« PreviousContinue »
nor the scale of the work very correctly regulated as to either ; so that we have alternately too much and too little of both :—that the style is rather wordy and diffuse, and the e.\tracis and citations too copious; so that, on the whole, the book, like some others, would be improved by being reduced to little more than half its present size—a circumstance which makes it only the more necessary that we should endeavour to make a manageable abstract of it, for the use of less patient readers.
Mr. Curran's parentage and early life are now of no great consequence. He was born, however, of respectable parents, and received a careful and regular education. He was a little wild at college; but left it with the character of an excellent scholar, and was univerealljvpopular among his associates, not less for his amiable temper than his inexhaustible vivacity. He wrote baddish verses at this time, and exercised himself in theological discourses: for his first destination was for the Church: and he afterwards took to the Law. very much to his mother's disappointment and mortification—who was never reconciled to the chanire—and used, even in the meridian of his fame, to lament what a mighty preacher had been lost to the world,—and to exclaim, that, but for his versatility, she might have died the mother of a Bishop! It was better as it was. Unquestionably he might have been a very great preacher; but we doubt whether he would have been a good parish priest, or even an exemplary bishop.
Irish lawyers are obliged to keep their terms in London; and, for the poorer part of them, it seems to be but a dull and melancholy noviciate. Some of his early letters, with which we are here presented, give rather an amiable and interesting picture of young Curran's feelings in this situation—separated at once from all his youthful friends and admirers, and left without money or recommendation in the busy crowds of a colder and more renal people. During the three years he passed in the metropolis, he seems to have entered into no society, and never to have come in contact with a single distinguished individual. He saw Oarrick on the staire. and Lord Mansfield on the bench; and this exhausts hi? list of illustrious men in London. His only associates seem to have been a few of his countrymen, as poor and forlorn as himself. Yet the life they lived seems to have been virtuous and honourable. They contracted no debts, and committed no excesses.
Curran himself rose early, and read diligentlv till dinner; and, in the evening, he usually went, as much for improvement as relaxation, to a sixpenny debating club. For a long time, however, he was too nervous and timid to act any other part than that of an Auditor, and did not find even the germ of tnat singular talent which was afterward s improved to such a height, till it was struck out as it were by an accidental collision in this obscure arena. There is a long account of this in the "x>ok before us, as it is said to have been retieatcdly given by Mr. C. himself—but in a itvle which we cannot conscientiously ap
plaud. We suspect, indeed, from тапом passages in these volumes, that the In«b standard of good conversation is radically deferent from the English; and that a torn- tí exhibition and effect is still tolerated in that country, which could not be long endured in good societv in this. A great proportion of the colloquial anecdotes in this work. coi;t:;i:i us in this belief—and nothing more than :he encomium bestowed on Mr. Curran's own с' г • versation, as abounding in "those maginl transitions from the most comic turns rf thought to the deepest pathos, and for ever bringing a tear into the eye beifore ihe noue was off the lip." In this more frigid and fi»tidious country, we really hare no idea of a man talking pathetically in good company.— and still less of good company sitting and cry ing to him. Nay, it is not even very ooneonant with our notions, that a gentleman should be "most comical."
As to the taste and character of Mr. Сптran's oratory, we may have occasion to ey a word or two hereafter.—At present, it a only necessary to remark, that besides the puM.iexercitations now alluded to, he appears ti have gone through the most persevering an laborious processes of private study, with a view to its improvement—not only accustoming himself to debate imaginary cases alonr with the most anxious attention, but •• r<-ci!ii.ï perpetually before a mirror," to acquire a graceful gesticulation! and stndjonsly imitating the tone and manner of the той celebrated speakers. The authors from whom be chiefly borrowed the matter of these (olitary declamations were Junius and Lord Bo:::; broke—and the poet he most passionate!} admired was Thomson. He also need ь declaim occasionally from Milton—bot, in bit maturer age. came to think lees highly of lb: great poet. One of his favourite exenitn was the funeral oration of Antony over the body of Cicsar, as it is given by Shakesprar-the frequent recitation of which he used !•• recommend to his young friends at the Bar. to the latest period of his life.
He was called to the Bar in 1775. in h-J twenty-fifth year—having rather irnprodentl) married two years before—and very won attained to independence and distinction. There is a very clever little disquisition introdncni here by the author, on the very different. z:¿ almost opposite taste in elomience which has prevailed at the Bar of England and Iieb^l respectively ;—the one being in general cM and correct, unimpassioned and technical : 'br other discursive, rhetorical, and embell'ibfi> or encumbered, with flights of fancy and aj>peals to the passions. These peculiarities tb* author imputes chiefly to the difference inuV national character and general temperanirtl of the two races, and to the unsubdued >i»l unrectified prevalence of all that is characteristic of their country in those r!n*s»s ot;: i! which the Juries of Ireland are usually «elected. He ascribes them also, in rart. toil.? circumstance of almost all the barriftiTM' distinction having been introduced, тегу ertv in life, to the fierce and tumultuary aren* *
the Irish House of Commons—(he Government being naturally desirous of recruiting iheir ranks with as many efficient combatants as possible from persons residing in the metropolis—and Opposition looking, of course, to the same great seminary for the antagonists with whom these were to be confronted.
We cannot say that either of these solutions ia to us very satisfactory. There was heat enough certainly, and to spare, in the Irish Parliament; but the barristers who came there had generally kindled with their own fire, before repairing to that fountain. They hau formed their manner, in short, and distinguished themselves by their ardour, before they were invited to display it in that assembly ;—and it would be quite as plausible to refer the intemperate warmth of the Parliamentary debates to the infusion of hot-headed gladiators from the Bar, as to ascribe the general over-zeal of the profession to the fever some of them might have caught in the Senate. In England, we believe, this effect has never been observed—and in Ireland it has outlived its supposed causes—the Bar of that country being still (we understand)as rhetorical and impassioned as ever, though its legislature has long ceased to have an existence.
As to the effects of temperament and national character, we confess we are still more sceptical—at least when considered as the main causes of the phenomenon in question. Professional peculiarities, in short, we are persuaded, are to be referred much more to the circumstances of the profession, than to the national character of those who exercise it; and the more redundant eloquence of the Irish bar, is better explained, probably, by the smaller quantity of business in their courts, than by the greater vivacity of their fancy, or the warmth of their hearts. We in Scotland have also a forensic eloquence of our own— more speculative, discursive, and ambitious than that of England—but less poetical and passionate than that of Ireland; and the peculiarity might be plausibly ascribed, here also, to the imputed character of the nation, as distmsuished for logical acuteness and intrepid questioning of authority, rather than for richness of imagination, or promptitude of feeling.
We do not mean, however, altogether to deny the existence or the operation of these causes—but we think the effect is produced cliießy by others of a more vulgar description. The small number of Courts and Judges in England—compared to its great wealth, population, and business—has made brevity and despatch not only important but indispensable qualifications in an advocate in great practice. —since it would be physically impossible either for him or for the Courts to get through their business without them. All mere ornamental speaking, therefore, is not only severely discountenanced, but absolutely debarred; and the most technical, direct, and authoritative views of the case alone can be listened to. But judicial time, to use the language of Bentham is not of the same high value, either in Ireland or in Scotland ; and the pleaders of those
countries have consequently given way to that universal love of long-speaking, which, we verily believe, never can be repressed by any thing but the absolute impossibility of indulging it :—while their prolixity has taken a different character, not so much from the temperament of the speakers, as from the difference of the audiences they have generally had to address. In Ireland, the greater pail of their tediousness is bestowed on Juries—and their vein consequently has been more popular. With us in Scotland the advocate has to speak chiefly to the Judges—and naturally endeavours, therefore, to make that impression by subtlety, or compass of reasoning, which he would in vain attempt, cither by pathos, poetry, or jocularity.—Professional speakers, in short, we are persuaded, will always speak as long as they can be listened to.—The quantity of their eloquence, therefore, will depend on the time that can be afforded for ils display —and its quality, on the nature of the audiencu to which it is addressed.
But though we cannot admit that the causes assigned by this author are the main or fundamental causes of the peculiarity of Irish oratory, we are far from denying that there is much in it of a national character, and indicating something extraordinary either in the temper of the people, or in the state of society among them. There is, in particular, a much greater Irascibility; with ils usual concomitants of coarseness and personality,—and a much more Theatrical lone, or a taste for forced and exaggerated sentiments, than would be tolerated on this side of- the Channel. Of the former attribute, the continual, and, we must say. most indecent altercations that are recorded in these volumes between the Bench and*the Bar, are certainly the most flagrant and offensive examples. In some cases the Judges were perhaps the aggressors—but the violence and indecorum is almost wholly on the side of the Counsel; and the excess and intemperance of their replies generally goes far beyond any thing for which an apology can be found in the provocation that had been given. A very striking instance occurs in an early part of Mr. Curran's history, where he is said to have observed, upon an opinion delivered by Judge Robinson. <: that he had never met with the law as laid down by his Lordship in any book in hie library;" and, upon his Lordship rejoining, somewhat scornfully, "that he suspected his library was very email." the offended barrister, in allusion to the known fact of the Judge having recently published some anonymous pamphlets, thought fit to reply, that "his library might be small, but he thanked Heaven lhat. among his books, there were none of the wretched productions of the frantic pamphleteers of the day. I find it more instructive, my lord, to study good works than to compose bad ones! My books may be few, but the title-pages give me the writers' names—my shelf is not disgraced by any of such rank absurdity thai their very authors are ashamed to own them.'1 (p. 122.) On another occasion, when he was proceeding in an argument with his characteristic impetuosity, the presiding Judge having called to I he Sheriff to be ready to take into custody any one who should disturb the decorum of the Court, the sensitive counsellor at once applying the notice to himself, is reported to have broken out into the following incredible apostrophe—" Do. Mr. Sheriff.1' replied Mr. Curran, "go and get ready my dungeon! Prepare a bed of straw for me; and upon that bed I shall to-night repose with more tranquillitv than I should enjoy were I sitting upon that bench, with a consciousness that I disgraced it !"—Even his reply to Lord Clare. when interrupted by him in an argument before the Privy Council, seems to us much more petulant than severe. His Lordship, il seems. had admonished him that he was wandering from the question; and Mr. C. after some general observations, replied, "I am aware, my lords, that truth is to be sought only by slow and painful progress: I know also that error is in its nature flippant and compendious: it hops with airy and fastidious levity over proofs and arguments, and perches upon assertion, which it calls conclusion."—To Lord Clare, however, Mr. C. had every possible temptation to be intractable and impertinent. But even to his best friends, when placed on the seat of judgment, he could not always forbear a similar petulance. Lord Avonmore was always most kind anil indulgent to him— but he loo was sometimes in the habit, it seems, of checking his wanderings, and sometimes of too impatiently anticipating his conclusions. Upon one of these occasions, and in the middle of a solemn argument, we are called on to admire the following piece of vulgar and farcical stupidity, as a specimen of Mr. C:s most judicious pleasantry :—
"' Perhaps, my lord. I am s'mying; bat you must impute il to the extreme agitation of'my mind. I bave just witnessed so dreadful a circumstance, that my iti'aijitiaiion has not yet recovered from the shock/—His lordship was now all attention.—' On my way in court, my lord, as I passed by one of the markets. I observed a butcXier proL-eedinj; 10 ilaughter a calf. Ju>l as his hand was raUed. a lovely little child approached him unpercrived. and, terrible to relate—I fililí see the life-blood gushing out—ihe poor churl's bosom was under his liand,
when he plunged his knif'- inlo—into' 'Into the
bosom ol the child!' cri dont the jtid^e, with much emotion—'into the neck of Ihe calf, my lord; but your lordship sometimes anticipates!'"
But this is not quite fair.—There is no more such nonsense in the book—nor any other Iricism so discreditable to the taste either of its hero or its author. There are plenty of traits, however, that make one blush for the degradation, and shudder at the government of that magnificent country.—One of the most striking is supplied by an event in the early part of Mr. C's professional history, and one to which he is here said to have been indebted for his first celebrity. A nobleman of great weight and influence in the country—we gladly suppress his name, though it is given in the book—-had a mistress, whose brother being a Catholic, had, for some offence, been sentenced to ecclesiastical penance—and the young woman solicited her keeper to use his
influence with the priest to obtain a remission His Lordship went accordingly to the cabin of the aged pastor, who came bareheaded tn the door with his missal in his hand , and after hearing the application, respectfully answered, that the sentence having been irr.pos»-: by the Bishop, could only be relaxed by the same authority—and that he had no гшЫ It power to interfere with it. The noble mediator, on this struck the old man! and droïe htm with repeated blows from his presence The priest then brought his act ion of damajp» —but for a long time could lind no advoca:? hardy enough to undertake bis cause!—ar.d when young Curran at last made offer ot h-> services, he was blamed and pitied by all hi* prudent friends for his romantic and Quixotic rashness.
These facts speak volume« as to the otter perversion of moral feeling that is produced by unjust laws, and the habits to which they ¡rive rise. No nation is so brave or so ¡гелегс;,as the Irish.—and yet an Irish nobleman reulJ be guilty of the brutality of striking an nsv¿ Ecclesiastic without derogating from his disnity or honour.—No body of men could be more intrepid and gallant than the leaders of the Irish bar; and yet it was thought too daring and presumptuous for any of them te assist the sufferer in obtaining red rere form outrage like this. In England, those lamp are inconceivable: But the readers of Irish history arc aware, that where the que?t»r. was bet ween Peer and Peasant—arid still wre when it was between Protestant and Calb/.iiu: —the barristers had cause for appn hen>; n It was but about forty years before, that ujot a Catholic bringing an action for the recovery of his confiscated estates, the Irish Hou*- c: Commons publicly voted a resolution, "ihat all barristers, solicitors, attorneys, and proctor; who should be concerned for him, should be considered as public enemies!" This им in 1735. In 1780, however, Mr. C. found the service not quite so dangerous: and by ¡лга: eloquence and exertion extorted a relucían verdict, and thirty guineas of damages, from a Protestant Jurv. The sequel of the afiur was not less characteristic. In the first piar?. it involved the advocate in a duel with a witness whom he had rather oulr.igeoush abused —and, in the next place, it was thought sufficient to justify a public notification to him. on the part of the noble defendant, that his audacity should be punished by e:iclmlirghim from all professional employment wherever ; his influence could extend. The insolen« I of such a communication might well havf warranted a warlike reply: Bat Mr. С. м pressed his contempt in a gayer, and no! I>« 1 effectual manner. Pretending to misundt-:, stand the tenor of the message, he answered aloud, in the hearing of his friends, '• My 2W¿ sir, you may tell his lordship, that it is штат for him to be proposing terms of aecommodition; for after what has happened, I protect I think, while I live, I never can hold a bnet for him or one of his family."' The thr?»t, indeed, proved as impotent a« it «as pitiful; for the spirit and talent which the young
counsellor had displayed through the whole scene, not only brought him into unbounded popularity with the lower orders, but instantly raised him to a distinguished place in the ranks of his profession.*
We turn ffladlv, and at once, from this dreadful catastrophe.! Never certainly was short-lived tranquillity—or rather permanent danger so dearly bought. The vengeance of the law followed the havoc of the sword— and here again \ve meet Air. C. in his strength and his slory. But \ve pass gladly over these melancholy trials; in which we are far from insinuating, that there was any reprehensible severity on the part of the Government. When matters had come that length, they had but one duty before them—and they seem to have discharged it (if we except one or two posthumous attainders) with mercy as well as fairness: for after a certain number of victims had been selected, an arrangement was made with the rest of the state prisoners, under which they were allowed to expatriate themselves for life. It would be improper, however, to leave the subject, without offering our tribute of respect and admiration to the singular courage, fidelity, and humanity, with which Mr. C. persisted, throughout these agonising scenes, in doing his duty to the unfortunate prisoners, and watching over the administration of that law. from the spectacle of \vhosi> vengeance there was so many temptations to withdraw. This painful and heroic task he undertook—and never blenched from its fulfilment, in spite of the toil and disgust, and the obloquy and personal hazard, to which it continually exposed him. In that inflamed state of the public mind, it is easy to understand that the advocate was frequently confounded with the client ; and that, besides the murderous vengeance of the predicate informers he had во often to denounce, he had to encounter the passions and prejudices of all those who chose to look on the defender of traitors as their associate. Instead of being cheered, therefore, as formerly, by the applauses of his auditors, he was often obliged to submit to their angry interruptions; and was actually menanced more than once, in the open court, by the clashing arms and indignant menaces of the military spectators. He had excessive numbers of soldiers, too, billetted on him. and was in many other ways exposed to loss and vexation: But he bore it all, with the courage of his country, and the dignity due to his profession—and consoled him
* 1'hf arcater part of what follows in the original рярег is now omiMed ; aa touching on point« in the modern hisiory of Ireland which has been sufficient. Iy discussed under preceding tilles. 1 retain only what Г'-la'es lo Mr. Curran personally; or to those peculiarities in hie eloquence which refer raiher to his country th«n to the individual: thonsh, for the sake chiefly of connection, I have made one allusion to the sad nnd most touching Judicial Tragedy which followed up the deplorable Field scenes of the rebellion of 1798.
t The extinction of the rebellion—hy ihe »laughter of fifty thousand of the insurgents, and upwards of twenty thousand of the soldiery and their adhe
self for the vulgar calumnies of an infuriated faction, in the friendship arid society of such men as Lords Moira, Charlemont, and Kilwarden—Graltan. Ponsonbv, and Flood.
The incorporating union of 1800 is said to have filled Mr. C. with incurable despondency as to the fate of his country. We have great indulgence for this feeling—but we cannot sympathise with it. Thu Irish parliament was a nuisance that deserved to be abated— and the British legislature, with all its partialities, and its still more blamable neglects, may be presumed, we think, to be more accessible to reason, to justice, and to shame, than the body which it superseded. Mr. C. was not in Parliament when that great measure was adopted. But, in the course ofthat year, he delivered a very able argument in the case of Napper Tandy, of which the only published report is to be found in the volumes before us. In 1802, he made his famous speech in Hevey's case, against Mr. Sirr, the town-major of Dublin : which affords a strong picture of the revolting and atrocious barbarities which are necessarily perpetrated, when the solemn tribunals are silenced, and inferior agents intrusted with aibitrary power. The speech, in this view of it, is one of the most striking and instructive in the published volume, which we noticed in our thirteenth volume. During the peace of Amiens, Mr. C. made a short excursion to France, and was by no means delighted with what he saw there. In a letter to his son from Paris, in October 1802. he says,—
"I nm glad I hnve come here. I entertained many ideas uf it. which I have entirely given up. or very much indeed altered. Never was there a scene thai could furnish more to the weeping or the grinning philosopher; they well might agree that human afbirs were a tad joke. I see it every where, nnd in every thing. The wheel has run a complete round; only changed some spokes and a few ' fellows.' very little for the better, but the axle certainly has not rusted; nor do I see any likelihood, of its rusting. At present all is quiet, except ihe tongue,—thanks to those invaluable protectora of peace, the army !!'"—Vol. ii. pp. COG, 207.
The public life of Mr. C. was now drawing to a close. He distinguished himself in 1804 in the Marquis of Headfort's case, and in that of Judge Johnson in 1805: But, on the accession of the Whigs to office in 1806, he was appointed to the situation of Master of the Rolls, and never afterwards made any public appearance. He was not satisfied with this appointment ; and took no pains to conceal his dissatisfaction. His temper, perhaps, was by this time somewhat soured by ill health ; and his notion of hi? own importance exasperated by the (lattery of which he had long been the daily object. Perhaps, loo, the sudden withdrawing of those tasks and excitements, to which he had been so long accustomed, cooperating with the languor of declining age, may have affected his views of his own situation: But it certainly appears that he was never very gay or good-humoured after his promotion—and passed but a dull and peevish time of it during the remainder of his life. In 1810, he went, for the first time, to Scotland;
“I am greatly delighted with this country. You see no trace here of the devil working against the wisdom and beneficence of God, and torturing and degrading his creatures. It may seem the romancing of travelling; but I am satisfied of the fact, that the poorest man here has his children taught to read and write, and that in every house is found a Bible, and in almost every house a clock: And the fruits of this are manifest in the intelligence and manners of all ranks. In Scotland, what a work have the four-and-twenty letters to show for themselves!— the natural enemies of vice, and folly, and slavery : the great sowers, but the still greater weeders, of the human soil. Nowhere can you see here the cringing hypocrisy of dissembled detestation, so inseparable from oppression: and as little do you meet the hard, and dull, and right-lined angles of the southern visage; you find the notion exact and the phrase direct, with the natural tone of the Scottish muse.
“The first night, at Ballintray, the landlord attended us at supper; he would do so, though we begged him not. We talked to him of the cultiva. tion of potatoes. I said, I wondered at his taking them in place of his native food, oatmeal, so much more substantial. His answer struck me as ver characteristic of the genius of Scotland—frugal, tender, and picturesque. 'Sir,” said he, “we are not so much i' the wrong as you think; the tilth is easy, they are swift i' the cooking, they take little fuel; and then it is pleasant to see the gude wife wi' a' herbairns aboot the pot, and each wi' a potatoe in its hand.’”—Vol. ii. pp. 254–256.
There are various other interesting letters in these volumes, and in particular a long one to the Duke of Sussex, in favour of Catholic Emancipation; but we can no longer afford room for extracts, and must indeed hurry through our abstract of what remains to be noticed of his life. He canvassed the burgh of Newry unsuccessfully in 1812. His health failed very much in 1813; and the year after, he resigned his situation, and came over to London in his way to France. He seems at no time to have had much relish for English society. In one of his early letters, he complains of “the proud awkward sulk” of London company, and now he characterises it with still greater severity:—
“I question if it is much better in Paris. Here the parade is gross, and cold, and vulgar; there it is, no doubt, more flippant, and the attitude more graceful; but in either place is not Society equally a !". and a slave? The judgment despises it, and the heart renounces it. We seek it because we are idle; we are idle because we are silly; and the natural remedy is some social intercourse. of which a few drops would restore; but we swallow the whole vial, and are sicker of the remedy than we were of the disease.”—Vol. ii. pp. 337, 338.
And again, a little after,
“England is not a place for society. It is too cold, too vain,--without pride enough to be humble, drowned in dull fantastical formality, vulgarized by rank without talent. and talent foolishly recommending itself by weight rather than by hot a perpetual war between the disappointed pretension of talent and the stupid overweening of affect. ed patronage; means without enjoyment, pursuits without an object, and society without conversation or intercourse: Perhaps they manage this better in France-a few days, I think, will enable me to decide."—Wol. ii. pp. 345, 346.
In France, nowever, he was not much bet. ter off—and returned, complaining of a constitutional dejection, “for which he could find no remedy in water or in wine.” He rejoices in the downfall of Bonaparte; and is of opinion that the Revolution had thrown that country a century back. in spring 1817, he began to sink rapidly; and had a slight paralytic attack in one of his hands. He proposed to try another visit to France; and still complained of the depression of his spirits:—“he had a mountain of lead (he said) on his heart.” Early in October, he had a very severe shock of apoplexy, and lingered till the 14th, when he expired in his 68th year. There is a very able and eloquent chapter on the character of Mr. Curran's eloquence— encomiastic of course, but written with great temper, talent, and discrimination. Its charm and its defects, the learned author refers to the state of genuine passion and vehement emotion in which all his best performances were delivered; and speaks of its effects on his auditors of all descriptions, in terms which can leave no doubt of its substantial excellence. We cannot now enter into these rhetorical disquisitions—though they are full of interest and instruction to the lovers of oratory. It is more within our province to notice, that he is here said to have spoken extempore at his first coming to the Bar; but when his rising reputation made him more chary of his fame, he tried for some time to write down, and commit to memory, the more important parts of his pleadings. The result, however, was not at all encouraging: and he soon laid aside his pen so entirely, as scarcely even to make any notes in preparation. He meditated his subjects, however, when strolling in his garden, or more frequently while idling over his violin; and often prepared, in this way, those splendid passages and groups of images with which he was afterwards to dazzle and enchant his admirers. The only notes he made were often of the metaphors he proposed to employ—and these of the utmost brevity. For the grand roration, for example, in H. Rowan's case, is notes were as follows:—“Character of Mr. R.— Furnace–Rebellion—smothered— Stalks—Redeeming Spirit.” From such slight hints he spoke fearlessly—and without cause for fear. With the help of such a scanty chart, he plunged boldly into the unbuoyed channel ...”his cause; and trusted himself to the torrent of his own eloquence, with no better guidance than such landmarks as these. It almost invariably happened, however, that the experiment .. “that his own expectations were far exceeded; and that, when his mind came to be more intensely heated by his subject, and by that inspiring confidence which a public audience seldom fails to infuse into all who are sufficiently gifted to receive it, a multitude of new ideas adding vigour or ornament, were given oft and it also happened, that, in the same pro lific moments, and as their almost inevitable consequence, some crude and fantastic motions escaped; which, if they impeach their author's taste, at least leave him the merit of a