« PreviousContinue »
Lord Avoninore, then Mr, Yelverton. This association was distinguished by the name of the Monks of St. Patrick; many of the original members of the Whig Club, Lord Charlemont, Mr. Grattan, and others, formerly belonged to this association. Mr. Daly, Lord Chief Baron Burgh, Mr. Ogle, were all members. Both societies were formed in times very interesting to the welfare of Ireland, and their general object was a co-operation of men who held, or professed at least to hold, a general similarity of political principles, and resolved to maintain the rights and consti, tution of their country. At the time of 'the formation of the Whig Club, the Monks of St. Patrick had, as a body, Geased to exist. When they first assembled in 1779, the deinand of a free trade for Ireland had been made, and, in the course of that session, wisely complied with. Mr. Grattan's celebrated speech and motion for a declaration of rights followed in 1780; and in the year 1789 that motion also was at last, as already stated, and with a change of ministry, entirely successful..
" How long after the splendid era of 1782 the monks of St. Patrick continued iheir meetings I know not, nor is it at all necessary to ascertain. I have traced their progress so far, merely to shiew that societies like this seldom survive, for any time at least, the questions for the entertainment of which, or rather during the discussion of which, they originally came together. A weak government is always uneasy, but a wise one has no occasion to be troubled about thein. The good sense and good principles of the founders of such societies are certainly the best safeguards which any ministry can have, independent of their own wise conduct; for it is only the nonsense or pertinacity of ministers, on points which ought to be conceded, that can give them longevity; or, should they even pass the limits which they originally prescribed to themselves, and rise into faction, a sound and constitutional administration may laugh them to scori.
445 It may however in general be said, that if they continue at all, after the completion of their objects, or after some particular and interesting period has passed away, they cease to be political, and sink into select convivial parties. In England such societies have always existed, and woe be to its liberties if that day ever arrives that should witness their extinction. To the great Whig Association in Queen Anne's time, generally known by the name of the Kit Kat Club, Lord Bolingbroke endeavoured to oppose another, and, in point of rank and talents, a very splendid association *. A third society then started up, more decidedly hostile to the Whigs, if that could be, than the ministers, and differing from the latter in some respects, because they thought them not violent enough. This was the October Club. All were produced by the spirit of the times, and with that spirit did they subside. , . .." The violent outcry which was raised, and the misinformation which has taken place with regard to this Whig Club, established chiefly by Lord Charlemont, makes it necessary for me to pursue this subject somewhat further than I originally intended. What were the principal objects of the Whig Association in England, as it stood in 1712, the preservation of the English constitution, and the succession of the house of Hanover; both of which, during the administration of Lords Orford and Bolingbroke, they considered as in peculiar danger. Numberless were the pamphlets, and numberless were the speeches made against them for presuming even to breathe such an insinuation. They were factious, disrespectful to the sovereign, and only Mished to get into place and power, from which they had been so lately discarded. So said their enemies. The younger menibers of that society, Mr. Walpole and Mr. Pulteney particularly, then in the prime of life, venerating, as did the association in general, the ministers of King William, Lord Somers especially, by whose aid the constitution of 1688 had been obtained, made their principles the standard of their own political faith. Now what says the first sentence of the declaration of the Whig Club in Ire. land? - Whereas, under the circumstances of our reno. vated constitution, we deem it necessary that a constant and unremitting watch should be kept against every step of encroachment upon those rights which have been lately reestablished, and for the safety of which we cannot but ap. prehend more danger from an administration which has lately attempted to infringe them than we should from a ministry formed of those men under whose power, and with whose concurrence, they were originally restored to us, and whose principles which directed the lords and commons to address the Prince of Wales to take upon himself, during his royal father's indisposition, the administration of affairs, free from occasional or unconstitutional restrictions, such restrictions being more calculated to answer the views of ambition than to preserve liberty, or promote the solid interests of the empire; that the great objects of the society are the constitution of the realm, as settled by the Revolution in 1688, and the succession in the house of Brunswick; and that they will ever maintain, as sacred and in- ' dissoluble, the connection with Great Britain, being in their opinion indispensably necessary for the freedom of this kingdom in particular, and for the freedom, strength, and prosperity of the empire in general.' This is the outline.
** See his Letter to the Earl of Orrery, June 12th, 1711. The prudery with which this celebrated and dissipated statesman meutions the institution he was then forming is remarkable. “ The first regulation proposed, and that which must be inviolably kept, is decency. None of the extra
vagance of the Kit Kat, none of the drunkenness of the Beef Steak, is to .be endured. The improvement of friendship, and the encouragement of
letters, are to be the two great ends of our society, &c. &c.” How scrupu. lously his lordship adhered to decorum, how cautious he was, eractly at this time too, of offending against propriety and good morals, may be secu in Swift's Journal 10 Stella
Appendit. Mr. Burke considered, and justly, the establishment of 1782 as the true revolution of Ireland. If so, I confess, I cannot see any reason why Lord Charlemont, and several Irish noblemen and gentlemen, should be blamed for displaying as much anxiety and fondness of that revolution in 1789, as was manifested by the English lords and gentlemen for their constitution in 1712. The latter apprehended more danger to their political rights from a Tory than a Whig administration. The former entertained like apprer hensions from the existing ministry; and as the English Whigs looked with confidence to Lord Somers, and consi dered his principles as their own, the Irish Whigs rested with peculiar security on Mr. Fox and the Rockingham party, under whose power, and with whose aid, Irish freedoin was established in 1782. . : “ The Kit Kat Club," says Horace, Lord Orford, “ are usually regarded merely as a set of wits, but, in truth, they were the patriots to whom England owed the Hanover succession, and its own safety in 1714." Far be from me the presumption to place our Whig Association in a general line of comparison with that illustrious association of men, who, as long as the old English constitution is revered, as long as public principle is dear to ús, as long as the most engaging accomplishments, and all the charms of the purest wit, maintain their accustomed power over our minds, must always be held in the most pleasing and grateful remembrance. They formed a union as rare as it was fortunate, of stations the most distant in society, without encroaching on the privileges of either. The Duke of Somerset considered it as no diminution of his dignity to be, in the unbended hours of such a company, the literary or convivial associates of Tonson. With the simplicity of English manners, they retained as much of the ancient in- . stitutions of chivalry as was suited to the more tranquil and polished age in which they lived. Though romance, with
: all its splended train, had long since vanished, fidelity to honourable engagements, and courtesy to the fair sex, were by the leading members of that association most scrupu: lously adhered to. They were patriots, they were gentlemen; they invoked the spirit of the constitution, but they invoked the spirit of the muse also; and whilst they preserved the former, they gave to the latter its most pleasing employment, the celebration of beauty, and the graces of the female character. The unceasing conquests of the Marlborough daughters were opposed, with an air of gay triumph, to the victories of their father, then in his utmost splendour; and it was withi an agreeable extravagance, added in the languge of poetry, that their eyes could alone restrain that freedom so recently established at the Revolution *. All this may be called trifling, but away with morosemess. If it is trifling, it softens and harmonizes the heart. Our politics are not always the most favourable to politeness, and he is a dreary personage indeed who cau fastidiously listen to the praises of that sex which has often, in the midst of temptations, retained those most dear to them in the path of political honour, or, without any opportunity of displaying such heroism, added new charms to social life, and metamorphosed grave and formidable statesmen into obliging and agreeable companions. Yet, while I pay this tribute to them emory of departed worth and departed genius, it would be a miserable affectation of humility if I did not add, that in point of original talents, in useful or ornamental knowledge, some of the members of the Whig Club were not altogether distant from their celebrated predecessors. In attachment to true revolution principles and "unfeigned admiration of the constitution, which arose with new lustre from such principles, no way their inferior. Were I not, perhaps idly, afraid that even the most sober pane