« AnteriorContinuar »
of torture, only equalled by the sufferings of those from which it results. This at first may seem a strange dispensation, that the kind should suffer for their kindness; but who shall presume to arraign the Wisdom of Providence! May not this sensation of uneasiness be the best security for the exercise of active benevolence? It is not in man to endure pain without an effort to relieve it, and every attempt which the good man makes to remove his own anxiety, will be an additional instrument towards effecting the happiness of others. Such was the result of the glorious restlessness of Howard; such will be the consequence of the noble perseverance of Sir Samuel Romilly.
Let this serve in excuse for a failing which he had in common with many good men; but who, even if it were inexcusa ble, could be base enough to put it in competition with his numerous excellencies? Take him merely as a speaker,—he was not only superior to his brother lawyers, but, with two or three exceptions, to any debater in the House. Though confessedly one of the most learned of his profession, he was the only one who never manifested any of its pedantry: he descanted on legal subjects with the wisdom of a philosopher, as well as the knowledge of an historian; and though he referred to authority, and indeed was fond of building on the authority of the enlightened, yet he discharged the duty of a legislator, which is to examine, and not tacitly to acquiesce in the precedents of former ages. Coming from a mind at once accurate, comprehensive, and enlarged, his sentiments had about them all the marks of wisdom, to which one would think no opposition could ever be offered, unless it was that they were not quite suited to the character of the times. I could dwell with pleasure on his political honesty, in which he has, perhaps, sacrificed the objects of an honourable ambition: but who does not know it, and appreciate it as fully as myself? Who did not look on Sir Samuel Romilly as the sure refuge, either for the redress of a private injury, or the exposure of a public crime !
I should almost feel as if I were insulting the memory of this gentleman, if I were to offer any consolation for the possible loss of a rank, which was so amply compensated by the increase of pure reputation. I should have wished indeed to have seen the first best man of his profession, occupying, at some time, the first rank in it; and giving dignity to some new title, which might have been quoted as the heraldic name for fine sense and integrity. But this is merely a matter of taste.
Sir S. Romilly had reached the summit: no honours could add weight to his opinions in the general mind; no station could make his virtues more conspicuous.
With regard to personal aggrandizement, he had nothing left to wish title and office would have diminished instead of adding to his reputation: to be Chancellor, would have been less than to be ROMILLY. Who, by any practice, by any industry, however laborious, shall attain that elegant, that refined, that persuasive, yet, at times, that nervous and forcible eloquence, in which he has never been exceeded, I doubt if ever equalled, by any lawyer in any age!
In transacting the most ordinary business, there was a peculiar grace about his manner-a gentlemanly ease, an unpresuming suavity, that won the hearts of all his hearers. His most graceful sentences flowed from his lips without pomp or ostentation, as if the words he used, however apt and forcible, dropped naturally and inartificially into their places, without the application either of will or memory. One faculty possessed by Sir Samuel Romilly above all competition-was that of never deviating from the point in question; and this is the more remarkable, because, in the multifariousness of his avocations, he must have been frequently called upon to speak on the spur of the moment, when comparatively unprepared: it never could be said of him that he wasted time by unnecessary or frivolous remarks, or dwelt upon matters of little importance to the issue he always kept the great question in view as a landmark, and arrived at it by the nearest possible road. But if he were admirable as a juridical, he was more so as a parliamentary orator, and in this respect accomplished much more than any professed practical lawyer I ever heard or read of.
The deference paid to his opinions by every member of the profession, speaks all that can be said in favour of his legal knowledge; the delightful attention with which he was heard in the House of Commons, even when the members were worn out by the fatigues of a long debate, is sufficient testimony of his powers as a parliamentary orator; and the ardent attachment of his family, his friends, and his domestics, shows that the brightness of his talents did not exceed the kindness and benignity of his heart.
"His ru'ins, (like the sacred carcases
Of scattered tem'ples,) great and reverend lie,
As a ministerial Peer, he might no doubt have been better able to carry his schemes by the authority of votes; but as a plain Member of the Commons, he was perhaps working with more valuable advantage, by impressing the excellence of his proposals on the understanding of the voters; and, to a mind like his, it must have appeared nobler to effect his purpose by the influence of reasoning, than by the force of power.*
CHARACTER OF MR. GRATTAN.
OF Ireland, it is difficult to speak with any accuracy; the natural character of that people has been so exaggerated and defaced by centuries of ill-treatment, that its features can scarcely be seen, except through the distorting mediums of anger and dejection. Enough, however, remains for us to distinguish that they are full of talent and spirit: that if their levity indisposes them for thinking, the intensity of their feelings supplies the place of thought: they feel till they think, while their neighbour nation, thinks till it feels. Too sensitive to be dull, too careless to be tasteful, their eloquence at once interests and offends: it implies that they have found civilization too great a curse for them to be heedful of the forms of society, and in their glowing appeals to natural justice, they disdain to borrow the technical paraphernalia of custom and taste. It is this feeling, which, in the unnatural condition of Ireland, makes its revenge more savage than a madman's; it is this which sometimes makes its oratory more vulgar than a barbarian's. I will not, however, act so unfairly as to take my specimens of its oratorical powers from its inferior orators; I will rather adduce its best men-its Burkes, and Sheridans, and Grattans. The first is like a cataract of mud, a stagnant ditch vexed into a torrent: the latter are great and powerful streams, rushing along with equal force and majesty, and whose flowings are enough to fill a hundred petty rivulets.
I would not have it supposed, because I have joined the name of Grattan to those of Burke and Sheridan, that I consider him
*This excellent lawyer and eloquent statesman was, from the death of his beloved wife, afflicted with brain fever, and, during a paroxysm, put an end to his valuable life, Nov. 1818, at the age of 60.
as of equal rank. Burke is at an immense distance above both: but between the two last, though Mr. Sheridan was, beyond question, the superior man, I think I see some similarity,— rather, however, in kind than in manner. Mr. Sheridan's aim was always, if he could, to expose the propositions of his adversary by a series of ludicrous contrasts: the mind of Mr. Grattan led him to the same play of opposition and antithesis, though his disposition seemed to feel anger, when the other would only laugh. The understanding in these cases is evidently alike, though the habits of society have engendered a different taste. Again, there was some likeness-in their style ; there was about them, at the beginning, a conversational carelessness, amounting almost to laziness, a sort of lounging indifference, which more than half concealed their strong feeling. On a sudden, some thought, -some word, set fire to the train of their impressions: they flung away their sloth, as Ulysses flung away the beggar's weeds, and walked abroad in all the majesty of excited intellect and irresistible passion. Who could oppose it? Reason was content to admire, and forgot to examine; but fortunately a tempest must be temporary. The paroxysms of Mr. Grattan, however, were shorter than those of Mr. Sheridan: and the former sunk at once from his celestial elevation, down to the earth. Not so Mr. Sheridan : he, when once roused, never subsided into an uninteresting mediocrity: when he ceased to be energetic, he became elegant. When he was no longer the angel of the storm, he became the benignant genius whose presence cheers even the waste, and at whose every step up springs a bed of living verdure. I must confess, however, that I did not know Mr. Grattan in his best days looking at him now, a veteran not much short of seventy, and observing that attic fire which still warms his heart, I will not presume to say that he did not deserve the high reputation which he enjoyed.* I am content to bow with reverence to the consistent advocate for his country's rights, who, for a long life, stood forward the powerful and almost successful champion of her cause, against an unparalleled weight of influence and prejudice, and who disdained to further his purposes by any paltry intermixture with party. Some have said that Mr. Grattan sunk in character by his trans
* This deservedly-celebrated Irish orator and statesman died in the year 1820, aged 70.
plantation into the British Parliament. I do not think so: there was no man heard with more fond respect; and deservedly, for there was no man who gave more pleasure. Indeed I knew not a more gratifying sight, than when Mr. Grattan rose : his petit person and unsonorous voice at first awoke no feeling but surprise, that this man should be a commanding orator: but, in a moment, you became interested by his gentlemanly manner, and warm, though very subdued, tone: a striking thought or glowing expression dropped out as if by accident, and assured us that we should not be disappointed.
(The succeeding paragraphs were composed after the death of this patriotic Statesman. They are taken from the Speech of Mr. Plunkett, when he proposed the present Mr. Grattan as the successor of his venerable father, to represent the city of Dublin.)
I will not here attempt the vain task of recapitulating the services and the virtues of the friend we have lost; they are far above the reach of my humble powers to do them justice. But great as his patriotism was, no feeling was ever more grateful to his heart than the support of the Protestant Constitution. It was the rare felicity of that immortal man, to have been at once the advocate of every class of his Majesty's subjects, and to have given equal satisfaction to all; and in the highest soarings of his enthusiasm, and in the warmest zeal of his exertions, the pole-star that guided both was his wish to strengthen the connection. I do not now talk to Protestant or Catholic. It would be profanation to the dead to make any distinction. I come here to talk to Ireland-and never could I perform a duty more serviceable to my countrymen, than to implore them not to degrade themselves by trampling on the ashes of their father and their benefactor. And I tell my learned friend,* that I could never offer him a sincerer mark of friendship, than by advising him to retire from a contest-in which he could not triumph without sharing in the degradation of those who had thrust him forward. How I should compassionate his feelings, when, paraded through those streets, his memory would return to the days when that great man, now no more, passed those same streets, between the files of his
Mr Ellis, who opposed Mr. Grattan, and who succeeded in the election.