صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

ture would his portrait then have been..... It is at any time difficult, if not impossible, by any disposition of the letters of the alphabet, to communicate the point and spirit, the look, the gesture, and the apropos, that altogether go to constitute the grace and beauty of things too fine for bandling; things that can charm but once; things that emit one transient gleam, and like the meteor of the shooting star, vanish as soon as seen. If they are not entirely lost by tradition, the finer part is sure to escape, the grosser only can be retained. No doubt many of Curran's homelier jests had better have remained in vulgar tradition; they were not intended to be printed, but to please those who could take pleasure in them ; for he disdained none of his fellow creatures, and loved to please them all. But strip these pleasantries of their mimic and scenic accompaniments, nay, even of the vernacular accent with which he could so humorously utter them, and set them in print with the formality of a jest book, to be read off with a cockney accent, and they will have as little charm as the broad Scotch in Tam o Chanter, or Old Mortality, if delivered through the same organ. And how many have I pitied, that from contracted prejudices, and want of travel in the intellect, were unable to suffer the sweet strains of Burns, and the delightful historic tales of Walter Scott, by reason of their Scotch vulgarity! Upon the whole, however, I think the author has shown his good sense in copying so few of those jokes into his biography, and in giving those few by the way of schedule annexed.

Much also has been said and written against Curran's bad taste; and alarm has been excited, as well in the eastern as the western hemisphere, least his followers should invade the privileged occupants of the hesperean gardens, and rob them of their golden fruits, which certain critics seem determined to watch like trusty dragons. I only hope they will at all times be as ready to unfurl their banners, and as faithful in guarding their favoured territory against every other invader. Bad taste is become a favourite phrase in the cant of modern criticism ; the more ancient maxim was, de gustibus non est disputandum.It would be well, however, if these literary mathematicians would agree upon their moral standard of faith, before they ostracise genius, and wit, and nature herself from the republic of letters. Where is their true standard, or their first meridian, of which we hear so much and kuow so little ? Where is their archetype ? their shekel of the sanctuary? Is it east or west of Temple bar? Is it in Pekin or Connecticut? Is their temple of Jupiter in Threadneedle-street or Paternoster-row? Is their standard formed from an arc of a great circle, or from the span of a literary dwarf ?

Until these questions be answered, it is still open to the academicians to dispute, whether he who could sway the learned and

unlearned; could charm the aged and the young; who could call forth at pleasure, the smile or the tear; could comfort the oppressed and appal the guilty; could cast his magic spell on all around; whose tongue, had it been venal, would have been bought at any price; that he who could at once extort the applause of his learned and grave antagonist, and the plaudits of those who shouted at the names of Titus Oates and Algernon Sydney in the hall, was an offender against good taste. (See the trial of Hamilton Rowan, by P. Byrne, page 122.).

As to the Irish school of eloquence,' if it mean the bad imitators of Curran, it is a fair subject of criticism, and any country that happens to be incommoded with such an annoyance, is under obligations to those that would arrest the contagion or remove the nuisance.

If there be such schools of perverse imitation the fault is not imputable to Curran, nor to Ireland. It is distressing to me who was born and educated in that country, and probably feel it the more, to see any orator affecting to be what he is not.

As when a man of a cold temperament, abandoning his own gifts and breaking loose from nature, runs careering after the creations of another's brain. I have seen such, who after beating their own flanks to gain artificial heat, would fall into a cold sweat. I have seen orators who, if they had stood still, and spoken gravely, would have been respectable; not content with that, taking their gestures and attitudes from figures of statuary, straining their voices even to cracking, and bearing no bad resemblance to the inanimate images of Mermaids or Tritons in a fountain spouting cold froth : and I acknowledge obligation to those who exert themselves to put down all such dull foppery. To Irishmen of any education this violence to taste and nature is peculiarly offensive; and most of all when the subject of such vapourish declamations happens to be poor Ireland, whose afflictions, without this addition, were enough. Painful indeed it is to those who have borne their portion of their country's sufferings, whose devotion has been solemn and sincere, whose deep and concentrated affections have been deposited like relics of what was dear, to be visited on due occasion in solitude and silence, to find the peace of the living, and the repose of the dead violated by the unfeeling exhibitions of mimes and buffoons, rioting and ranting over the sanctity of the grave.

With respect to Ireland, it is, unless much altered since I knew it, the last country in which such a school could subsist. I have known men in Ireland, whose elocution pleased, on some occasions, more than that of Curran; but no one to dispute with him the palm of eloquence. There were few Irishmen of education that could not perceive his defects, but I never knew one so foolish as to attempt to imitate them. It is said Mr. Phillips has done so~I

cannot agree in the remark. Certainly there is no kind of similitude between Mr. Phillips and Curran. And as to what Mr. Phillips has written from his recollections of Curran, he has laboured under the same disadvantages as Mr. William Henry. He, like him, is too young to have known him in his more brilliant days: and many

of the anecdotes he relates of bim, prove to me that Curran must have been much altered in his habits from the epoch of my intimacy with him, at which time I never heard the name of Mr. Phillips, whose celebrity is of a much later date, and whose beautiful poem of the Emerald Isle," was the first notice I ever had of his existence.--But I will not pretend to say, that when Mr. Phillips knew this celebrated man, he was not still capable of attracting his admiration, and maintaining the first place as an orator with every one of elevated taste or sentiment.

[Mr. Sampson gives a picture of Curran's hazardous exertions in his profession, during the darkest times of Ireland's suffering :and relates an anecdote of some gloomy presages of Curran-and of his thinking once to leave his country.]

Let no man then believe that Jobo Philpot Curran lay upon roses when his country writhed on the bed of torture. Of all the victims of those disastrous times few paid more dearly for their country's love than he. He was at one time so run down, that it required conrage to be seen walking by his side. His domestic grief was made the prey of his enemies, and those who laughed at decorum and the decencies of life became sanctified in their upbraidings of him. I was reproached for letting my child still bear the name by which he was baptised. But least it should be said that he must by some singular misdeeds have deserved this contuinely, I must remind the reader that Grattan was no less vituperated. He too was loaded with obloquy by those whose crimes he had arraigned, and not merely vituperated as Curran was, but disfranchised by the corporation of the city he so often represented.

The last act of Curran's which I shall notice, is that which does him the most honour. The fate of Theobald Wolfe Tone is set down in history and need not be repeated here, further than as the generous conduct of Curran connects their names and makes it fitting that they should be recorded together in one page. Tone, when brought before his judges to answer personally for his treason, scorned to equivocate with the truth, or to quibble in a cause in which his life and honour were alike at stake. He at once admitted the charges in their full extent. He stooped to ask one favour, and but one. He had served in the French army as a chief of Brigade and wore his uniform. He was now before a Court Martial by whom he was to be sentenced ; and he asked no more than was consistent with their duty, and what was granted to the French emigrants standing before their judges just as he did before

his court to die a soldier's death. The court, struck with the dige nity of his address, remained some time in silence, and then promised that his request, together with his sentence, should be laid before the Lord Lieutenant.

At this trying moment he stood alone without other resource than in the courage of his own manly heart. The friends that would have comforted him were buried in dungeons or in graves. There were some who in his happier days had followed him, and courted him, and quickened in the sunshine of his wit and social mirth, that now turned away their countenances and shut their frozen hearts, and either left him or led him to his fate. But in this cheerless and desolate position, he had a friend and advocate where he could least have looked for it: that friend, that generous advocate was Curran.

That this may appear in its true light, it should be known that though both Tone and Curran loved their country, yet their political views were altogether different. Tone from his early days, as he said before his court martial, considered the connexion with England as the scourge of the Irish nation. Curran professed whig principles, and thought, that with a reform in the parliament, all the good attainable might be achieved. His principles had been the subject of Tone's strong animadversions and keenest raillery: but all offence was hushed, all political hostility was merged in sympathy for the heroic sufferer. I should mention ove of Tone's former friends whom Curran rallied to him, the time may come when he or his descendants may derive more honour from the fact than the betrayers of their country from ill-earned titles. It was Mr. Peter Burrows, a distinguished member of the Irish bar. They consulted and found as they hoped a means to save him, not merely froin the mode of death he deprecated, but from death itself which he had fondly courted.

At this time I was a prisoner on parole, having embarked in pursuance of my contract with the government for Portugal; but having been blown back several times into the same harbour. Curran called daily to inquire how I fared, or in my absence to console my family. He spoke of Tone with the same interest as though they had been inseparable friends, and devoted himself with more zeal than if he had received the most lavish fee, and with a sincerity that marked a noble nature.

The court that tried and sentenced Tone was composed of seven military officers convened in the barrack of Dublin, and sat upon his trial at the same time that the Court of King's Bench was sitting, during Michælmas Term, in the year 1798. He was not amenable to a court martial, not belonging to the army of the King; and the court martial had no right to try him for high treason, sitting the King's Bench. Curran moved for and obtained a

habeas corpus to bring him up before the court. It was immediately served upon the provost marshal (Major Sandys.) This was the keeper of a torture house, whose name is but too notorious in the annals of the times. He returned for answer that he would obey no orders but those of the Commander in Chief of the garrison. The court directed the sheriff to take him into custody and bring him before them: he was not to be found, but Tone was found with his neck deeply wounded and weltering in his blood.

It was said that on the preceding evening (Sunday) he had been officially informed that his sentence was confirmed and his request denied, and had therefore done this execution on himself; some said with a razor, some with a pane of glass because he had no razor. Of this I can know nothing. It was said that he spoke afterwards; I never heard of any friend that heard him speak after this wound. It was however stated that he observed he was a bad anatomist, in having missed his end.

However this might be, it was but of a piece with all the rest of Ireland's fatal story. For never did fear or necessity extort from her oppressive rulers an act that looked like grace, or policy dictate a transient show of lenity, but some demoniac spirit interposed, and shaped it into treachery and cruelty. It was so of old, it was so with Byrne, it was so with Bond, it was so with Orr, it was so at the massacre of the Curragh of Kildare, it proved so too with Tone.

I will not say that he was murdered—I would not slander by saying what I do not know, not even a murderer by trade. That he chose the manner of his own death was rendered plausible by many circumstances. His sentence was not warranted under the circumstances of the case by any law civil or military. The mode of punishment then, was only intended to disgrace him and the uniform he wore; or to expose his aged parents to a repetition of the insults and exultations of the government rabble, his trial having followed close upon the execution of a brother, taken like him in arms. He might perhaps have feared the loss of lives in some vain attempt to rescue him. Nor could this act be called a suicide in the criminal sense that Christians view it, but rather resembled the expedient of the so!dier who, when about to be tortured by savages, disappointed their serocity by giving them his head. The end was that he lingered for a week, and then died as he lived, great of heart and mind.

That Curran must have succeeded in rescuing him from the hands of the military tribunal and its sentence, is most evident; and considering the circumstances of the times and the chances and changes that fall out in periods of desultory policy, when vengeance, fear, or personal rivalry, and other disavowed or unseen motives take the reins in turns, it was not improbable that Tone's Vol. II.

32

« السابقةمتابعة »