« ForrigeFortsæt »
in the ever-memorable revolution, were then secretly at work; but few indications were at that time discoverable, of the approaching explosion, which was so speedily to terrify the civilized world.
About the time of Mr. Curran's return, the affliction of his Majesty, George III, had created a very powerful sensation throughout the country, and both in England and Ireland the regency question was agitated with much eagerness and warmth. Mr. Curran contended for the rights of the heir-apparent, and, after a severe contest, had the gratification of seeing the measures he had espoused crowned with success. Happily, however, the restoration of his Majesty's health neutralized its effect, and perhaps, preprevented many unpleasant consequences, to which the decision might have led.
From the sketch already given of Mr. Curran's temperament and sarcastic eloquence, it will not, probably, create much surprise in our readers to learn, that he sometimes gave serious offence to those against whom his javelins were launched. These were occasionally resented, and disagreeable consequences followed. In 1790, a misunderstanding with Major Hobart, the Irish secretary, led to an angry correspondence between him and Mr. Curran, which terminated in a duel, but, happily, neither party received any injury. Many other appeals to weapons were made by Mr. Curran during his career, from all of which he escaped unhurt.—Perhaps, within the whole compass of language, we cannot find a greater prostitution of terms than to call these attempts at deliberate murder, affairs of honour. Pride and passion are the parents of duelling, and all its boasted exploits are founded on a haughty defiance to the laws both of God and man.
In a case involving the elective rights of the citizens of Dublin, Mr. Curran delivered, before the privy council, a brilliant speech, which has been preserved with but very little mutilation. As an oration, it conveys an admirable idea of the speaker's powers, and it may serve as a model for all who attempt to drive their antagonists into the regions of absurdity.
In 1794, Ireland, labouring under a political convulsion, afforded Mr. Curran an opportunity of reaching the summit of his forensie fame. Among the numerous causes in which he was engaged, his defence of Hamilton Rowan, prosecuted for a seditious libel, is one of the most remarkable ; and his speech on this occasion, is probably one of the proudest monuments of his genius. During its delivery, he was more than once interrupted by enthusiastic plaudits, which, being of rare occurrence in a court of law, demonstrate the state of the public mind, and the powerful effects which his eloquence produced. The following passage, at its conclusion, will communicate some idea of this overwhelming oration.
“ I speak in the spirit of the British law, which makes liberty commensurate with, and inseparable from, British soil; which proclaims even to the stranger and the sojourner, the moment he sets his foot on British earth, that the ground on which he treads is holy, and consecrated by the genius of universal emancipation. No matter in what language his doom may have been pronounced—no matter what complexion, incompatible with freedom, an Indian or an African sun may have burnt upon him-no matter in what disastrous battle his liberty may have been cloven down-no matter with what solemnities he may have been devoted on the altar of slavery> the first moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the altar and the god sink together in the dust; the soul walks abroad in her own majesty; his body swells beyond the measure of his chains, that burst from around him; and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled, by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation.”
In 1795, on the appointment of Earl Fitzwilliam to the viceroyalty of Ireland, Mr. Curran was led to expect the exalted office of solicitor-general, but the basty recall of this nobleman defeated his anticipation. To repress the commotions which then prevailed, and the spirit of disaffection that had assumed a formidable aspect, government was about to have recourse to coercive principles, and, for these, the intended solicitor-general was not formed of sufficiently stern materials.
Against measures which Mr. Curran and his party conceived to be fraught with the utmost danger, he continued to exert all his powers ; but, finding every effort ineffectual, he resolved to quit the house, in which he could no longer be of any service to his country. Accordingly, on the 15th of May, 1797, he took his leave, with the following remarkable words. “I
agree that unanimity at this time is indispensable; the house seems pretty unanimous for force : I am sorry for it; for I bode the worst from it. I shall retire from a scene where I can do no good, and where I should disturb that unanimity. I cannot, however, go without a parting entreaty, that men would reflect on the awful responsibility in which they stand to their country and to their consciences, before they set an example to the people of abandoning the law, and resorting to the terrible expedient of force.”
The retirement of Mr. Curran, with Mr. Grattan, and many others, from the House of Commons, followed the preceding declaration, and the rebellion, which they had long predicted, speedily ensued. In this conflict, several leading characters of Ireland were deeply involved, and charges of treason were succeeded by state trials, which furnished Mr. Curran with much employment. In defending the accused, he was always ready to exert his talents; and the records of these eventful days demonstrate, that, amidst detraction, obloquy, and legal intimidation, his course was undeviating, fearless, and indefatigable. At this arduous post he remained while the storm of violence continued, and, by his watchfulness, eloquence, and legal knowledge, imposed a salutary restraint on the agents of power, who, at this period, were too frequently disposed to exercise a "vigour beyond the law."
This tempest in Ireland having subsided, Mr. Curran seized the opportunity of this tranquillity, and of a partial peace with France, to visit the latter country. Here, however, he did not continue long; another insurrection in his native land, 1803, caused him immediately to return,
resume his legal duties, in behalf of the political delinquents whom government had denounced. To them his time and talents were readily devoted, and to his advocacy many were indebted for their escape from the fangs of justice entangled in a net of law.
The period, however, was fast approaching, when political ascendancy was to undergo an entire revolution. On the formation of the Whig ministry in 1806, Mr. Curran came into office, as Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and was appointed a member of the privy council. Here he may be said to have become stationary, as the remaining portion of his life presents but little to interest the reader. Deprived by his promotion of opportunities for exerting his powerful talents in the way to which he had been accustomed, a degree of torpor, correspondent with the monotonous duties of his office, succeeded to his former activity. Dejection, bordering on despondency, arising from the deplorable condition of Ireland, and the stagnation of his spirits, may henceforth be said to have accompanied him to the grave.
In 1810, Mr. Curran visited Scotland, which, on a former occasion, he had characterized as “ a nation cast in a happy medium between the spirit, less acquiescence of submissive poverty, and the sturdy credulity of pampered wealth-cool, and ardent-adventurous, and persevering-urging her eagle flight against the blaze of every science, with an eye that never winks, and a wing that never tires-crowned with the spoils of every art, and decked with the wreath of every muse.” Prior to this visit, Mr. Curran had represented Scotland as “a country which he had always valued for its intellectual and moral eminence;" and his letters, written while there, are replete with expressions of the exalted gratification which he had derived from the spirit and intelligence of the Scottish people during his excursion.
Notwithstanding his great depression of spirits, Mr. Curran was induced, by the solicitation of some friends, in 1812, to offer himself as a candidate for Newry. The attempt, however, proved unsuccessful; but his speech, on retiring from the contest, evinced, that neither disease nor despondency had made any inroad on his mental powers. In this his last great effort, the welfare of Ireland engrossed much of his attention; and he lamented its disunion and distractions in language expressive of hope bordering on despair.
In the year 1813, Mr. Curran's health was evidently in a precarious state, and, so deeply sensible was he of its decline, that he entertained serious thoughts of resigning his situation. Recovering, however, in some degree from the violence of the attack, he was enabled to resume his judicial functions, and continue them for some time longer; but, again relapsing, his constitution was unable to sustain the shock, and, in 1814, he retired from the bench.
It was during this malady, that Mr. Curran went to consult the no less celebrated Mr. Abernethy, whose impatience, when hearing complaints, has become almost proverbial. Of this interview, the following particulars can hardly fail to amuse the reader.
Mr. Curran, it appears, being personally unknown to Mr. Abernethy, had visited him several times, without having had an opportunity of fully explaining the nature of his disorder. At length, he went with a full determination to obtain a hearing, and began his tale accordingly. Scarcely had he commenced, before he was interrupted as usual ; but instead of being intimidated, he fixed his dark piercing eye on the doctor, and thus addressed him :
“Mr. Abernethy, I have been here on eight different days, and I have paid you eight different guineas ; but you have never yet listened to the symptoms of my complaint. I am resolved, sir, not to leave this room until you satisfy me by doing so.”
Struck by his manner and intrepidity, Mr. Abernethy threw himself back in his chair, and, assuming the posture of a most indefatigable listener, exclaimed in a tone of half surprise and half humour,—“Oh, very well, sir, I am ready to hear you out. Go on, give me the whole, your birth, parentage, and education. I wait your pleasure ; go on.” On hearing this, Mr. Curran, not in the least disconcerted, assumed a grave countenance, and proceeded as follows :
My name is John Philpot Curran. My parents were poor, but I believe honest people, of the province of Munster, where also I was born, being a native of Newmarket, County of Cork, in the year 1750. My father being employed to collect the rents of a Protestant gentleman of small fortune, in that neighbourhood, obtained my entrance into one of the
Protestant Free Schools, where I obtained the first rudiments of my education. I was next enabled to enter Trinity College, Dublin, in the humble sphere of a sizer.”
In this manner, Mr. Curran continued for several minutes, giving to his astonished hearer a true, but irresistibly laughable account of his “ birth, parentage, and education,” as desired, until he came to his illness and sufferings, the detail of which was not again interrupted. It is scarcely necessary to add, that Mr. Abernethy's attention to his gifted patient, was, from that hour to the close of his life, assiduous, unremitting, and devoted.
Not long after Mr. Curran's retirement from office, in 1814, he again visited France, not so much from any hope of being restored to health, as to divert the melancholy with which he was continually oppressed. Every effort, however, proved in vain. His constitution rapidly gave way, and the paralytic symptoms with which he was occasionally visited, united to the deplorable state of his spirits, furnished indications of his approaching dissolution. On returning to England, he took up his abode at lodgings in Brompton, about a mile from Hyde Park Corner. Here he languished until the 8th of October 1817, when he was seized with apoplexy, and expired, in the 68th year of his age.
The engraving prefixed to this memoir, is from a painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and, by those who knew him, is considered an excellent likeness. Its homely appearance is faithful to nature. It has been said, that Curran's exterior was neither remarkable nor prepossessing ; his stature was low, his person insignificant, and his countenance unattractive. The only feature emblematic of the man was the eye, which was dark, full, penetrating, and expressive, and in moments of excitement flashed with intensity and animation. His title to fame must rest chiefly on his reputation for wit and eloquence, to which his claim is indisputable. His oratory possessed little of the deliberative solemnity of Grattan, or the majestic copiousness of Burke. It sprang from an intellect of vast comprehension and originality, and exhibited characteristics peculiarly its own.
About the time that Mr. Curran resigned his judicial seat, he became acquainted with Lord Byron, who, in one of his letters, writes as follows: “ Curran is the man who struck me most. Such imagination ! there never was any thing like it, that I ever saw or heard of. I have heard that man speak more poetry than I have ever written, though I saw him but seldom.” From the celebrated Horne Tooke, we have also the following comparative testimony: “Sheridan's wit is like steel highly polished and sharpened for display and use; Curran's, like a mine of virgin gold, incessantly crumbling away from its own richness."
Mr. Curran was married when young, and had several children. His eldest son having been bred to the sea, has obtained the rank of Post Captain in the Navy. To another son we are indebted for the political life of his father, a work which has been characterized as being
“ interesting from its variety, and admirable from the merits of its composition." Of the other branches, we know but little, and that little is devoid of interest to the reader; here therefore our narrative of this extraordinary man finds its termination.
For a considerable portion of the materials which form this mémoir, the editor acknowledges himself indebted to an elegant work, now in the course of publication, by Fisher, Son, and Jackson, entitled " National Portrait Gallery,” under the especial patronage of the King. This work contains highly finished engravings, and interesting memoirs of “illustrious and eminent personages," chiefly “of the nineteenth century.”
of the inhabitarits of this christian country. ON THE OBSERVANCE OF THE FOURTH
The march' of intelligence, of learning, and COMMANDMENT.
science, is rapid to an unparalleled degree, By John Wilson.
but grievous is it to observe, that the gigan(SECOND ESSA Y.)
tic strides of crime and infidelity keep pace “ Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day.”
with, if they do not outstrip it. In a former paper upon this important In pursuing the subject before me, I subject, (see Imperial Magazine, for July, shall, in the first place, quote a few of the 1831,) I took into consideration the con- prevailing customs by which the fourth of duct of those persons who, disregarding the these commandments is profaned. law of God, continue to follow their usual 1. Amongst the higher and middling avocations on the day set apart for His classes of society, Sunday is a favourite day service; and it now remains for me briefly for visiting ; and music and cards are not to comment upon those who seem to con- unfrequently called into requisition, to re. sider it as one solely to be devoted to lieve the tedium of a conversation, which, amusement.
for want of intellect, subject, or spirit, beThe power of habit and example, in
comes vapid and uninteresting. Alas! repressing reflection and judgment, is enor- what an excuse is thus placed in the mouths mous; and it is curious to observe how
of the poor, who, when reprehended for many pursue a certain line of conduct,
negligence, reply, “My superiors set the merely because others have done the example, and surely their education should same, without pausing to reflect on its teach them what is right.” propriety or impropriety, and without using 2. The premier gives cabinet dinners on the powers of judgment with which nature that day; but, as these may be considered has gifted them. When we consider that rather as meetings of business than of conman is a creature of reason, and is endowed
viviality, they properly belong to the former with full freedom to exercise that faculty, essay. Is the minister, however, less culit appears the more strange that he should pable than a tradesman who finishes a piece become so much the creature of imitation : of work on the Sabbath? God is no rebut the merits of a custom which has re. specter of persons. ceived the sanction of ages, are seldom 3. Many merchants, attorneys, trades. canvassed by individuals ; and they pursue men, clerks, mechanics, &c., who are confined the beaten track in the train of others, closelyto their respective employments during without a thought on the wisdom or folly the week, look forward to the Lord's-day as of the course they are taking. By this the time of release from their hebdomadal servile adherence to example, numberless toil, and devote it exclusively to pleasure. absurdities and inconsistencies have crept, 4. Numbers of artisans, and trades. and still do creep, into the social system; men of a lower grade, often spend the the simplicity of former times has become whole day drinking and smoking in publicobscured by the mass of extraneous matter houses, and, to the disgrace of landlords of with which it has been clothed, through such places be it recorded, persons fresuccessive centuries, by custom and civili- quently remain there during the hours of zation; and the undisguised colours in divine service, and, though the door be which man was wont to show, are now lost closed, to obey the letter of the act of parin the excess of polish with which modern liament, yet carousals are carried on in the times have invested them. Habit, how- house, in opposition to its intention, and in ever, is invariably defended by prejudice, direct contrariety to the sacred law. This and the man who ventures to argue against practice is, I am informed, especially carthe over-refinement of the present age, or ried on in suburban districts. to shew that it is in any way attended by 5. Respectable and orderly persons, on disadvantage to the moral condition of the their way to and from a place of worship, human race, would, in all probability, be on the Sabbath, are shamed and annoyed stigmatized as a savage, only fit to inhabit by the sight of men and women reeling the unexplored regions of Africa.
along the street in a state of filthy inebriaA marked exemplification of the want tion. of due consideration being awarded to 6. The fields and by-places, on the many subjects by man, and that the tyrant outskirts of London, are frequented on the custom has even power sufficient to abro- Sabbath morning by idle and dissolute gate a decree of the Almighty himself, may persons of both sexes, who meet there for be found in the awful but undoubted fact, the purpose of tossing with pence, playing that the sacred ten' are in an alarming at ball, gambling, and other objects of a still degree falling into disuse with a great portion worse nature. These fields are often the