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Marston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) online

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" Within the next twenty-four hours," said he,
" your fate will be decided. But, in public life, the
event is not the dishonour ; it is the countenance with
which we meet it, that makes all the difference be-
tween success and shame. — If you fall, you will fall
like a man of character. If you triumph, your suc-
cess will be unalloyed by any baseness of purchase."
I told him sincerely, that I saw in the vigour and
resolution of his conduct a model for public men.
" However the matter may turn out in the debate,"
said he, rising and taking his leave, " there shall be
no humiliation in the conduct of government, even if
we should be defeated. Persevere to the last. The
world is all chances, and ten to one of them are in
favour of the man, who is i-esolved not to be frightened
out of any thing. Farewell."

Still, the crisis was a trying one, and my occupa-


tion during the day was but little calculated to smooth
its anxieties. The intelligence from the country an-
nounced the increased extent of the revolt ; and the
intercepted correspondence gave startling proof of an
organization altogether superior to the rude tumults
of an angry peasantry. Several sharp encounters had
taken place with the soldiery, and in some of them, the
troops, scattered in small detachments and unprepared,
had suffered losses. Insurrectionary proclamations had
been . issued, and the revolt was already assuming a
military form ; camps were collected on the moun-
tains, and the arming of the population was become
general. My day was occupied in writing hurried
despatches to the magistrates and officers in com-
mand of the disturbed districts; until the moment
when the debate was expected to begin.

On my way to the House, every thing round me
conspired to make a gloomy impression on my mind,
weary and dark as it was already. Public alarm was
at its height, and the city, with the usual exaggera-
tions of undefined danger, presented the appearance
of a place about to be taken by storm. The streets
were crowded with people hurrying in search of news,
or gathered in groups retailing what they had ob-
tained, and evidently filled with the most formidable
conceptions of the public danger. The armed yeo-
manry were hurrying to their stations for the night,
patrols of cavalry were moving out to scour the envi-
rons, and the carriages of the gentry from the adjoining
counties were driving to the hotels, crowded with
children and domestics ; while waggons loaded with
the furniture of families resident in the metropolis.


were making their way for security into the countrj^
All was confusion, huny, and consternation. The
look of a great city in alarm is absolutely inconceiv-
able but by those who have been on the spot. It
singularly harassed and disturbed me ; and at length,
for the purpose of escaping the whole sight and sen-
sation together, I turned from the spacious range of
streets which led to the House ; and made my way
along one of the narrow and obscure lanes which, by
a libel on the national taste, were still suffered to re-
main, in the vicinity of an edifice worthy of the days
of Imperial Rome.



" Virtue may be assail'd, but never hurt ;
Yea, even that which mischief meant most harm
Shall, in the happy trial, prove most glory.
But, evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness ; when, at last,
Gather'd like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal, restless change,
Self-fed, and self-consumed. If this fail,
The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble."


My choice was an unlucky one, for I had scarcely
gone a hundred yards, when I found my passage ob-
structed by a crowd, evidently waiting with some
sinister purpose. A signal was given, and I was
called on to answer. I had no answer to make ; but
required, that I should be suffered to pass on. "A
spy, a spy ! down with him !" was the exclamation
of a dozen voices. A rush was made upon me, and
uotwithstanding my struggle to break through, I was
overwhelmed, grasped by the arms, and hurried into
the entrance of a house in utter darkness. I ex-
pected only a dagger in my heart, and from the mut-


tered tones and words which escaped my captors, not
one of whom could I discern, I seemed evidently
about to encounter the fate of the spy which they
deemed me. But, convinced that nothing was to be
gained by submission, I loudly demanded, by what
right I was seized, declared myself a member of
Parliament, and threatened them with the especial
vengeance of the law, for obstructing me in the per-
formance of my duty.

This announcement evidently had its effect, at least
in changing the subject of their consultation ; and,
after another whisper, one of their number stepped
up to me, and said that I must follow him. My
refusal brought the group again round me, and I
was forced down the stairs, and through a succession
of airless and ruined vaults, until we reached a mas-
sive door. There a signal was given, and was an-
swered fi'om within ; but the door continued closed.

My emotions during all this period were agonizing.
I might not have felt more than others that fear of
death which belongs to human nature ; but death, in
darkness, without the power of a struggle, or the
chance of my fate being ever accounted for ; death
by the hands of assassins, and in a spot of obscure
butchery, was doubly appalling. But an hour be-
fore, I had been the first man in the country, and
now what was I ? an unhappy object of ruffian thirst
of blood, destined to die in a charnel, and be tossed
among the rubbish of ruffian haunts, to moulder

Without condescending to implore, I now strongly
attempted to reason with my captors, on the atrocity
of offering violence to a stranger, and on the cer-
F 2


tainty that they would gain more by giving me my
liberty, than they possibly could by burying their
knives in my bosom. But all was in vain. — They
made no reply. One conception alone was wanting
to the torture of the time ; and it came. I heard
through the depth of the vaults the sound of a church
clock striking " eight." It was the very hour which
had been agreed on for commencing the debate of
the night. What must be thought of my absence ?
What answer could be made to any enquiry for my
presence ? What conceivable refuge could my cha-
racter as a minister have, from the charge of scan-
dalous neglect, or more scandalous pusillanimity ;
from treachery to my friends, or from an utter insen-
sibility to personal honour and official duty in myself ?
The thought had nearly deprived me of my senses.
The perspiration of mental torment ran down my
face. I stamped the ground, and would have dashed
my forehead against the wall, had not the whole group
instantly clung round me. A few moments more of
this wretchedness, and I must have died ; but the
door at length was cautiously opened. I saw lights
and human beings, and I bounded in.

At a long narrow table, on which were a few lights,
and several books and rolls of paper, sat about twenty
men, evidently of the lower order, though one or two
exhibited a marked superiority to the rest. A case of
pistols lay on the table, which had probably been
brought out on the signal of my arrival ; and in the
corners of the room, or rather vault, were several
muskets and other weapons piled against the wall.
From the obvious disturbance of the meeting, I was
clearly an unwelcome guest ; and, after a general


sweep of the papers off the table, and a whisper
which communicated to the chairman the circum-
stances of my capture, I was asked my name, and
'•' why I had intruded on their meeting ?" To the
latter question my reply was an indignant demand,
" why my liberty had been infringed on?" To the
former, I gave my name and office at full length, and
in a tone of authority. No announcement could
have been more startling. The president actually
sprang from his chair; others plucked out knives
and pistols ; all looked paUid and thunderstruck.
With the first minister of the realm in this cavern of
conspirators, every life of whom was in the peril of
the axe; my presence among them was like the
dropping of a shell into a powder magazine.

But the dismay soon passed ; their native daring
returned, and I saw that my fate hung once more on
the balance. After a brief consultation, and many a
gloomy glance at their prisoner, the president
summed up the opinion of the board. " You must
be sensible, sir," said he, addressing me, " that in
times like the present, every man must be prepared
to make sacrifices for his cause. The call of Ireland
has summoned us here — that call is irresistible ; and
whatever may be our feelings for you, sir, who have
been brought into this place wholly without our
desire, the interests of a great country, determined
to be free, must not be put in competition with the
life of any individual, be his rank what it may." He
paused, but a general murmur of applause showed
the full approval of his grim auditory.

" You, sir," he continued, with the solemnity of a
F 3


judge passing sentence, " are one great obstacle to
the possession of our public rights. — You are a man
of talents and courage, and so much the more dan-
gerous to the patriot cause. You would disdain our
folly, if we threw away the chance which fortune has
put into our hands ; — you must die. If we were in
your power, the scaffold would be our portion. You
are now in ours, and the question between us is de-
cided." I felt, from his tone, that all remonstrance
was useless ; and I scorned to supplicate. " Do as
you will," I indignantly exclaimed. *' I make but
one request. It is, that no imputation shall be
suffered to rest on my memory ; that the manner of
ray death shall be made known ; and that no man
shall ever be suffered to believe that I died a coward
or a traitor." " It shall be done," slowly pronounced
the president.

I heard the click of a lock, and looking up at
the sound, saw one of the sitters at this board of
terror, without moving from his place, deliberately
levelling a pistol at my head. — I closed my eyes.

At the next instant, I heard a scuffle ; the pistol
was knocked out of his hand, and a voice hurriedly
exclaimed, '^Are you all mad? For what purpose
is this butchery ? Whom are you about to murder ?
Do you want to bring a curse upon our cause ?" All
rose in confusion; but the stranger made but one
spring to the spot where I stood, and fixing his eyes
on me with astonishment, loudly repeated my name.
As the light fell on him, I recollected at once,
though his hat was deeply drawn over his eyes, and
a huge cloak was wrapped round him, palpably for


the purpose of concealment, the rebel leader whom I
had so strangely met before. He turned to the
table. " And is it in this infamous way," he fiercely
exclaimed, " that you show your love of liberty ? Is
it in blood that you are to dip your charter ? is it
in making every man of common sense despise, and
every man of humanity hate you, that you are to
look for popular good-will ? Down with your
daggers and pistols ! The first man who dares to
use them, I declare a traitor to his country !" His
energy made an impression ; and giving me his hand,
which, even in that anxious moment, I could per-
ceive to be as cold as stone, he pronounced the
words, " Sir, you are free !" But, for this they were
not prepared ; and some exclamations rose, in which
they seemed to regard him as false to the cause, and
the words — " sold," and " traitor," were more than
once audible.

He flamed out at the charge, and passionately
demanded proofs. He then touched another string.
" Now, listen to what I have to tell you, and then
call me traitor, if you will. — You are in the jaws of
ruin. I have but just discovered, that Government
has obtained a knowledge of your meeting ; and that,
within five minutes, every man of you will be ar-
rested. I flew to save you ; now, judge of my honour
to the cause. You have only to make your escape,
and thank the chance which has rescued your lives."
Still, my safety was incomplete. There were furious
spirits among them, who talked of revenge for the
blood already shed ; and graver spirits, who insisted
on my being kept as a hostage. But my protector
F 4


declaimed so powerfully, on the folly of exacting
terms from me under duress ; on the wisdom of
appealing to my generosity, in case of reverses ; and,
above all, on the certainty of their falling into the
hands of authority, if they wasted time in quarrelling
as to my disposal ; that he again brought them to a
pause. A loud knocking at the door of one of the
distant vaults, and a sound like the breaking down
of the wall, gave a sudden success to his argument ;
and the meeting, snatching up their papers and
weapons, glided away as silently as so many shadows.

I naturally attempted to thank my protector ; but
he put his finger to his lip, and pointed to the
quarter from which the police were apparently forcing
their way into the subterranean. It was clearly a
time of peril for himself as well as his associates, and
I followed him silently through the windings of this
hideous locale. We shortly reached the open air,
and I cannot describe the glad and grateful sense
with which I saw the sky above my head, the lights
glimmering in the windows, and felt that I was once
more in the land of the living. My conductor led
me within sight of the door of the House of Com-
mons, and, with a slight pressure of the hand, turned
from me, and was lost among the crowd. I rushed
in ; exhausted, overpowered, sinking with apprehen-
sion of the evil which might have been done in my
absence, and blushing at the shame which probably
awaited me.

But, I was fortunately disappointed. By some
means, which I could never subsequently ascertain,
a rumour of my seizure had reached the House; and


the strongest alarm was excited by the dread of my
assassination. The commencement of the debate
was suspended. Opposition, with the dignified
courtesy which distinguished their leaders, even pro-
posed the adjournment of their motion ; the messen-
gers of the House were dispatched in all directions,
to bring some tidings of me; and I had afterwards
the satisfaction to find, that none imputed my absence
to any motive unbecoming my personal or official
honour. Thus, when I entered the House, nervous
with apprehension, I was received with a general
cheer; my colleagues crowded round me with en-
quiries and congratulations ; members crossed from
the opposite benches to express their welcome. The
glittering crowd, the galaxy of the lovely in the gallery,
which the expectation of the great debate had filled
with all the fashionable portion of the capital ; chiefly,
too, in full dress, as was the custom of the time ;
glanced down approvingly on me ; and, when at last
I took my seat, I felt myself flattered by being the
centre of one of the most splendid and interesting
assemblies in the world.

The House was at length hushed, and Grattan
rose. I cannot revert to the memory of that extra-
ordinary man, without a mixture of admiration and
melancholy — admiration for his talents, and melan-
choly from the feeling, that such talents should
expire with the time, and be buried in the common
dust of the sepulchre. As a senatorial orator, he was
incontestably the greatest, whom I have ever heard.
With but little pathos, and with no pleasantry, I
never heard any man so universally, perpetually, and
F 5


powerfully, command the attention of the House.
There was the remarkable peculiarity in his language,
that, while the happiest study of others is to conceal
their art, his simplicity had the manner of art. It
was keen, concentrated, and polished, by nature.
His element was grandeur ; the plainest conception,
in his hands, assumed a loftiness and power which
elevated the mind of his hearers, as much as it con-
vinced their reason. As it was said of Michael
Angelo, that every touch of his chisel was life, and
that he struck out features and forms from the marble
with the power of a creator ; Grattan's mastery of
high conceptions was so innate, that he invested
every topic with a sudden magnitude, which gave
the most casual things a commanding existence to
the popular eye. It w^as thus, that the grievance of
a casual impost, the delinquencies of a police, the
artifices of an election, or the informalities of a
measure of finance, became under his hand historic
subjects ; immortal themes, and recollections of in-
tellectual triumph. If the Pyramids were built to
contain the dust of nameless kings and sacrificed
cattle ; his eloquence erected over materials equally
transitory, memorials equally imperishable.

His style has been criticised, and been called
affected and epigrammatic. But, what is style to
the true orator ? His triumph is effect — what is to
him its compound ? What is it to the man who has
the thunderbolt in his hands, of what various, nay,
what earthly, nay, what vaporous, material it may
be formed ? Its blaze, its rapidity, and its penetra-
tion, are its essential value ; the result is all in all.


If it overwhelmsj and consumes ; who can doubt its
innate power?

But, Grattan was an orator by profession ; and the
only one of his day. The great English speakers
adopted oratory, simply as the means of their public
superiority. Pitt's was the oratory of a ruler of
empire ; with Fox, oratory was the strong, massive,
and yet flexible, instrument of a leader of party. But,
with Grattan it was a faculty, making a portion of
the man, scarcely connected with external things,
and neither curbed nor guided by the necessities of
his political existence. If Grattan had been born
in the backwoods, he would have been an orator,
and have been persuasive among the men of the
hatchet and the rifle. Wherever the tongue of man
could have given superiority, or the richest flow and
force of conception could have given pleasui-e, he
would have attained eminence and dispensed delight.
If he had not found an audience, he would have
addressed the torrents and the trees ; he would have
sent forth his voice to the inaccessible mountains,
and have appealed to the inscrutable stars.

It is admitted, that in the suffering condition of
Ireland, he had a prodigious opportunity ; but,
among thousands of bold, ardent, and intellectual
men, what is his praise, who alone rushes to their
front, and seizes the opportunity ? The English rule
over the sister country had been charged sometimes
as tyranny, which was a libel ; and sometimes as
injustice, which was an error; but it had an unhappy
quality, which embraced the evils of both — it was
invidious. The only map of Ireland which lay before
F 6


the Englisli cabinet of the eighteenth century, was
the map of the sixteenth — a chart spotted with the
gore of many battles, not the less bloody, that they
were obscure ; and disfigured with huge, discoloured
spaces of barbarism. They forgot the lapse of time,
and that time had since covered the graves of the
past with a living race, and was filling up the swamps
of the wilderness with the vigour and the passions of
a new and glowing people. They still governed on
the guidance of the obsolete map ; and continued to
administer a civilized nation, with the only sceptre
fit for barbarism, the sword. By a similar miscon-
ception ; while they declared the islands one indi-
visible empire, they governed them on the principle
of eternal separation. No Irishman was ever called
across the narrow strait between the two countries,
to take a share in the offices, or enjoy the honours of
England. Irish ambition, thwarted in its own
country, might wander for ever ; like Virgil's unburied
ghosts ; on the banks of the Irish Channel, without a
hope of passing that political Styx. The sole con-
nexion of the islands was between Whitehall and the
Castle — between power and placemen — between ca-
binets and viceroys. It never descended to the level
of the nation. It was a slight and scarcely visible com-
munication, a galvanic wire, significant only at the ex-
tremities ; a correspondence in cypher, instead of a
public language — instead of a bond of heart with heart
— instead of an amalgamation of people with people.
Posterity will scarcely believe, that the neglect of unity,
should have so nearly approached to the study of
separation. Even the coin of the two countries was


different in impress and in value —the privileges of
trade were different — the tenure of property was
different — the regulations of the finance (things which
penetrate through all ranks) were different — and a
whole army of revenue officers were embodied to
carry on those commercial hostilities. The shores of
the " Sister Islands" presented to each other the
view of rival frontiers ; and the passage of a fragment
of Irish produce was as impracticable, as if it had
been contraband of war.

It was Grattan, who first broke down this barrier,
and he thus rendered the mighty service, of doubling
the strength of the empire ; perhaps rendered the
still mightier service, of averting its separation and its
ruin. As the nation had grown strong, it had grown
sullen ; its disgust was ripening into wrath ; and its
sense of injury might speedily have sought its relief
in national revenge. And yet, it is only justice to
acknowledge, that this evil arose simply from negli-
gence on the part of England; that there was no
design of tyranny, none of the capriciousness of su-
periority, none of the sultan spirit in the treatment of
the people.

But, no minister had yet started up in English
councils, capable of the boldness of throwing open
the barrier ; none, of intellectual stature sufficient to
look beyond the old partition wall of the countries ;
no example of that statesmanlike sagacity which dis-
covers in the present the forms of the future, and
pierces the mists, which, to inferior minds, magnify
the near into giant size, while they extinguish the
distant altogether. Still, no man can ever write the


annals of England, without a growing consciousness,
that magnanimity has been the instinct of her domi-
nion ; that she has been liberal on principle, and
honest by nature ; that, even in the chillest and dark-
est hour of her sovereignty, this influence has existed
unimpaired ; and like the influence of gravitation on
the globe, that it has accompanied and impelled her,
day and night alike, through the whole circuit of her
proud and powerful career.

This was the glorious period of Grattan's public
life. His task, by universal confession, was the
noblest that could be enjoined on man, and he sus-
tained it with powers fitted to its nobleness. On the
later portion of his history, I have no desire to touch.
The most hazardous temptation of early eminence, is
the fondness which it generates for perpetual pub-
licity. The almost preternatural trial of human for-
titude is, to see faction, with its vulgar and easy
triumph, seizing on the fame, which was once to be
won only by the purest and rarest achievements of
patriotism. When the banner which had flamed at
the head of the nation, on their march to Right, and
which was consigned to the hand of Grattan as its
legitimate bearer ; was raised again, by inferior hands,
in a day threatening the subversion of every throne
in Europe ; he exhibited a jealousy of his obscure
competitors, unworthy of his renown. But, he did
not join in their procession. He was unstained. If
he felt the avarice of ambition, he stooped to none of
the meannesses of intrigue ; he disdained the dark-
ness and the cowardice of conspiracy : to the last, he
exhibited no decay of that original dignity of nature.

MARSTON. 1 1 ]

which, in his political nonage, had made him the
leader of bearded men, and his name survives, a model
to the maturity of his country's virtue.

On this night, he spoke with remarkable power, but
in a style wholly distinct from his former appeals to
the passions of the House. His accents, usually
sharp and high, were now lingering and low; his
fiery phraseology was solemn and touching, and
even his gesture, habitually distorted, and pantomimi-
cal, was subdued and simple. He seemed to labour
under an unavowed impression, of the share which
the declamatory zeal of his party had to lay to its

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 19)