mere serfs to the landed proprietors; their votes and their rent were equally claimed by the lords of the soil; and so completely did the freeholders belong to their landlords, that the county of Waterford, one of the most Catholic in Ireland, was represented by the Orange Beresfords for nearly a century. In this very county, where the vast property of the Marquis of Waterford had so long given his family unresisted sway, was struck the first blow for independence. At the instigation of the Catholic Association, a few gentlemen of moderate rank and fortune, possessing no political influence, presented a requisition to Mr. Williers Stuart (since Lord Stuart of the Decies) then travelling on the continent: he accepted the offer, posted back to Ireland, and announced himself as a candidate for the county, in an address of great ability and firmness, but also of great temper and moderation.
The Beresfords and their friends at first received this announcement with shouts of laughter; calculating, according to the old system by landlords, they had a clear majority of six hundred electors on the register. It is not wonderful therefore that their organ declared, in a stanza borrowed from Peter Pindar,—
“Stuart won’t do,—he won’t,—he won’t—
He can’t succeed—he can’t—he can’t
He conquer us, the scab!
He that ne’er ran a race before—
‘Yes, you’re a racer to be sure,’
Cried the Devil to the crab.”
But after the lapse of a few days, they began to feel some alarm: O’Connell wrote letters of exhortation; volunteer agitators addressed the freeholders from the altar on the steps of the chapel after the celebration of mass; the priests declared that those who voted against their conscience and their country, merely to please their landlords, were guilty of perjury; and an active canvass of the tenant-farmers was commenced, without any reference being made to the opinions of their landlords. Lord George Beresford and his supporters lost their temper; in the blindness of rage, two addresses were issued in the name of Lord George, which could not have been more effective in prejudicing his cause, if they had been actually framed by the committee of his antagonist. These precious documents inveighed against the demagogues of the Association, bestowed the most abusive epithets on the priests, derided the religion of the people, and then, in a most insulting tone, demanded, rather than asked, their votes. Justly did Mr. Williers Stuart put the taunting question—
“Was ever voter in such humour woo’d?
Was ever voter in such humour won?”
No sooner did the election begin, than the popular enthusiasm carried everything before it, sweeping away all ancient allegiance, and all neutrality. On the very first day, Mr. Williers Stuart had a majority among the Beresford tenantry; the workmen and labourers in the employment of the Marquis of Waterford voted against his brother, for the popular candidate; on the fifth day, Mr. Williers Stuart had a decided majority, entirely derived from the electors on whom his opponents had relied, which was certain to be largely increased by the electors in the baronies, where the popular strength lay. It was, of course, useless to protract the contest: Lord George Beresford resigned, without very well comprehending that he had been beaten; and Mr. Villiers Stuart was returned, to the surprise of all Ireland, and more especially to the surprise of the authors and agents of his return. We had won a decisive victory before we had recovered from our astonishment at being engaged in such a fight.
A still more extraordinary triumph was achieved in the county of Louth, the representation of which had been long divided between the powerful families of Lords Roden and Oriel. It was received as an axiom, that their nominees would walk over the course. Three days, however, before the election, Mr. Alexander Dawson, a retired barrister, of moderate fortune, declared his intention of becoming a candidate, but announced that he would incur no expense in the contest. Such an address seemed perfectly ludicrous; but no sooner did the poll open, than he obtained such a majority as speedily placed his election beyond hazard. His two opponents, who had started as allies, now became rivals, and keenly contested the second seat. The Catholics and liberal Protestants were amused spectators of the desperate strife between the two Orangemen, regretting only that they had not started a second candidate, and ousted both. Like battles were fought with like success in Monaghan and Westmeath; Wexford would also have been won, had not the writ been issued, and the election decided, before the contest in Waterford had taken place.
The Irish landlords felt their defeat severely, and commenced a system of vindictive retaliation by ejecting, without mercy, all the tenants who had proved refractory. On the other hand, the Catholic Association organized “A TenantProtection Rent,” which soon amounted to a considerable sum ; at the same time, it was very broadly hinted that Catholic creditors would foreclose the mortgages of those landlords who chose to indulge in the luxury of persecution. This was a perilous menace to men overwhelmed with debt, and only nominal owners of their estates; the landlords soon saw that they would have the worst in the conflict: they desisted one by one, and even employed the priests, in many cases, to make amicable arrangements for them with their own tenants.
The success of the Catholics in Ireland weakened their cause in England, where the ostentatious interference of the priests at the elections was viewed with constitutional jealousy and not unfounded dislike. At this period, too, the delusion of the “New Reformation,” Lord Farnham, whom Plunkett aptly designated the “Peter-the-Hermit of this New Crusade,” found a sufficient number of Catholic paupers, who were induced, by food and clothing, to allow themselves to be paraded as converts in various farcical processions. We knew some of these converts, and a greater set of scamps never existed; their Protestant patrons soon got weary of them, for they found that they had a very remarkable taste for silver spoons and other valuables easily secreted. So soon as supplies failed, they went back to their own church; indeed, it was a common jest amongst them, that they had only “bid good-by to God” for a season, and would return to him again as soon as possible. It is a sad example of Protestant credulity, to find that this most patent of absurdities was received as a sacred reality in England, was declared the work of Providence, in parliament, by right reverend prelates, was supported by large subscriptions of the generous and wealthy, was sanctioned even by so cautious a statesman as Peel, and was the chief cause of the rejection of Sir Francis Burdett’s motion in favour of the Catholics in 1827, by a majority of four. Long before the close of the year, the bubble was shivered into atoms; a result to which the sarcasm of O’Connell, and the pungent ridicule of Sheil, mainly contributed. Peel then became convinced that further resistance to the Catholic claims was hopeless; he privately communicated his opinion to Lord Liverpool, and offered to retire from office until the question was settled.
The death of the Duke of York, in the beginning of the year 1827, followed by the apoplexy of Lord Liverpool, opened the way for the formation of a cabinet favourable to the Catholic claims. Canning, through an indirect channel, opened a communication with some of the leaders of the Catholic Association: he candidly stated to them that the revived prejudices of the English people, and the inveterate hostility of the king, were the chief obstacles to their emancipation; he pledged himself to use every exertion to allay the prejudices of the people, and to win over the sovereign; and he requested that the Association should suspend its meetings, as its proceedings were well calculated to irritate those whom it was most desirable to soothe. This was the substance of the authorized communication; but the agent employed went further; he more than hinted, that as emancipation had been delayed by the Marchioness of Hertford, so it would be accelerated by the Marchioness of Conyngham; upon which some one present remarked, “Then the Orangemen will have THEIR witchery resolutions.”
It would have been obviously impolitic to communicate these transactions to the public; but the secrecy placed both Mr. Canning and the Catholic leaders in very awkward relations to each other and the country, which could not have failed to produce most perplexing results, but for the early death of that lamented statesman. O’Connell had yielded to the policy of quiescence with ready conviction, and also with undisguised reluctance; but, as neither he, nor any body else, had confidence in the feeble cabinet of Lord Goderich, agitation was renewed in the autumn and winter of 1827, so that when the Duke of Wellington became prime-minister, in February, 1828, with Peel as chief of his staff, he found the Catholic Association more formidable and more powerful than ever. In fact, it governed all the Catholic provinces of Ireland with absolute sway. “The edicts of the greatest despots or autocrats who ever existed, the decrees of the French Convention at the height of the reign of terror, were never obeyed with more alacrity and submission, than the commands of the Association by the willing devotion of the Irish people.” At the instigation of O’Connell, the Catholics of Ireland petitioned parliament in favour of the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, and under the same influence they solemnly resolved, at an aggregate meeting, “to oppose the election of any candidate who would not pledge himself against the Duke’s government.” When the Test and Corporation acts were repealed, Lord John Russell wrote to Mr. O’Connell, suggesting the rescinding of the obnoxious resolution. O’Connell proposed to the Association that Lord John’s recommendation should be adopted; but after a stormy debate, in which O’Connell displayed unwonted temper and moderation, his motion was rejected.
A resolution in favour of the Catholic claims was carried in the Commons by a majority of six, and rejected for the last time in the Lords by a majority of forty-four. The tone of ministers in the debate was so lowered, that every one saw that the time of their yielding could not be far distant; the Duke of Wellington went so far as to say that he “wished to see the disabilities of the Roman Catholics of Ireland removed,” and “that, if the agitators of Ireland would leave the public mind at rest, it might be possible to do something.”
The agitators received this recommendation with scornful derision; they had tried quiescent policy in 1825, and its result was notorious to all the world. They had tried since, the new policy of peaceful agitation, and they saw that success was within their reach. One great effort more was wanting, and it was made at a county election, presenting at first sight far more desperate odds than the memorable contest for the county of Waterford. On the retirement of the Huskisson party from the Wellington cabinet, or perhaps, as we should call it, their ignominious expulsion, Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald succeeded Mr. Charles Grant at the Board of Trade. He thus vacated his seat for the county of Clare, but neither he nor any body else had the slightest notion that his return would be disputed. He was personally and most deservedly popular, he had uniformly supported Catholic emancipation as his father had done before him, and he was nearly related to the Catholic dean, O’Shaughnesy, who possessed great influence in the county. Still the Catholic Association resolved to contest the seat; for some time it was impossible to find a candidate; Major M’Namara, on whom the Association relied, having refused to come forward, in consequence of the obligations under which his family lay to Mr. Fitzgerald.
At this crisis, the eccentric O’Gorman Mahon proposed that Mr. O’Connell should offer himself as a candidate. There was a brief moment of hesitation, before the counsel, which then seemed desperate, was adopted. At length, O’Connell’s address to the electors of Clare was issued, and it at once arrested the attention, not only of Ireland, but of all Burope.
A goodly staff of oratorical agitators was at once sent down from Dublin to the county of Clare—it included Messrs. Steele (O’Connell’s head-pacificator), O’Gorman, and O’Gorman Mahon; it was soon joined by Mr. Lawless (Homest Jack), and the Rev. Mr. Maguire—better known, in Ireland and England, as “Father Tom,” the opponent of Mr. Pope in the great religious controversy; and, more recently, the defendant in a case of seduction, in which O’Connell, as his counsel, had displayed the highest powers of forensic ability. This oratorical corps was re-enforced by Father Murphy, of Corofin, a clever speaker, a boon companion, and as keen a sportsman as is to be found in Ireland: most of the priests in the county followed his example; and thus, in the words of Sheil, “every altar became a tribune.” One priest, the Rev. Mr. Caffey had the courage to resist the popular tide, whereupon his parishioners, with genuine Irish whimsicality, declared that “they would give him his tay:” the joke was a bad one, but its interpretation was worse—they gave him bad halfpence instead of their usual liberal contributions, and he was almost reduced to mendicancy. So significant a hint was not lost on his clerical brethren, and they became zealous supporters of O’Connell, and of their own pockets.
The history of the Clare election remains to be written; time cannot efface the vivid recollections of the scene. Mr. Fitzgerald appeared on the hustings surrounded by the principal gentlemen of the county, including many who had been his political opponents. Indeed, he was proposed by the gentleman who had been his rival candidate at the preceding election. O’Connell had with him a very few of the gentry, but he had a large attendance of the priesthood. He was proposed by O’Gorman Mahon, and seconded by Mr. Steele. Mr. Fitzgerald then addressed the assembly: he spoke in a subdued and melancholy tone; he burst into tears as he referred to the services of his revered father, then extended on a bed of sickness and approaching death; he spoke of himself with unaffected modesty, not concealing that the opposition to his election was equally mortifying and unexpected. So conciliatory was his address, that though the vast majority of the audience were enthusiastic in the support of his rival, they cheered him at the conclusion with a burst of applause which shook the court-house.
O’Connell’s address was never surpassed by himself in sarcastic vituperation. His language, tone, and manner exhibited assurance of victory, and measureless contempt for his opponents. “This,” said he, pointing to his rival, “is the friend of the bloody Percival, and the candid and manly Peel; and he is our friend, and he is everybody’s friend.” Unmerited as was the epithet applied to Percival, it was delivered with a force of expression which thrilled the multitude, and even affected those who were convinced of its injustice. He then turned on Mr. Fitzgerald’s principal supporters, and assailed them with withering invective, not unfrequently degenerating into downright abuse, but not, on that account, less palatable to the great majority of those whom he addressed.
The election was the most orderly ever contested in Ireland: the Catholic leaders and the priests exerted themselves successfully to keep the people quiet; they forbade them to touch spirituous liquors, and, though Father Mathew had not yet appeared, not a single glass of whisky was tasted by any of the peasantry during the election. Some strange events occurred: Sir Edward O’Brien assembled his tenants in a body, to march to the hustings and vote for Fitzgerald; Father Murphy, of Corofin, met them, harangued them, and, placing himself at their head, led them into Ennis, and polled them, to a man, for O’Connell. Father Tom did the same with the tenants of Mr. Augustine Butler. One evening, at the close of the poll, while the crowd waited to hear the number announced, a Catholic priest, realizing in his appearance Sir Walter Scott’s description of Habakkuk Mucklewrath, ascended the hustings, and in a sepulchral voice announced that a Catholic had that day voted for Fitzgerald.
Groans, and cries of “Shame!” burst from the crowd, “Silence,” said the priest, “the hand of God has struck him; he has just died of apoplexy. Pray for his soul.” The whole multitude knelt down, and a prayer was muttered in sobs and tears. The announcement was correct; the wretched man was so affected by having voted, as he believed, against his conscience and his country, that he sunk under the feeling. On the sixth day Mr. Fitzgerald resigned the contest, and O’Connell was returned.
The consequences of this victory were momentous: aggregate meetings were held in various parts of the country, at which, many, both of the Protestant and Catholic aristocracy, attended, and took the pledges dictated by the Catholic Association. The peasant-factions, which used to meet for battle on every holiday and every fair, met, under the guidance of the agitators, to forswear their feuds, and join hands in amity. The tranquillity of Ireland was terrible. Mr. G. R. Dawson announced himself a convert to emancipation; the more ardent Protestants formed Brunswick clubs, in which they emulated the violence, without exhibiting the eloquence, of the Catholic Association. Ministers had to choose between emancipation and civil war. The Duke of Wellington, after a long and painful struggle, induced the king to consent that Catholics should be restored to their place in the constitution.
Emancipation had been delayed too long, and was at the last very ungraciously conceded. A stringent act was passed for suppressing the Association; a miserable clause prohibited the Catholic prelates from taking the titles of their sees; and, to gratify the spleen of George IV., the Emancipation act was so worded as to exclude O’Connell from his seat for Clare. Such was the boasted measure of 1829; so concocted as to combine favour with insult—so managed as to show that the favour was extorted, and the insult designed.
O’Connell had declared at the hustings, that, by an oversight in the act of Union, he was entitled to his seat, and Mr. Charles Butler sanctioned his opinion. There was certainly a doubt in the matter, of which he ought to have had the benefit. His exclusion was as senseless as it was paltry, for every one knew that he was certain of being re-elected. O’Connell was deeply mortified by the refusal, which he persisted, most erroneously, in attributing to the personal rancour of Sir Robert Peel, and the memory of the abortive duel. He was also led to believe that the ministers had resolved to maintain the exclusive policy in fact, which they had abolished in law, and there is no doubt that such a declaration had been passionately made by the king.
O’Connell’s address to the electors of Clare was a fierce denunciation of the Wellington and Peel administration; and it contained the startling announcement, that he was about to commence a new agitation, to obtain a Repeal of the Union. His speech at his re-election, which was not opposed, was still more virulent and denunciatory; and on his return to Dublin, he commenced to organize an Association for Repeal, under the name of “the Friends of Ireland of all Religious Denominations.” The Lord-Lieutenant prohibited the meeting of this strange “Society of Friends,” and O’Connell then exhorted the people to make a run upon the banks, and thus show their power by shaking the credit of the country. A fearful panic ensued; all business was stopped throughout Ireland; the distress of the country threatened universal ruin and confusion; but this palpable proof of the mischief and absurdity of the advice thus madly given, brought the multitude to their senses. The run on the banks ceased, and commercial credit was restored.
Soon after taking his seat in the house of parliament, Mr. O’Connell in 1830 introduced a bill to establish triennial parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot, but found only thirteen members to support him in a house of 332, while he utterly failed in exciting any enthusiasm for his scheme among the same and sober people of England. Thus disappointed, he returned to Ireland, and founded a new agitation, on the revolutions of France and Belgium, holding out the latter to the Irish in express terms, as the example they ought to follow in working out the Repeal of the Union. He changed the name of his new Association several times, to evade the Lord-Lieutenant’s proclamations, and he attacked the government and its officers with an excess of insult which amounted to absolute raving. All the liberal Protestants, and all the respectable Catholics, refused to share in these proceedings. A numerous meeting of noblemen and gentlemen, convened by the Duke of Leinster, voted resolutions to uphold the legislative Union between the two countries; and during the general election, consequent on the death of George IV., no attempt succeeded to extort from a candidate a pledge for Repeal. The first speech of William IV. to parliament, delivered in Mr. O’Connell’s presence, expressed the king’s grief and indignation at the efforts made to excite disaffection in Ireland: but the agitator took no notice of the rebuke; and the subsequent dissolution of the Wellington ministry, for a time diverted attention from the projected Repeal.
But 1831 opened with O’Connell’s setting about his new agitation with vigour. His first attempt was, to have a procession of the Trades of Dublin; then, to get up a new association himself; them, to have meetings disguised as public breakfasts; then, to excite a new run on the banks; and, finally, to hold parochial meetings, where he could vent abuse on the English parliament and people. All this frenzy and fury resulted from a mortification which his own imprudence had brought upon himself. The Domeraile conspiracy, in the summer of 1829, like the popish plot, according to Dryden, was one of those farcical tragedies too frequent at Irish assizes—
“Some truth there was, but dash’d and brew’d with lies;”
A conspiracy had been formed to murder some active magistrates, and an informer was found to give warning. In taking his examinations, the magistrates fell into the common error of putting leading questions, which the wretched informer took as suggestions, and he gave them just such evidence as he saw that they wished to receive. Three trials of the conspirators took place. O’Connell was not present at the first, and the prisoners were found guilty; he appeared at the second, and so shook the approver, that the jury could not agree to a verdict; the third had not proceeded far, when the judge pointed out to Mr. O’Connell, that there was a fatal variance between the information and his evidence; the prisoners were of course acquitted. Instead of attributing these proceedings to the folly of the magistrates and the vanity of one Admiral Evans, who had made some absurd speeches against the Emancipation bill, and wished that they should be deemed so important as to point him out as a victim for assassination; O’Connell jumped to the conclusion, that the whole was a conspiracy against the lives of innocent men, sanctioned, if not planned, by the law-officers of the crown, and especially Mr. Doherty, then solicitor-general. He assailed this gentleman with the most violent vituperation, and declared, that when parliament met, he would propose his impeachment. Parliament did meet, and O’Connell, on inquiry, found that he had no case whatever. Night after might he had to endure the polished taunts of Doherty, whose bland eloquence, lively wit, and gentlemanlike deportment had made him a universal favourite; and night after night he had to shift, shuffle, and evade, while the gentlemen around him unequivocally manifested the contempt they felt for so pitiable a spectacle. After this, O’Connell despaired of attaining any position in the British parliament, and therefore sought to have a parliament of his own in Ireland.
O’Connell had similarly boasted that he would test the legality of the government proclamations, by bringing five hundred actions, if one of his meetings should be dispersed. A meeting was dispersed, and no action was brought. Government resolved to force him to an issue, and indicted him and others for a conspiracy to evade the law. After trying every possible means of delay, Mr. O’Connell pleaded guilty to the first fourteen counts of the indictment, or, what is the same thing, suffered judgment to go by default, and the attorney-general abandoned the remaining counts. He then entered into a private negociation with government; he dictated the terms to his son, and they were sent with a letter from his son-in-law, through Mr. Bennett, his professional adviser, to be laid before Mr. Secretary Stanley. In this deliberate letter, he distinctly offered to give up all agitation for the Repeal of the Union, if the government would abandon the prosecution, and inform him what measure they intended to propose for the benefit of Ireland. Mr. (since Lord) Stanley, the Irish secretary, indignantly spurned the offer, and said that the law should take its course. The subject was brought before the House of Commons, and O’Connell had again the mortification to encounter the scornful laughter of the House, when he asserted that there had been no compromise, which was true, as Stanley had rejected every attempt at negociation,-and that he had not offered one, though in the very same sentence he was explaining and defending its conditions.
Ultimately, O’Connell escaped: the aid which he gave the government in the struggle on the Reform bill was too valuable to be unrewarded; the act under which he had been convicted was allowed to expire, and he was never called up for judgment. But he never forgave Stanley for the bitter mortification he had been compelled to endure; and his hostility was deepened by the elevation of Mr. Doherty to the chief-justiceship of the Common Pleas. Mr. Spring Rice, (since Lord Monteagle,) endeavoured to effect a cordial reconciliation between O’Connell and the Whigs, but Earl Grey viewed the agitator with unmitigated scorn: he regarded him as a compound of meanness and falsehood, perverting great talents to delude an ignorant and confiding people, for sordid and selfish ends; as a calumniator, who sheltered himself from responsibility under a vow never to fight a second duel; and as a dishonest mendicant, who extorted money from pauperism under false pretences. Lofty and high-minded himself, to an excess, Earl Grey took too harsh a view of O’Connell’s failings, and intimated his opinions too bluntly and too openly.
The truce between the Whigs and O’Connell was speedily at an end; he assailed the Irish Reform bill with the utmost bitterness, declaring that it was both insulting and unjust, because it did not increase the number of members, and give a lower qualification for voters than was required in England. An effective agitation against this was organized by the peasantry; in some cases, the levying of the obnoxious tax was resisted by open force, and lives were lost in collisions. Political agitation sanctioned and encouraged agrarian outrage: O’Connell told the people that it was vain to expect justice from an English government, and thus induced them to have recourse to what he delicately called “the wild justice of revenge,” for every real or imaginary grievance. Whiteboy outrages were perpetrated with impunity, for a reign of terror had been established, which prevented witnesses from giving evidence or juries from convicting.
The war between O’Connell and the ministry was at its height, when parliament was dissolved, and the election for the first reform-parliament commenced. Such was the influence of the great agitator, that nearly half the members for Ireland were nominated by him, and he took care to select none but his near relatives and most servile dependents. These received the name of “O’Connell’s tail;” they were, for the most part, destitute of wealth, rank, or social position: few had any talent, and some were objectionable on the score of character. A greater moral injury was never inflicted on any country, than Ireland received from this proceeding of O’Connell; the standard of public men in that country was lowered to the level of degradation, and the name of “Irish member” became a mockery, a by-word, and a reproach, in England.
On the assembling of parliament in 1833, Earl Grey introduced a bill for the suppression of disturbances in Ireland, since known by the name of the Coercion act. Its provisions were stringent, but hardly more so than the necessity of the case justified; for the black catalogue of crime exhibited during a single year—172 homicides, 465 robberies, 568 burglaries, 455 acts of houghing cattle, 2,095 illegal notices, 425 illegal meetings, 796 malicious injuries to property, 753 attacks on houses, 280 arsons, and 3,156 serious assaults. Such were the first-fruits of the Repeal agitation, and such were the reasons why many of us Munster farmers who had zealously supported O’Connell from 1825 to 1829, the period of his true glory, now turned against a man who had adopted a desperate course of policy, which perilled our properties and our lives.
The Coercion bill was strenuously opposed by Mr. O’Connell and the repealers, but several of those who spoke and voted against it, secretly desired that it should pass. Every one remembers the comedy of “Who is the Traitor?” in which Mr. Hill, Mr. Sheil, and Lord Althorp acted so conspicuous a part, and which ended by consigning the two latter to the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms, to prevent them from fighting a duel against their will. If Sheil, as was reported, had declared himself a reluctant opponent of the Coercion bill, he did not stand alone; Mr. Galway, the member for the county of Waterford, declared privately to O’Connell, that some coercive measures had become absolutely necessary, and he divided with ministers on one of the clauses. For these acts of insubordination, he was subsequently excluded from parliament.
Concurrent with the Coercion bill was a far more popular measure, for diminishing the number of Irish bishops, and applying a portion of the revenues of the Irish Church to the payment of church-cess and other purposes. The discussion of this question became subsequently involved with “the appropriation clause,” which proposed that the surplus of church-revenues should be applied to the education of the people. On this subject two grave errors prevail. It is almost universally believed that this clause was introduced at the suggestion of O’Connell, and that he exercised some influence in prevailing on Lord John Russell to set it aside, in a manner that savoured of political cowardice. Now, O’Connell, so far from proposing the appropriation clause, thoroughly disliked it from the very beginning. Like the Jesuits of France, he was entirely hostile to state-education, and to education of any kind which was not under the direct and immediate control of the Catholic clergy. He warmly praised, both in public and in private, Montalembert, for having supported similar principles in France; and he joined Sir Robert H. Inglis and Archbishop M’Hale in raising the cry of “infidelity’ against the provincial colleges established by Sir Robert Peel in Ireland.
O’Connell had just as little to do with the abandonment as he had with the proposal of the appropriation clause; it was laid aside in consequence of the remonstrances of the Protestant and Catholic archbishops of Dublin, (Whately and Murray,) both of whom declared that they would retire from the Education board, rather than stand in the invidious position in which they would be placed by such a clause, with relation to the Established church and the Protestant community in Ireland.
O’Connell had often been taunted for not bringing his project for the Repeal of the Union under the consideration of the imperial parliament: but he feared that such a course would be fatal to the gigantic bubble; it was profitable as a theme for agitation in Ireland, but it was certain to be scouted by every man of sense in England. One of the “joints of the tail,” however, revolted: Feargus O’Connor, by the grace of O’Connell member for the county of Cork, was a very sincere, though a most wrong-headed man; he refused to be a party any longer to a palpable delusion, and threatened that if O’Connell did not bring the question before parliament, he would undertake the task himself. For this insubordination Feargus was deprived of his senatorial honours at the earliest opportunity, and driven from Ireland to carry on the trade of agitation in England, where he is said to have found it more safe and more profitable.
On the 22d of April the first and last discussion on the Repeal of the Union took place in the House of Commons; the debate lasted six nights: Mr. O’Connell spoke for nearly seven hours; Mr. Spring Rice occupied about the same time in reply; and Mr. Emerson Tennant (now Sir James) exhibited the most striking feat of memory on record, delivering by rote a speech which, if published complete, would have occupied a thick octavo volume. The motion was rejected by the overwhelming majority of 523 against 38, one English member only voting in the minority. An address was then carried, pledging parliament to support the Union, which was on the following night unanimously adopted by the Lords.
The resignation of Mr. Stanley, Sir James Graham, the Earl of Ripon, and the Duke of Richmond, on the question of the Irish church, greatly lessened O’Connell’s hostility to the cabinet; he ceased to call them “the base, brutal, and bloody Whigs,”—a choice phrase which had hitherto occupied a prominent place in his speeches and letters to the people of Ireland. Mr. Littleton, (since Lord Hatherton,) a goodnatured amiable man, resolved to take advantage of these favourable dispositions, and, without consulting Earl Grey, he privately communicated to O’Connell that the Irish government, in renewing the Coercion bill, would not press the clauses which prohibited public meetings. But as the premier believed these to be among the most valuable parts of the measure, the new bill, when introduced, was found to contain these obnoxious clauses. A stormy debate ensued in the House of Commons, and a new schism took place in the cabinet. Earl Grey, finding that the majority of his colleagues were disposed to yield to O’Connell, resigned his office, and retired into private life. Lord Melbourne was placed at the head of the new administration.
William IV. was just as much displeased as Earl Grey with the course of policy pursued by the cabinet, and especially with the implied license given to O’Connell to renew agitation in Ireland, a privilege which that gentleman had soon shown his determination to exercise with renewed vigour. On the death of Earl Spencer, which compelled Lord Althorp to resign his office as chancellor of the exchequer, being called to the upper house; the king suddenly and unceremoniously dismissed his ministers, and the fact was briefly announced in the Times, with the significant addition, “the Queen has done it all.” On the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, the king entrusted the formation of a new cabinet to Sir Robert Peel, who was then absent in Italy. A special messenger was sent to hasten his return;
“the hurried Hudson rushed into the halls of the Vatican;” Peel posted back from Rome, formed a thorough Tory ministry, and dissolved the parliament.
No one was more surprised and annoyed at this result than O’Connell, and he very fairly took no small part of the blame on himself. “I will take good care,” said he to some liberals in Dublin, “how I again have a hand in turning out the Whigs to let in the Tories.” His energies succeeded in turning the Irish elections against Sir Robert Peel’s government; but, as before, he insisted on repeal candidates: “Sink or swim—live or die,” said he, on the Dublin hustings, “I am for repeal.” Neither did he shrink from the most violent use of intimidation : he menaced the shopkeepers with exclusive dealing; and, in reference to the election for his native county, he said, “Every one who votes for the Orange knight of Kerry shall have a death’s head and cross-bones painted on his door.” We believe that this extravagance was injurious to his cause, even in Ireland. He and his colleague were returned for Dublin by a very narrow majority, and were subsequently unseated on petition. O’Connell was, however, almost immediately elected for Kilkenny.
The Irish elections turned the parliamentary scale against Sir Robert Peel; after being several times left in minority, he suffered a decisive defeat on the question of the Irish Church, and at once resigned. The Melbourne ministry was restored, with the remarkable omissions of Lord Brougham from the chancellorship, and the Marquis of Wellesley from the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland. An implied contract was formed between O’Connell and the Melbourne party; they were to have his support in parliament, and O’Connell was to have a very large share of ministerial patronage. This arrangement greatly weakened the ministers in England, and did some mischief in Ireland. O’Connell recommended mone for promotion but the most adulatory of his retainers: a high colonial appointment was procured for a barrister, whose chief, and, as far as we know, whose only merit was having displayed a pair of stockings on a pole, to insult the Lord Mayor of Dublin, when he went in state to receive the Marquis of Anglesey, on his coming a second time as lordlieutenant of Ireland.
With this drawback, however, it must be confessed, that Ireland never made more rapid improvement than under the four years of the vice-royalty of Earl Mulgrave, since Marquis of Normanby. It was his misfortune, rather than his fault, that the ministry by which he had been appointed, had to encounter the strongest, the most unscrupulous, and, we might almost add, the most unprincipled opposition that ever existed in England. O’Connell was willing, and even eager to abandon repeal, for the more rational cause of “justice to Ireland,” but the Tory opposition having a decided majority in the Lords, and a formidable minority in the Commons, obstructed and mangled every measure, however just or expedient, introduced for the benefit of the people of Ireland. The most wanton insults were offered to the Irish, to their country, their clergy, their creed, and their race. Lord Lyndhurst stigmatized the Irish as “aliens in language, religion, and blood”—influential journals denounced the Catholic clergy as “ surpliced ruffians”—the reform of the Irish corporations was resisted and delayed, on the avowed ground that the Irish were an inferior race—reverend agitators, like O’Sullivan and Mr. Ghee, went round the country to kindle the flame of theological rancour against the see of Rome—and the press teemed with the publications of male and female bigots endeavouring to prove that the religion of three-fourths of Europe was offensive to God and dangerous to man. If the Irish had been the least susceptible of races, they could not but have been stimulated to resentment and resistance by such impolitic and wicked proceedings. People in England were not aware of the intense mischief they wrought in Ireland ; we know too well that the memory of them still rankles in the mind of the people. In the four years to which we have alluded, Ireland was conciliated to the Whig party, and thoroughly alienated from the English people. Exeter Hall effected what Conciliation Hall could never have accomplished; it kept repeal alive, after it had been abandoned by its author. No wonder when Sir Robert Peel took office in 1841, that he recognized Ireland as his principal difficulty; no wonder that the most eminent of the Irish prelates said to a despairing liberal, “Be easy, Peel’s past opposition will beat his future ministry.”
O’Connell showed unusual hesitation in opening his last repeal campaign. “The thanes had fallen from him;” no one of the veterans of the Catholic Association stood by his side, save Steele, whose devotion to his leader seemed to be tinged with insanity. All the old familiar faces had disappeared from his councils; the young men whom he had dazzled by the phantom of nationality in 1831, had profited by the experience of ten years, and had become too wise to be duped. One had become a sober clergyman, another a thriving barrister in England, and a third, the most zealous advocate in past times for the exclusive use of Irish manufactures, was seeking to represent an English borough on the principles of free trade. If Lady De Grey, the wife of the lord-lieutenant, had not given some unnecessary provocation, the nature of which has never been explained, it is possible that Peel might have had an opportunity of developing that liberal scheme of policy which he did not formally profess, but on which he steadfastly acted. Lady De Grey was connected with the Cole family, long conspicuous in the Orange party for fierce hostility to the Catholics; but we believe that the impression commonly entertained in Ireland of her interference with the viceregal administration, is utterly without foundation.
O’Connell saw that he had to deal with a new generation, which he significantly compared to the “other king who knew not Joseph;” they were a petulant, conceited race, but among the young men who gathered around him, there was one young man of decided talent and unswerving integrity—Thomas Davis—with whom nationality was at once a passion and a principle, the object of enthusiasm and the result of conviction. Such an ally was invaluable to the sincere, but most perilous to one who only used agitation as a means for selfish ends.
O’Connell saw that he had to deal with a new generation, which he significantly compared to the “other king who knew not Joseph;” they were a petulant, conceited race, but among the young men who gathered around him, there was one young man of decided talent and unswerving integrity—Thomas Davis—with whom nationality was at once a passion and a principle, the object of enthusiasm and the result of conviction. Such an ally was invaluable to the sincere, but most perilous to one who only used agitation as a means for selfish ends. About the middle of 1842 the Repeal cry was raised, and a new agitation commenced. Its progress was perfectly appalling; O’Connell himself was swept onward by the popular current, and, though thoroughly frightened, was unable to find footing as the waters rose around him. Monster-meetings of hundreds of thousands showed how deeply the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic demonstrations in England rankled in the public mind of Ireland. The great agitator found it far more difficult to restrain than to excite public enthusiasm; he was stopped on the road by thousands of impatient peasants, who with reproachful tones asked him, “Arrah then, counsellor, when will you give us the word?” and had he given the word, Ireland would have been in arms, and engaged in civil war, from one end to the other. Though called at the time “an uncrowned king,” there never was a moment in his public life when he was really so powerless. He followed instead of leading public opinion; and when he sought to escape into federalism, he saw that he must either remain a Repealer or sink into a political nullity. If O’Connell were a king, “the boys of the Nation”—as the Young Ireland party was called from the journal they had established—were the viceroys over him. Until they lost their best man, Davis, O’Connell was afraid of this party; he then fell into the opposite error, and believed that he could crush them by a breath.
He was more frightened by the monster-meetings than the government itself; and though his notorious character for falsehood leaves room for doubt, we believe that he honestly intended the Clontarf meeting to be the last. His inordinate vanity must have been more than satiated by the plaudits of hundreds of thousands, and his constitutional timidity must have been excited by the violence of the demonstrations in public, and the still greater violence of the counsels tendered in private. In the midst of his anxieties and perplexities, he was summoned to a sharp encounter with the law. A monster-indictment and a monster-trial became a proper appendage to monster-meetings.
Every one remembers that most Irish exhibition of official blundering and forensic eloquence, the trial of O’Connell and his associates at the beginning of 1844. A jury was fairly assembled, but with every appearance of having been unconstitutionally packed—an Attorney-General tendered a challenge to an opposing lawyer in open court; and, to mend the matter, in the presence of that lawyer’s wife—Whiteside delivered a speech worthy of the best days of Curran, Bushe, or Plunkett—the presiding judge delivered a charge as sound in rhetoric as it was doubtful in law—and a trial lasted twenty-four days without abating in interest or lessening to any perceptible extent the anxious enthusiasm of the public.
Before O’Connell could be called up for judgment, he paid a brief visit to England, and attended one of the meetings of the Anti-Corn-Law League in Covent Garden Theatre. He there found that the government prosecution had achieved for him what nothing else but a miracle could have effected; it had rendered him for the time, even more popular in England than he was in Ireland.
John Bull has had a thorough dislike of all constructive crimes since 1794: he thought that O’Connell could not have been guilty of any very overt sedition when it took about a month to establish the charge; he was deeply incensed at learning that the office of an English newspaper had the appearance of being converted into a house of agency for espionage ; he was sure that the jury had been packed, and the bench prejudiced; and furthermore honest John reproached himself for having encouraged government to proceed, by feeling too sensibly O’Connell’s senseless attacks on the Saxon. This was the general sentiment of the English people; but to the League, O’Connell was further recommended by thirty years of opposition to the Corn-Laws, and by his zealous co-operation in every effort for their repeal, whether in or out of parliament.
Under these circumstances, his reception by the assembled multitude was one of the most magnificent displays of popular enthusiasm ever witnessed. He declared himself that he was not prepared for it, even by the experience of the monster-meetings. His speech, the last of any permanent interest that he ever delivered, was one of the finest oratorical displays of his life. He had achieved the object, of which, if he had not despaired, the cry of repeal would never have been raised—he had triumphed gloriously, and completely on English ground.
This event strengthened the suspicions with which O’Connell had long been regarded by the Young Ireland party; it was remarked that he began to speak respectfully of the English people, and to abate the vehemence of his denunciations against the Saxon. The growing feeling of alienation was, however, suspended; on the 24th of May, he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, and incarcerated in Richmond Penitentiary, near Dublin. During his confinement, every possible indulgence was shown him, and on the 4th of September, the decision of the Irish judges was reversed by the House of Lords.
O’Connell was liberated, but he came out of prison an altered man. During his confinement, the presidency of the Repeal Association had been confided to Mr. W. Smith O’Brien, member for the county of Limerick, a recent convert to the cause. The Young Ireland party had selected this gentleman as the rival and future successor of O’Connell, and, during the absence of the latter from the Association, had used all possible means to extend his reputation, and give him influence in the country. In former days, O’Connell would have brooked no rivalry, but imprisonment had broken his spirit, and had afforded Smith O’Brien time to strengthen himself with his party. Their jealousy was soon pretty manifest; there were bickerings in public, there was marked coldness in private. A project for convening an Irish senate, of very doubtful legality, and still more questionable prudence, was abandoned. A ridiculous club, the members of which were to wear a still more ridiculous uniform—including a fool’s cap, the shape of which was the subject of long and learned debate—was patronized by the O’Brien, and jeered by the O’Connell party. The Nation depreciated the member for Cork, the Pilot assailed the member for Waterford. Thus closed the year 1844, and thus opened the year 1845.
Soon after the assembling of parliament, Smith O’Brien covered himself with immortal ridicule, by courting imprisonment under the speaker’s warrant. Both the O’Connells were serving on railway bills; while he, to show the greater purity of his patriotism, refused to attend any committee save one engaged with Irish affairs. He was given into the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms, and, after a short confinement in one of the lower stories of the houses of parliament, was liberated on payment of his fees. The Young Ireland party made a vigorous effort to have this mockery recognized as a martyrdom; but the Irishman’s keen perception of the ridiculous prevailed, and “The Martyr of the Cellar,” as the poor gentleman was called, was greeted with inextinguishable laughter, where he had expected unbounded applause.
Sir Robert Peel’s proposition to establish Provincial Colleges in Ireland, became a new source of discord between O’Connell and the enthusiastic “boys of the Nation.” They had no sympathy with the sacerdotal predilections of the great agitator; the last thing to which they could be induced to submit, would be the political ascendancy of the priesthood; they were generally men of education and intelligence, and were therefore anxious for the diffusion of knowledge. On the question of the colleges they manfully stood out against O’Connell, and compelled him, in his own Association, to endure the mortification of defeat. This was the first event which shook his confidence in his own powers; he would have retired from further contest, but for the urgency of his son John, who, to more than his father’s bigotry, united an immoderate share of self-conceit. During O’Connell’s attendance in parliament during the session of 1846, the insubordination of Young Ireland became insupportable to the chieftain, and he sent his son John to dragoon them into obedience. He might as well have sent a baby to confine a regiment of March hares in a circle of a yard diameter. Conciliation Hall became a hall of discord with a vengeance; after a scene of brawling and confusion, Young Ireland seceded in a body, and set up for itself, under the name of the Irish Confederation.
O’Connell still believed that power was firm in his grasp. “I will return to Dublin,” said he; “I have the priests with me; and let me see the man in Ireland who will venture to resist the priests.” Bootlesss boast! the repeal rent, the best test of popularity, began by its rapid decline to illustrate the theory of vanishing fractions; the mob of Dublin looked upon him with coldness; no eager deputations and no bombastic addresses marked his progresses in the country; and in the midst of these signs of declining popularity and power, his country was smitten by a calamity which was fearfully aggravated by the demoralized state of society, too obviously the consequence of his perverse and continuous agitation.
Famine, dreadful under any circumstances, was in Ireland perfectly awful; for the condition of society rendered the application of palliative remedies all but impossible. Agency for administering relief did not exist in the country; indeed, it was no small aggravation of the evil, that accurate information was all but unattainable. For more than fifteen years O’Connell had so habituated his countrymen to public falsehoods, that truth, with too many of his admirers and followers, had ceased to be a matter of moral obligation. Fraud and falsehood were superadded to famine; dishonest mendicancy extended real pauperism. The Packet joined the Nation, in the insane assertion, that it was the duty of the government to feed the people, and even to give them more abundant and better food in a season of scarcity, than they were accustomed to obtain in a period of plenty. No man knew better the wickedness and folly of these insane ravings than Mr. O’Connell, but he dared not resist them, on pain of having the last remnant of his decaying popularity flung to the winds. All his energies were required, and they were honourably and honestly exerted to prevent the fanatics of the Young Ireland party from making the general dislocation of society, consequent on the famine, a pretext for civil war. There was an opportunity for bringing to an armed trial the question of connection with England; and we, farmers of Munster, knew and felt the hazard of the crisis, which appears to have been utterly unknown in London, and even in Dublin.
Thus, at the close of his days, O’Connell proved his patriotism, by sacrificing to the exigencies of his country, that cause, which, however chimerical, had been the predominant idea of his life. Had there been an armed contest, he would have taken service to maintain the Union. But, morally, mentally, and physically, he had to sustain a conflict, which even in the prime of life would have shaken the stoutest constitution. He succeeded in preventing the fatal consummation of folly meditated and menaced by the young Irish Jacobins; but he paid the penalty of life, for his last great act of political penitence.
The Whigs came into office, but he held aloof from the Castle, for he no longer had Ireland at his beck; he could have had places for his children, and honours for himself, but he forgot self in the misery of Ireland. A broken-hearted and death-doomed man, he quitted his native shores, and his last words, as he left Ireland, were protests against the monstrous absurdities of the two great journals of Young Ireland Repeal—the incomprehensible Nation, and the unintelligible Packet.
The rest must be briefly told. His friends in London, from the moment that they saw him, knew that they looked upon a dying man. Some of those who had stood by his side in the days before 1829, came around him, and hailed him as the friend of their youth, in whose power it still was to save Ireland by issuing his same and hallowed advice to the people. It was too late; all that his failing powers could accomplish had been effected: he had survived his power, his influence, and his fame. From the moment that disease laid hold on his iron constitution, he despaired of life, ano he yielded to the recommendations of his physicians to try a foreign climate, not from hopes of recovery, but from an anxiety to close his arduous life in the metropolis of Catholicity. For years before, his family had felt not ungrounded fears that he would suddenly quit public life, and retire into a monastery. When he made his “retreat,”* at Mount Melleray, even Trappists confessed that his asceticism was superior to their own:—it had been his ambition to live as an agitator, but it was the most ardent wish of his heart to die as a saint.
Hopes of his recovery were given by physicians, but O’Connell left England with the conviction that he should never return alive. Rome was his goal, but he was not destined to reach it; he died at Genoa, and almost with his last breath directed that his heart should be conveyed to the termination of that pilgrimage which it had not been his fate to complete.
It is not for Munster farmers to write his epitaph; we have merely recorded what we heard and saw. Our evidence is given, to be estimated by that general public, which can neither be turned into a packed jury or a hired association. It is very possible that the evidence will please no party;farmers are usually most unfortunate in this respect—but, what we have detailed is, so far as our knowledge goes, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,”—there is no necessity to superadd the usual adjuration.
*“A retreat,” in the Catholic Church “is a voluntary retirement into a monastery, for purposes of penitence and mortification, during a limited period.”
Source: Google Books