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which were rolling in broad sheets over the roof of
the mansion. There was no symptom of faint-heart-
edness among us ; but our ammunition was almost ex-
hausted, and every countenance was pale with despair;
another half hour, and our fate must be decided.

In this extremity, with every sense wound up
to its utmost pitch, I thought that I heard the
distant trampling of cavalry. It came nearer still.
There was evident confusion among the rebels. At
length a trumpet sounded the charge, and a squadron
of horse burst into the lawn, sabreing and firing
among the multitude. The struggle was fierce, but
brief; and before we could unbar the doors, and pour
out to take a part in the melee, all was done ; the
rebels had fled, the grounds were cleared, and the
dragoons were gathering their prisoners.

All was now congratulation ; and I received thanks
from gallant lips, and from bright eyes, which might
have flattered one fonder of flattery. All imputed
their safety to the address, with which I had employed
the feelings of the rebel leader. " But for the pause
produced by his presence, all must have perished."
It had given time for the cavalry to come up ; they
having been bewildered in crossing the country, and
floundering through the wretched by-roads which
then formed the disgrace of Ireland. Life is a chap-
ter of accidents ; and even their arrival had been a


matter of accident. An aide-de-camp of the viceroy-
had been sent in search of me with despatches : the
officer in command at the next town had persuaded
him, much against his will, to take as his escort, one
of the night patroles of horse ; and thus were saved a
hundred and fifty lives of the first personages of the
province. By morning, the mansion, and all within
it, would probably have been embers.

The aide-de-camp's despatches were sufficiently
alarming. The lord-lieutenant had received from
England details of the intended insurrection. The
privy council had been summoned, and the usual com-
mands were issued, to keep the troops throughout the
country on the alert; but the information was still
so imperfect, the skill of the conspirators was so
adroitly exerted in keeping their secret, and the out-
cry of the powerful parliamentary Opposition was so
indignant and contemptuous at the remotest hint of
popular disaffection ; that the Government was virtu-
ally paralysed.

But the question was now decided ; the scene
which I had just witnessed, unhappily left no room
for doubt, and I determined on returning to the metro-
polis without delay. I had no sooner expressed my
intention, than I was assailed on all hands with ad-
vice, and even with entreaties, to postpone my jour-
ney ; until the flight of the rebels was fully ascertained,
or at least till daylight gave me a better chance of
personal safety. But, every moment now seemed
to me more precious than the last ; and, breaking
through a circle of the noble and the fair, I threw
myself on my horse, and with the aide-de-camp and a
E 5


couple of dragoons for my escort, soon left the whole
scene of entreaty and terror, sorrow and triumph,

We rode hard through the night, observing fre-
quent signs of the extended insurrection, in fires on
the mountains, and the gatherings of peasantry on
the roads — sometimes compelled to turn out of our
way, by the evidence of their being armed and in
military organization ; and at others dashing through
the groups, and taking them by surprise. A few shots
fired at random, or the rage and roar of the crowd as
we scattered them right and left in our gallop, were
all that belonged to personal adventure ; and when
the dawn showed us, from one of the hills round the
capital, the quiet city glittering in the first sunshine ;
all looked so lovely and so tranquil, that it required
the desperate recollections of the night to believe in
the existence of a vast and powerful combination,
prepared to cover the land with burning and blood.

Within a few hours after my arrival, the privy
council assembled ; my intelligence was received as
it deserved ; it decided the wavering, and gave in-
creased determination to the bold. Still, our sitting
was long and anxious. The peril was now undeni-
able, but the extent, the object, and the remedy,
were alike obscure. It is not, of course, within my
purpose to reveal the secrets of councils, in which
all is transacted under the deepest bond of con-
fidence ; but it may be fairly told, that our delibera-
tions often completely reversed the proverb, that " In
the multitude of counsellors there is safety," if by
safety is meant either promptitude or penetration.


" So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall damp her lips with her own children's blood ;
No more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flowrets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces."


But, there was one man among them, who would
have distinguished himself in any council upon earth.
He was a lawyer, and holding the highest office of
his profession. Yet, his ambition was still higher
than his office, and his ability was equal to his am-
bition. Bold by nature, and rendered bolder by the
constant success of his career, he would have been
a matchless minister in a Continental government.
Living under the old regime of France, the laurels of a
Richelieu or a Mazarin, might have found a formid-
able competitor in this man of daring and decision.
He wanted but their scale of action, to have exhibited
all their virtues, and perhaps all their vices.

At the bar, his career had been one of unexampled
E 6


rapidity. He had scarcely appeared, when he burst
through the crowd, and took the rank, to which all
the dignities of the profession seem the natural in-
heritance. He had scarcely set his foot on the floor,
before he overtopped the bench. But the courts of
justice were too narrow for him. It was in parlia-
ment that he found the true atmosphere for his lofti-
ness of flight and keenness of vision.

At that time, the study of public speaking had be-
come a fashion, and the genius of the country, singu-
larly excitable, always ardent, and always making its
noblest efforts under the spell of public display, exhi-
bited the most brilliant proofs of its title to popularity.
But, in the very blaze of those triumphs, the Attorney-
general showed, that there were other weapons of
public warfare, not less original and not less trium-
phant. No orator, and even no rhetorician, he seemed
to despise alike the lustre of imagination and the graces
of language. But he substituted a force, that often
obtained the victory over both. Abrupt, bold, and
scornful, his words struck home. He had all the
power of plain things. He brought down no light-
nings from the heaven of invention, he summoned no
flame from below ; but the torch in his hand burned
with withering power, and he wielded it without fear
of man. By constitution haughty, his pride actually
gave him power in debate. Men, and those able men
too, often shrank from the conflict with one whose
very look seemed to warn them of their temerity.

But to this natural faculty of debate, he added
remarkable knowledge of public life, high legal re-
pute, and the incomparable advantage of his early


training in a profession, which singularly searches the
recesses of the soul, habitually forces imposture into
light, and cross-examines the villain into reluctant ve-
racity. There neverwas in Parliament a more remorse-
less or a more effectual hand, in stripping off the tinsel
of political pretension. His logic was contemptuous,
and his contempt was logical. His blows were all
straightforward. He wasted no time in the flourish
of the sword ; he struck with the point. Even to the
most powerful of his opponents, this assault was for-
midable. But, with the inferior ranks of Opposi-
tion, he threw aside the sword and assumed the axe.
Ob\dously regarding them as criminals against com-
mon sense and national polity, he treated them as the
executioner might treat culprits already bound to the
wheel, measuring the place for his blows with the
professional eye, and crushing limb after limb at his
leisure. The imperfect records of debating in his
day, have deprived parliamentary recollection, of the
most memorable of those great displays. But, their
evidence is given, in the fact, that with the most nu-
merous, powerful, and able Opposition of Ireland in
his front, and the feeblest Ministerial strength behind
him ; the Attorney-general governed the Parliament,
until the hour when its gates were closed for ever —
until its substance was dissipated into air, and all but
its memories sank into the returnlcss grave.

In the House of Lords, as chancellor, he instantly
became the virtual viceroy. It is true, that a succes-
sion of opulent and accomplished noblemen, every
two or three years, were transmitted from Whitehall
to the Castle, to pillow themselves upon a splendid


sinecure, rehearse an annual King's speech, exhibit
the acknowledged elegance of noble English life, and,
having given the destined number of balls and sup-
pers, await the warrant of a Secretary of State's letter,
to terminate their political existence. But the chan-
cellor was made of " sterner stuff." His material was
not soluble by a blast of ministerial breath. Not even
the giant grasp of Pitt would have dared to pluck the
sceptre from his hand. If struck, he might have
answered the blow as the flint answers, by fire. But
the premier had higher reasons, for leaving him in
possession of power ; he was pure. In all the uproar
of public calumny, no voice w^as ever heard impeach-
ing his integrity ; with the ten thousand arrows of
party flying round him from every quarter, none ever
found a chink in his ministerial mail. He loved
power, as all men do who are w^orthy of it. He
disdained wealth, as all men do who are fitted for its
use. He scorned the popularity of the day, as all men
must, who know the essential baseness of its purchase;
and, aspiring after a name in the annals of his coun-
try, like all men to whom it is due — like them, he
proudly left the debt to be discharged by posterity.

The chancellor was not without his faults. His
scorn was too palpable. He despised too many, and
the many too much. His haughtiness converted
the perishable and purchasable malice of party, into
the " study of revenge, immortal hate." When he
struck down an opponent in the fair strife of Parlia-
ment, his scorn was like poison in the wound, and
the blow was never forgotten, but in the grave. But
as a statesman, his chief and unconquerable mis-


fortune was the narrowness of his scene of action.
He was but the ruler of a province, while his facul-
ties were fitted for the administration of an empire.
His errors were the offspring of his position. He
was the strong man within four walls ; by the very
length of his stride striking against them at every
step, and bruised by the very energy of his impulse
against his hopeless boundaries.

At length a time of desperate trial arose. The
Rebellion of 1798 burst out. He had foreseen it.
But the men of the Castle, lolling on their couches,
would not believe in its possibility. The men of the
populace, stirring up the rabble with the point of
the dagger, derided him as a libeller of the people ;
and even the Government of England — too anxiously
engaged in watching the movements of the French
legions from the heights of Dover, to have time for
a glance at disturbers behind the Irish Channel — for
a time left him to his fate. But he was equal to the
emergency. He had been scofhngly called " the
Cassandra of the aristocracy ; " but he had neither
the fortunes nor the failures of a Cassandra ; he had
not forfeited his virtues for his gift, and his prophecy
was too soon and too terribly realized to be dis-
believed. Of such times it is painful to speak ; but,
of the men by whom such times are met, it is dis-
honourable not to speak with homage. Almost
abandoned by authority, assailed almost by a nation,
with the ground shaking under his feet, and the
whole frame of Government quivering at every roar
of the multitude in arms ; he stood the shock, and
finally restored the country.


Language like this has not been the first tribute
to the memory of this ardent, vigorous, and un-
shrinking statesman. But its chief use, and the
noblest use of all tributes to the tomb of civil
heroism, is, to tell others b}^ what strength of prin-
ciple, and by what perseverance of purpose, the
rescue of nations is alone to be achieved. In the
midst of alarm excited by the extent of the revolt,
of ignorance from the novelty of the crisis, and of
indecision from the dread of responsibility, he stood
firm. The original intrepidity of his nature was
even strengthened by the perils of the time ; and
with the whole storm of unpopularity roaring round
him, he sternly pursued his course, and combated the
surge, until it subsided ; and the state vessel neared,
if it did not yet enter, the harbour.

It is the natural fate of such men, in such times,
to be misunderstood, and to be maligned. The libel
which cast every stone within its reach at his living
name, long continued to heap them on his grave.
But all this has passed away, and the manlier portion
of his countrymen now appeal to the administration
of the " Great Chancellor," as proof of the national
capacity for the highest trusts of empire.

Why has not the history of this man, and of his
day, been written ? Why has not some generous
spirit, impelled alike by a sense of justice and a
sense of patriotism, adopted this argument for the
intellectual opulence and moral energy, which may
still exist in the Irish mind ? Is there no descendant,
to claim the performance of a duty, which would
reflect a lustre on himself, from the light which his


filial piety threw round the sepulchre ? Or why are
the recollections of rebels, to be taken down from the
gibbet, and embalmed in history ; while the name of
him who smote the rebellion is suffered to moulder
away ?

I am not writing a panegyric. He had his in-
firmities ; his temper was too excitable, and his mea-
sures were too prompt, for prudence. But his heart
was sound, and his genius was made for the guidance
of a state in the hour of its danger. If a feebler
mind had then presided in the public councils,
Ireland, within a twelvemonth, would have been a
republic ; and in every hour since, would have been
agonizing under the daggers of rival factions, or
paying the fearful price of her frenzy in indissoluble

If this were the single act of his life, it was suffi-
cient for his fame. It is enough to inscribe on the
mausoleum of any man, that "he rescued his country
from a Democracy!"

The first news of the revolt which reached Eng-
land, produced a formidable effect on the legislature.
Even the sagacity of the premier had been deceived,
and his cabinet evidently staggered from the effect of
the surprise. Opposition had been equally startled,
and were still more perplexed in their decision.
Dealing for years in all the high-sounding topics of
national wrong and national difficulty, they were now
astonished at the first actual realization of popular
revenge. The Englishman had heard of wars as the
child hears of spectres — none had seen them, and
the narratives served only to excite the imagination.


But the tremendous novelty of revolt was now at
their doors. Whether the Irish revolters acted in
concert with the undying hostility of France, or with
the factious reform of England ; the danger in either
case assumed a shape of the most appalling magni-
tude. Opposition, in the very prospect of power, now
shrank from possession ; as the stormers of a fortress
might start back, when they saw the walls rolling
down before them in some sudden convulsion of
nature. They had predicted every casualty which
could befal a country, while it was ruled by a cabinet
inexorably closed against themselves. But when their
predictions had changed character from the fantastic
and remote into the substantial and immediate —
when the storm which they so often predicted to be
advancing over the prosperity of the land, seemed to
have suddenly rushed forward, condensed and dark-
ened with the full freight of national havoc ; they as
suddenly flew to take shelter in utter inaction, and
left the minister to meet the gale.

Pitt was soon equal to the crisis. The orders
which he dispatched to Ireland were stamped with
all the considerate vigour of his matchless ability. I
had sent him all the information which could be
obtained, of the progress and purposes of the revolt,
with the suggestions arising from the contingency.
His remarks on my communication were brief, but
incomparably clear, direct, and decided. Their tenor
was, that I should distinguish accurately between
the deluded and the deluders — that I should assure
the loyal of the unhesitating support of England — and
that, in all instances, I should cultivate the national


loyalty, reward the generous obedience, and sympa-
thize with all the gallant and high-toned qualities of a
people, with whom every thing was to be done, by
taking an interest in their feelings. These principles
were so entirely my own, that I acted upon them
with double zeal, and with consequent success. The
loyalty of Ireland rapidly exhibited itself in the most
willing sacrifices ; all ranks of opinion coincided in
the necessity of bold and instant action ; and from
day to day, party, absorbed in the sense of the
national exigency, disappeared.

The leading men on both sides of the House ranged
themselves in the ranks of the voluntary corps
which came forward to assist in the public defence,
and the fine metaphor which had once made the
senate thunder with applause — " The serpent's teeth,
sown in the ground, sprang up armed men," — was
now amply, but more fortunately, realized. The
bitterness and schisms of public opinion were buried
in the earth, and the harvest was a brave and spon-
taneous armament, of men prepared to undergo all
hazards for the sake of their country.

" Happy," says the French wit, " the land which
has nothing for history." This happiness has never
belonged to Ireland. Her annals are a stern romance.
But the period of which I speak exhibited her sena-
torial strength with an energy, almost compensating
for her popular misfortunes. While Parliament in
England languished, parliament in Ireland started
into sudden power. It was aroused by the visible
presence of the public peril. Ireland was the out-
post, while England was the camp ; there the strug-


gle was at its height, while the great English
brigade moved up slowly from the rear. The ardour
and activity of the national temperament were exer-
cised in perpetual conflict, and every conflict pro-
duced some new champion.

The actual construction of the senate house stimu-
lated the national propensity for display. The House
of Commons was an immense circular hall, sur-
mounted with a lofty dome. A gallery supported
by columns was formed round the base of the dome,
with seats for seven hundred persons, but on crowded
occasions capable of containing more; the whole
highly ornamented, and constituting a rotunda,
uniting grandeur with remarkable architectural ele-
gance. Thus every member acted in the sight of a
large audience, however thin might be the assem-
blage below ; for the curiosity attached to the de-
bates was so powerful, that the spacious gallery
was always full. But the nature of that audience
offered the still stronger temptation to the bold ex-
travagances of the Irish temperament. The chief
portion of this auditory were females, and those the
most distinguished of Ireland ; women of wit, beauty,
and title, the leaders of fashion, and often the most
vivid and zealous partizans in politics — of all audi-
ences, the most hazardous to the soberness of public
deliberation. As if with the express purpose of includ-
ing every element adverse to the calmness of council,
the students of the neighbouring university also
possessed the privilege of entree to the gallery ; and
there, with the heated imaginations of youth, and every
feeling trained by the theories of Greek and Roman


republicanism, they sat, night after night, watching
the ministerial movements of a harassed monarchy.

What must be the condition of a minister, rising
before such an auditory, to pronounce the grave doc-
trines of public prudence ; to oppose argument to
brilliant declamation ; to proclaim regulated obedi-
ence, in the midst of spirits fantastic as the winds ;
and to lay restraints, essential to the public peace,
on a population proud of their past defiances, and
ready to welcome even civil war ? I was not con-
scious of any natural timidity ; nor have I ever found
occasion to distrust my nerve on any great demand ;
but I must acknowledge, that when, in some of the
leading debates of that most absorbing and most
perilous period, I rose to take the initiative ; the sight
of the vast audience to whom I raised my eyes, was
one of the severest trials of my philosophy. The
members round me excited no alarm ; with them
I was prepared to grapple ; it was a contest of argu-
ment; I had facts for their facts, answers for their
captiousness, and a fearless tongue for their decla-
mation. But the gallery thus filled was beyond my
reach ; its passions and prejudices were inaccessible
to any logic of mine ; and I stood before them, less
as in the presence of a casual auditory than of a
tribunal, and at that tribunal, less as an advocate
than as a culprit, on the point of being arraigned.

Another peculiar evil resulted from the admission
of this crowd, and of its composition. Every casual
collision of debate became personal. The most trivial
play of pleasantry was embittered into an insult ; the


simplest sting of passing controversy was often to be
healed only by a rencounter in the field ; for the
whole was acted on a public stage, with the elite
of the nation looking on the performance. The
hundreds of bright eyes glancing down from the
gallery, were critics whose contempt was not to be
resisted ; and no public assembly, since the days of
the Polish pospolite, ever settled so many points of
debate, in the shape of points of honour.

At length Opposition rallied, and resolved to make
a general assault upon the Administration. Like
their English friends, they had been stunned for a
while by the suddenness of the outbreak. But, as
the Turkish populace, in a conflagration or the
plague, no sooner recover from their first fright, than
they discover the cause in the government, and
march to demand the head of the vizier ; the popular
orators had no sooner found leisure to look round
them, than they marshalled their bands, and de-
manded the dismissal of all antagonist authority. /
was first to be torn down. / stood in the gate, and
while I held the keys, there was no entrance for ex-
pectant ambition. / waved the flag in the breach,
and until the banner was swept away, the storm was
ineffectual. Yet this flinging of the whole weight of
party vindictiveness on my head, gave me a new cou-
rage, the courage of passion, the determination which
arises from a sense of injury, and the vigour which
grows with the magnitude of the trial. In other
times, I might have abandoned the struggle ; but,
with the eyes of a nation thus brought upon me, and


all the ablest men of the opposite benches making my
overthrow the very prize of victory, I determined
" to stand the hazard of the die."

The eventful night came at last ; for days before,
every organ of public opinion was in the most feverish
activity ; lampoons, pamphlets, and letters to the
leading journals, the whole machinery of the para-
graph world was in full work round me; and even
the Administration despaired of my being able to re-
sist the uproar — all but one, and that one the noblest
and the most gifted of them all, my friend the chancel-
lor. I had sat long past midnight with him on the eve
of the coming struggle ; and I received his full ap-
proval of my determination. He talked with all his
usual loftiness, but with more than his usual feeling.

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 19)