Charles Phillips.

Specimens of Irish eloquence, now first arranged and collected, with biographical notices, and a preface online

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Online LibraryCharles PhillipsSpecimens of Irish eloquence, now first arranged and collected, with biographical notices, and a preface → online text (page 1 of 33)
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a Preface*






lUugttatert bg portraits.






And to be bad of

BALDWIN, CRADOCK, &. JOY, Paternoster Row.






Late Attorney General to the United States
of America,

Commissioner to the Spanish Provinces,


IT is now nearly four years since
you were so kind as to cheer the literary
efforts of one who was altogether personally
unknown to you, and who sensibly feels how
feeble were his claims to such condescension
from such a character. May I beg of you
to impute my silence on the subject to any
thing rather than a spirit of ingratitude, and
to believe, that in requesting you to accept
the dedication of this volume, I mean rather
to acknowledge than repay the obligation.
The voice of encouragement from a distant

a 2



hemisphere from an utter stranger and
tlia! stranger amongst the eminent of his
nation, mi^hl excuse some sentiment of
vanity even in the most modest. In the
younu, Irish candidate for distinction, per-
haps the excuse might be carried even to
indulgence. Indeed there are few countries
in which such an aspirant has so much to
encounter. Our aristocracy (the natural
patrons of a nation's genius) have been pro-
vincialized into the very worst kind of par-
ti /an ship into a struggle not for honours
or principle, but for the sordid emoluments
and rancorous exercise of official station,
and this contention, branded as it is, by
every had passion, presents no one feature
of agreement save an upstart family conceit,
a very stupid, a very ignorant, and a very
unfounded self-appreciation. Between these
precious factions Ireland is partitioned
they scrutinixe every probationer - they
tempt every profession and if the adventu-
rous candidate for honourable fame disdains
to subscribe himself as the 1 retainer of the
one, or the brawler of the other, he is pro-
scribed for sacrifice by the conspiracy of
both denounced as a rebel by the slaves in

place, and as an helot by the slaves in ex-
pectancy. Such is, with but very few
exceptions, the state to which foreign gold
and native improbity have reduced this once
prosperous and independent country ! A
solemn warning to the nations of the earth,
that when they once barter that priceless
independence, the very blessings of heaven
will become a curse and a degradation their
spirit will sting them with a scorpion rest-
lessness and the genius which survives their
fall either wander a mendicant upon distant
bounty, or flash its fitful and sepulchral
gleam upon the corruption into which they
have degenerated. What a frightful picture
what a fiery ordeal for honourable ambi-
tion ! Alas ! if the spirit should not faint,
or 'the heart break in the process, what a
reflection is it for the ardent rnind, that per-
haps, at the close of a calamitous career,
some generous few may balance with a
posthumous eulogium on its talents, the
cruel penalties inflicted on its principles.
This is a very painful subject, yet I am not
sorry it suggested itself it naturally associ-
ates the fame of that republic where so
many of my countrymen have found a re-



fuge, and where yours have proved their
noble title to liberty not more by the valour
with which they extorted, than by the spirit
with which they are extending it. The
trainers "of her constitution have made it an
incident almost peculiar to America, that,
the whole world has an interest in her pros-
perity. With her, industry is the only
wealth virtue the only claim talents the
only distinction religion teaches her that
all its varieties of 'sect have one common pa-
rent, and her wisdom feels that no traitorous
ascendancy should exclude him, who bears
the burthens, from a share in the benefits of
the constitution. It is both morally and
physically impossible that such a people
should not prosper in fact, every hour of
freedom has been either consolidating their
strength or contributing to their glory ; and
it has been a magnificent rebuke to the
despotic scoffers who would have unplumed
their eagle, that when they might have felt
its vengeance, they found its protection
the exiled aristocrat has kissed your shore,
and the unsceptred puppet of European
royalty, knelt for sanctuary at the tomb of
Washington. That the valour of their arms


may guard the independence the wisdom
of their rulers economize the resources, and,
the fraternity of their people for ever conso-
lidate the union of your states, is not only
my prayer, but that of all my countrymen
who are not at once slaves to the powerful
and tyrants to the poor.

You will perceive, my dear sir, even from
this volume, that some Irishmen were formed
for immortality men, worthy of a better day
than that in which they lived, and destined,
perhaps, though not to save their country,
yet to teach their children the principles of
its redemption. Let it become the manual
of your young Americans, that, when their
cheeks redden and their hearts burn at the
treachery which betrayed us, their humbled
nature may find some consolation in the
memory of those whose poverty could not >,
be bought, and whose ambition could not be

I have the honour to be,

Your's, very sincerely,


99, Grafton Street, Dublin,
December 1, 1818.


THE malignant prejudices of a northern
critic, so self-sufficiently pronounced against
the Irish school of eloquence, determined me
upon collecting such materials as might give
the impartial an opportunity of judging for
themselves. In doing this I am solely in-
fluenced by a paramount affection for that
country which has been thus exposed to the
most unmitigated defamation. I take up
with pleasure the gauntlet which has been
flung down, and in asserting the oratorical
equality of Ireland with either England or
Scotland, taken individually, I refer to the
present Volume as my proof, and boldly
challenge the production of another which can
bear the comparison. A ridicule of the Irish
character an exposure of its faults, and an
exaggeration of its foibles, became of late
years a kind of national coxcombry which
was at once too conceited to learn, too igno-


derived at once from their country and their

The harmony of the Irish system had been
disturbed, and a> its affrighted orbs shot one
by one through the political firmament, their
brilliant aberrations were the alternate theme
of ama/ement or condemnation. In the latter
class the most plaintive and the most pitiable
were the seers of Scotland it was no wonder
their northern lights were dimmed by the
excessive splendour, and every little purblind
sans culotte philosopher who could not see
through the cloud of his mountain prejudices
announced an eclipse or foretold a conflagra-
tion ! The alarm was raised and the national
taste was more than endangered, forsooth, by
the barbarous corruption of the Irish style.
That this style is peculiar there is no doubt,
and so is every style in the fine arts which
has distinguished any individual nation
thus we speak of the German drama the
Italian music the Flemish painting and,
in short, of each combination of national
characteristics, which, in their respective
branches, forms what we technically called
a school. But is this individuality a reason
for condemning the pretensions of genius ?


Certainly not, with any candid mind. Those
pretensions should only be judged by their
practical effect, and to this standard I submit
without reservation the claims of Ireland to
the meed of eloquence.

In the series of great masters, some of
whose fragments I have here collected, there
will be found evident traces of a common
origin. The same lofty sentiment the same
wildness of imagery the same impassioned
declamation the same power either of the
pathetic or the humourous the same abso-
lute mastery over the human heart, to which,
indeed, rather than to the judgment, they
frequently apply themselves. This is one
of their undeniable peculiarities persuasion
rather than conviction is their usual object,
but both are the legitimate means of oratory,
and perhaps if one was compelled to decide *
between them, the first would be consideVed
both as the more effective and the more na-
tural much of course depends on the occa-
sion, but on every human topic, man will be
found most defenceless on the side of his
passions. Such is the too true and pitiable
condition of humanity.

Another peculiarity, and one indeed which


has been most condemned is, the continual
recurrence of imagery. No doubt the abuse
of this, like all other abuses, is censurable,
but still its exercise, even in the extreme, is
very fascinating, and few who have been in
the habit of attending public meetings can
deny its effect. The untutored heart speaks
in imagery it is the first language of a na-
tion's infancy, and like every thing attached
to infancy, it retains a charm it is the vo-
cabulary of nature, and until man be so
hardened and polished that nature's weapons
must rebound from him, it will not plead in
vain. Indeed the very face of nature itself
must be changed ere the genius of Ireland
ceases to express itself in imagery it opens
its infant eye upon the wild ness of Creation,
the romantic and the magnificent identify
themselves with its imagination, the mind
never can reject their association, and resorts
for the illustration of its more matured ideas
to the rock, and the torrent, and the mountain
with which its childhood had been familiar.

The grand mistake into which our modern
critics have fallen, upon the subject of elo-
quence, has been in subjecting to the same
rules the essay composed to be read and the


speech arranged to be delivered. No two
things in the world can be more opposite.
What might appear extravagant in the one is
chaste in the other, and the allusion studiously
suited to inflame the delirium of a crowd must
appear wild and rhapsodical in the seclusion
of the closet. The scene the surrounding
objects the materials to be worked the end
to be obtained and the means to be used are
all different. The reader, in the silence of
retirement, sees nothing but his book and
may pause for observation at the close of
every period the hearer, on the contrary, all
eye and ear, hurried away by the rapidity of
his feelings, and heated by the sympathy of
his associates, has no time to criticise the
evanescent image, which, delighting him at
the moment, may owe its whole success to
the tone in which it is uttered, or the gesture
that accompanies it. The critic, therefore,
who analyzes a speech ought not, in my
mind, to require so much a permanent effect
as a momentary attainment. If the object of
the orator be answered, his task is ended r
and it can detract nothing from his merit to
say he has triumphed by means which the
cooler judgment cannot sanction. Hisinstru-

\\ I

incut may be the most fantastic or extrava-
gant he may terrify by a phantom delude
by a sophism, or mislead by an airy and
unsubstantial meteor : the question is not,
were they intimidating, visionary and delu-
sive, but were they such as might achieve his
victory. This rnay not square with the rules
and ordinances by which, according to closet
criticism, perfection is to be adjusted ; but
true genius rejects their application, and the
literary Procrustes, who would torture it to
any prescribed dimensions, will rarely find it
survive the operation. The efforts of the
orator, like the efforts of the dramatist, tend
to the production of a public effect rather
than to the satisfaction of a syllable-weighing
pedantry. With such a censor CURRAN is
too wild, and Demosthenes too studied, and
Shakespeare, speaking with the tongue of
nature, a victim to the Unit its. '


EDMUND BURKE* was born in Dublin on
the first day of January 1730; commenced
his education at Bally tore, in the county of
Carlo w, and completed it in the University
of Dublin. Having finished his academical
studies, he applied for the then vacant logic
chair of Glasgow, but being disappointed he
repaired to London and entered himself as a
law student on the books of the Middle
Temple. While there, his principal support
was derived from his contributions to the
periodical publications of the day ; however,

* A friend has suggested the possibility of Ireland's being
denied the credit of Burke, because he did not reside in the
country. Burke was twenty-three years old before he left his
native land and regularly visited it once a year for forty years
after. However, the idea is ridiculous. We may as well be
denied the honour of Barry, because his paintings are confined
to the Adelphi, or of Lord Wellington, because his glory was
acquired in the Peninsula. Will England resign her claims to
Howard and the Duke of Marl borough, or will our Edinborough
friends contend that emigration is a bar against nativity,? Alas !
if so, upon how few wise men can Scotland calculate. Perhaps,
however, there is not, in every point of view, a, more unadul-
terated specimen of the Irish school than Mr. Burke. He was
peculiarly an Irishman.



on the appointment of the celebrated Single
Speech Hamilton to the secretaryship of Ire-
land, he accompanied him with a- pension of 4 '
three hundred pounds a-year. On his return to

London, his writings introduced him to the


Marquis of Rockingham, through whose in-
terest he was first returned to parliament for
tlie borough of \Vcndovcr, in Buckinghamshire.
The cxeuts () f his long political lite are re-
corded iu the history of the country to which
he devoted his time and talents. Public men
have, of course, viewed his conduct through
the medium of their principles, but whatever
may have been the diversities of opinion as to
his consistency, there have been none as to
the amazing strength of his mind and splen-
dour of his eloquence. The Speech which I
have selected as the most characteristic spe-
cimen of his genius is that which he pro-
nounced on the necessity of conciliating
America. Fatally for England, but fortu-
nately for the world, his advice was rejected,
and the persecuted colony has sprung into a
noble republic, in whose example the crimes
of Europe find a corrective and its afflicted
virtue an asylum. Mr. Burke died in July
1797, and was, by his own desire, privately
interred in the church of Beaconsfield.



ON the order of the day being read,

Mr. BURKE rose and addressed the House as follows :

I hope, Sir, that notwithstanding the austerity of the
chair, your good nature will incline you to some degree of
indulgence towards human frailty. You will not think it
unnatural, that those who have an object depending, which
strongly engages their hopes and fears, should be somewhat
inclined to superstition. As I came into the House full of
anxiety about the event of my motion, I found, to my in-
finite surprise, that the grand penal bill by which we had
passed sentence on the trade and sustenance of America, is
to be returned to us from the other House*. I do confess,
I could not help looking on this event as a fortunate omen.
I look upon it as a sort of providential favour; by which
we are put once more in possession of our deliberative
capacity, upon a business so very questionable in its nature,
so very uncertain in its issue. By the return of this bill,

*'The act to restrain the trade and commerce of the provinces of
Massachuset's Bay and New Hampshire, and colonies of Connecticut
and Rhode Island, and Providence Plantation, in North America, to
Great Britain, Ireland, and the British islands in the West Indies ; and
to prohibit such provinces and colonies from carrying on any fishery on
the banks of Newfoundland, and other places therein mentioned, under
certain conditions and limitations.

B 2


which seemed to have taken its flight for ever, we are at this
very instant nearly as free to choose a plan for our American
government as we were on the first day of the session. If,
Sir, we incline to the side of conciliation, we are not at all
embarrassed (unless we please to make ourselves so) by any
incongruous mixture of coercion and restraint. We are
therefore called upon, as it were, by a superior warning
voice, again to attend to America; to attend to the whole
of it together; and to review the subject with an unusual
degree of care and calmness.

Surely it is an awful subject ; or there is none so on this
side of the grave. When I first had the honour of a seat in
this House, the affairs of that continent pressed themselves
upon us, as die most important and most delicate object of
parliamentary attention. My little share in this great deli-
beration oppressed me. I found myself a partaker in a
very high trust ; and having no sort of reason to rely on the
strength of my natural abilities for the proper execution of
that trust, I was obliged to take more than common pains,
to instruct myself in every thing which relates to our
colonies. I was not less under the necessity of forming
some fixed ideas, concerning the general policy of the British
empiie. Something of this sort seemed to be indispensable ,
in order, amidst so vast a fluctuation of passions and opi-
nions, to concenter my thoughts; to ballast my conduct;
to preserve me from being blown about by every wind of
fashionable doctrine I really did not think it safe, or manly,
to have fresh principles to seek upon every fresh mail which
should arrive from America.

At that period, I had the fortune to find myself in per-
fect concurrence with a large majority in this House.-^
Bowing under that high authority, and penetrated with the
sharpness and strength of that early impression, I have
continued ever since, without the least deviation in my


Original sentiments- Whether this be owing to an obstinate
perseverance in error, or to a religious adherence to what ap-
pears to me truth and reason, it is irt your equity to judge.

Sir, parliament having an enlarged view of objects,
made, during this interval, more frequent changes in their
sentiments and their conduct than could be justified in a
particular person upon the contracted scale of private in-
formation. But though I do not hazard any thing ap-
proaching to a censure on the motives of former parliaments
to all those alterations, one fact is undoubted ; that under
them the state of America has been kept in continual agita-
tion. Every thing administered as a remedy to the public
"complaint, if it did not produce, was at least followed by,
an heightening of the distemper, until, by a variety of ex-
periments, that important country has been brought into her
present situation; a situation which I will not miscall,
which I dare not name ; which I scarcely know how to
comprehend in the terms of any description*

In this posture, Sir, things stood at the beginning of the
session. About that time, a worthy member (Mr. Rose
Fuller) of great parliamentary experience, who, in the
year 1766, filled the chair of the American committee with
much ability, took me aside ; and, lamenting the present
aspect of our politics, told me, things were come to such a
pass, that our former methods of proceeding in the House
would be no longer tolerated. That the public tribunal
(never too indulgent to a long and unsuccessful opposition)
would now scrutinize our conduct with unusual severity.
That the very vicissitudes and shiftings of ministerial mea-
sures, instead of convicting their authors of inconstancy and
want of system, would be taken as an occasion of charging
us with a predetei mined discontent, which nothing could
satisfy ; w hilst we accused every measure of vigour as cruel,
and every proposal of lenity as weak and irresolute. Th<j



public, he said, would not have patience to see us play the
game out with our adversaries : we must produce our hand.
It would be expected, that those who for many years had
been active in such affairs should shew that they had formed
some clear and decided idea of the principles of colony go-
vernment; and were capable of drawing out something like
a platform of the ground, which might be laid for future and
permanent tranquillity.

I felt the truth of what my honourable friend represented ;
but I felt my situation too. His application might have
been made with far greater propriety to many other gentle-
men. No man was indeed ever better disposed, or worse
qualified, for such an undertaking than myself. Thougli I
gave so far into his opinion, ^that I immediately threw my
thoughts into a sort of parliamentary form, I was by no
means equally ready to produce them. It generally argues
some degree of natural impotence of mind, or some want of
knowledge of the world, to hazard plans of government,
except from a seat of authority. Propositions are made,
not only ineffectually, but somewhat disreputably, when the
minds of men are not properly disposed for their reception ;
and for my part, 1 am not ambitious of ridicule ; not abso-
lutely a candidate for disgrace.

Besides, Sir, to speak the plain truth, I have in general
no very exalted opinion of the virtue of paper government ;
nor of any politics in which the plan is to be wholly sepa-
rated from the execution. But when I saw that anger and
violence prevailed every day more and more ; and that
things were hastening towards an incurable alienation of
our colonies ; I confess my caution gave way. 1 felt this,
as one of those few moments in which decorum yields to
an higher duty. Public calamity is a mighty leveller ; and
there are occasions when any, even the slightest. chance of
doing good, must be laid hold on, even by the most incon-
siderable person.

MR. BURKE. . 7

To restore order and repose to an empire so great and
so distracted as ours, is, merely in the attempt, an under,
taking that would ennoble the flights of the highest genius,
and obtain pardon for the efforts of the meanest under-
standing. Struggling a good while with these thoughts,
by degrees I felt myself more firm. I derived, at length,
some confidence from what, in other circumstances, usually
produces timidity. I grew less anxious, even from the
idea of my own insignificance. For,' judging of what you
are, by what you ought to be, I persuaded myself that you
would not reject a reasonable proposition, because it had
nothing but its reason to recommend it. On the other
hand, being totally destitute of all shadow of influence,
natural or adventitious, I was very sure, that, if my proposi-
tion were futile or dangerous ; if it were weakly conceived,
or improperly timed, there was nothing exterior to it, of
power to awe, dazzle, or delude you. You will see it just
as it is ; and yon will treat it just as it deserves. "

The proposition is peace. Not peace through the me-
dium of war ; not peace to be hunted through the labyrinth
of intricate and endless negociations ; not peace to arise out
of universal discord, fomented from principle, in all parts
of the empire ; not peace to depend on the juridical deter-
mination of perplexing questions, or the precise marking
the shadowy boundaries of a complex government. It is
simple peace, sought in its natural course, and in its ordi-
nary haunts it is peace sought in the spirit of peace, and
laid in principles purely pacific. I propose, by removing
the ground of the difference, and by restoring the former
unsuspecting confidence of the colonies in the mother country,
to give permanent satisfaction to your people ; and (far
from a scheme of ruling by discord) to reconcile them to
each other in the same act, and by the bond of the very
same interest, which reconciles them to British govern-
ment. B 4


My idea is nothing more. Refined policy ever has beeii
the parent of confusion, and ever will be so, as long as
the world endures. Plain good intention, which is as easily
discovered at the first view, as fraud is surely detected at
last, is, let mte say, of no mean force in the government of

Online LibraryCharles PhillipsSpecimens of Irish eloquence, now first arranged and collected, with biographical notices, and a preface → online text (page 1 of 33)