Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

and even, perhaps, allayed his feelings. They were fighting, they knew, to repress the uncontrolled ambition of the Grand Monarch. But if a man were present now at a field of slaughter, and were to inquire for what they were fighting—“Fighting!” would be the answer; “they are not fighting; they are pausing.” “Why is that man expiring? Why is that other writhing with agony? What means this implacable fury?” The answer must be: “You are quite wrong, sir; you deceive yourself—they are not fighting—do not disturb them—they are merely pausing ! This man is not expiring with agony— that man is not dead—he is only pausing ! Lord help you, sir! they are not angry with one another; they have now no cause of quarrel; but their country thinks that there should be a pause. All that you see, sir, is nothing like fighting—there is no harm, nor cruelty, nor bloodshed in it whatever; it is nothing more than a political pause! It is merely to try an experiment—to see whether Bonaparte will not behave himself better than heretofore; and in the mean time we have agreed to a pause, in pure friendship!” And is this the way, sir, that you are to show yourselves the advocates of order? You take up a system calculated to uncivilize the world—to destroy order—to trample on religion—to stifle in the heart, not merely the generosity of noble sentiment, but the affections of social nature; and in the prosecution of this system, you spread terror and devastation all around you. Sir, I have done. I have told you my opinion. I think you ought to have given a civil, clear, and explicit answer to the overture which was fairly and handsomely made you. If you were desirous that the negotiation should have included all your allies, as the means of bringing about a general peace, you should have told Bonaparte so. But I believe you were afraid of his agreeing to the proposal. You took that method before. Ay, but you say the people were anxious for peace in 1797. I say they are friends to peace now; and I am confident that you will one day acknowledge it. Believe me, they are friends to peace; although by the laws which you have made, restraining the expression of the sense of the people, public opinion cannot now be heard as loudly and unequivocally as heretofore. But I will not go into the internal state of this country. It is too afflicting to the heart to see the strides which have been made by means of, and under the miserable pretext of, this war, against liberty of every kind, both of power of speech and of writing, and to observe in another kingdom the rapid approaches to that military despotism which we affect to make an argument against peace. I know, sir, that public opinion, if it could be collected, would be for peace, as much now as in 1797; and that it is only by public opinion, and not by a sense of their duty, or by the inclination of their minds, that ministers will be brought, if ever, to give us peace. I conclude, sir, with repeating what I said before: I ask for no gentleman's vote who would have reprobated the compliance of ministers with the proposition of the French Government. I ask for no gentleman's support to-night who would have voted against ministers, if they had come down and proposed to enter into a negotiation with the French. But I have a right to ask, and in honor, in consistency, in conscience, I have a right to expect, the vote of every honorable gentleman who would have voted with ministers in an address to His Majesty, diametrically opposite to the motion of this night.

O N T H E LIBERTY OF T H E PRESS

BY

Jo HN PHILPoT CURRAN

JOHN PHILPOT CURRAN
1750–1817

John Philpot Curran was a self-made man, though he obtained a university education. But he was born (at Newmarket, near Cork) of humble parents; and his person was mean and diminutive. Despite his physical disadvantages he manifested prodigious eloquence and intrepid courage in espousing the cause of political outlaws. He was able to touch the deepest springs of feeling, and to display sentiments of the purest and loftiest humanity. He possessed the charm and fascination often found in his race; he was a winning companion, and his conversation had irresistible magnetism. He took his degree at Trinity College, Dublin, studied law at the Middle Temple, London, and was admitted to the Bar in 1775, at the age of five-and-twenty. In 1783 he entered the Irish Parliament, where he joined the opposition, of which Grattan was the leader. He was an orator first of all, and by profession; his forensic triumphs constitute his hold on fame; and the accidents of the epoch gave him abundant material for practice. The insurrectionists of 1798 in Ireland were persecuted by the English government with relentless cruelty, and it fell to Curran to defend many of them, which he did with a courage and ability which gave him an immense reputation. There is hardly anything finer in forensic oratory than many of these speeches; it stirs the blood even of a later generation to read them; the denunciation of injustice and oppression has never been more forcibly and daringly worded, or the wrongs of the victims more feelingly portrayed. It is easy to believe that a man who could speak thus would be accounted," the most popular advocate of his age and country.” His speech on “The Liberty of the Press", was delivered in the trial of a newspaper proprietor who had offended the British government. Nor can one marvel, after reading his attacks upon the prosecutors, that his chief opponent in the courts, Mr. Fitzgibbons, afterwards Lord Clare, should have passed from a professional to a personal animosity against the great Irishman; a challenge passed between them, and a o ensued; but this duel followed the modern French fashion in being bloodless. Nobody was hurt, and both gentlemen preserved their honor. During the vice-royalty of the Duke of Bedford, in 1806, Curran's patriotism was recognized by his appointment as Master of the Rolls, which he retained till 1814. He then resigned and retired with a pension of three thousand pounds a year. He took up his residence near London, and died at Brompton in 1817, in the sixty-seventh year of his life. “His talents,” says a contemporary critic, “were of the highest order: his wit, his drollery, his eloquence, his pathos, were irresistible, and the style of his oratory was striking and splendid.”

ON THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS

ND now, gentlemen, let us come to the immediate subject of the trial," as it is brought before you by the charge in the indictment, to which it ought to have been confined; and also, as it is presented to you by the statement of the learned counsel who has taken a much wider range than the mere limits of the accusation, and has endeavored to force upon your consideration extraneous and irrelevant facts, for reasons which it is my duty to explain. The indictment states simply that Mr. Finnerty has published a false and scandalous libel upon the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, tending to bring his government into disrepute, and to alienate the affections of the people; and one would have expected that, without stating any other matter, the counsel for the Crown would have gone directly to the proof of this allegation. But he has not done so; he has gone to a most extraordinary length, indeed, of preliminary observation, and an allusion to facts, and sometimes an assertion of facts, at which, I own, I was astonished, until I saw the drift of these allusions and assertions. Whether you have been fairly dealt with by him, or are now honestly dealt with by me, you must be judges. He has been pleased to say that this prosecution is brought against this letter signed Marcus, merely

* [This speech was delivered before the Commission court, on December 22, 1797, in behalf of Peter Finnerty, the publisher of the Dublin “Press.” Finnerty had been indicted for publishing a severe letter, signed Marcus, addressed to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in reference to the execution of William Orr. Orr had been tried and executed for administering the oath to a United Irishman. His trial and execution were peculiarly atrocious, because, it was developed soon after the trial, many of the witnesses were ured, the chief informer was a man of the blackest character, and the jury was openly intimidated, several of them being made drunk while sitting on the case. These facts were communicated to the Lord Lieutenant, and Orr was reprieved three times,

but, after a year's delay, was finally executed. A wave of o: indignation swept over Ireland. edals were struck bearing the words “Remember Orr,” and his name became a watch-word of resistance to tyranny. During this period Finnerty's paper published the Marcus letter, and he was immediately indicted for libel. Curran, as his counsel, made in his behalf the speech here given. His eloquent plea was unavailing. Finnerty was found guilty, and sentenced to spend one hour in the stocks, and to be imprisoned for two years—a sentence which was carried out. Curran's speech is remarkable in that it was delivered impromptu. . He had had no time for preparation, and had seen the briefs in the case only a few minutes before speaking—EDItor.]

« AnteriorContinuar »