Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

talented reformer, he has perhaps but few equals, and is fully deserving of a place beside the great German heretic, astonished as the learned gentleman may be to find himself in such company. The question has been mooted as to who obtained Catholic Emancipation. We think it might as well be asked, as does the worthy in the farce, “ Who wrote Shakspeare ?" We do not seek to detract from the gracious prudence of Royalty, or from the manly, straight-forward, and statesman-like policy of the “great Duke ;" who, though he might not have been enlightened as to the full benefit of the contemplated change, was thoroughly persuaded of its expediency, and whose dignified demeanour throughout was strongly contrasted with the wretched obstinacy of the Eldons and the Winchelseas refusing to yield up the object of their bigotry without tears and uproar; but if we are asked to point out the man who was the originater of that measure, who awakened that " gracious prudence," and created that “persuasive expediency;" who heaved the stone up to the top of the mountain, and held it on the summit, either to be planted there as its proper site, or, if not, to be hurled back again, bearing destruction and desolation, until moral force had fulfilled political right-if we are asked to declare this man, we shall lay our finger on that tall Irishman who is to be seen in the Four Courts robed in the humble folds of a stuff gown, and who is emphatically denominated the “ Member for Clare." We think the voice of the empire will, sooner or later, echo this opinion ; the voice of posterity already responds by anticipation to the prophetic inspirations of unbiassed minds. These observations bring at once under consideration the most prominent and characteristic of Mr. O'Connell's numerous talents, and that one we would denominate under the general name of “ conduct.” It was not his energy of declamation, his powers of reasoning, his knowledge of law, that won the day; it was what we call his “ conduct," the practical tendency of all his speeches, the business-like measures that he devised and put into execution, the vital principle of action which he infused into all, the machinery of facts, the moral tactics that he brought into play, the strongholds, the redoubts, the fortifications, and the batteries which he erected and planted throughout the land. It was the Corn Exchange meetings, the rent, the order of liberators, the employment of counsel at sessions, the Clare election, and the whole system of “agitation" throughout all its various branches of moral and physical exertion, that accomplished the victory. It was that unquailing and undismayed spirit, that step which never faltered, that erect port which never bent, that skilful, talented, and energetic application of the substantial realities of practical conduct—these drove the vessel on its course. Pitt was an able advocate of emancipation, Grattan spake in its cause with the tongue of the archangel, Canning, Plunkett, Grey, all, all were inspired on the theme; but though the preachers were powerful, “ the word " availed not, and its execution was left for an humble apostle of the mission. By O'Connell's conduct it was, that the “question” had been placed in such a situation as that, in a very short period, it must almost involuntarily, and without any extrinsic impulse, have forced itself through all barriers, ay, even though John of Eldon himself should, by some wild whim of fortune, have been jumbled into the Premiership. There it hung on the brink of the precipice, riven from the mass, heaving and rocking from side to side, ready on the least commotion of the mountains to come down whirling and bounding on the plains beneath, shivering and destroying all that lay in its track. To Mr. O'Connell, then, be imputed that posture of affairs, to him be ascribed the splendid iniquity of that machination. He it is who is the malefactor. Popular odium has long pointed to him as such ; as such he is tied at the stake of political animosity; as such he burns in the flames of religious hate. Let nobody, by professing a share in his sins, seek to diminish by dividing with him the punishment and the disgrace: he himself too is content to bear the burden alone ; influenced by a strange enthusiasm, he courts condemnation, claims as his right the gorgeous turpitude of the crime, confesses that he has strained every nerve for freedom, and glories in the guilt and in the shaine. To the Duke of Wellington, on the other hand, be made a different award. To him be ascribed the praise and the thanksgiving, in that he perceived the impending ruin, in that he took measures to prevent its consummation. To this great man be ascribed the glory, the reputation, and the fame of yielding liberty to a third of this mighty empire, and peace and tranquillity to the whole.

The establishment of the truth of our criticism, which selected Mr. O'Connell's “ powers of conduct,” not only as the most prominent characteristics of his mind, but also as specimens of a high order of talent, necessarily led to the observations we have just made on the Catholic question. But there are some who, coinciding with us in opinion as far as respects the transaction we allude to, speak disparagingly of his powers, when viewed with reference to a parliamentary career, and conceive that Mr. O'Connell would fail in a British House of Commons. Now, the conclusions of such persons must evidently be built on this supposition, namely, that the details of Catholic affairs were sui generis, and had no analogy to those which the general circumstances of society must, in the ordinary course of things, bring under the consideration of public men. But what justifies this supposition ? Have the measures of which the legislature takes cognizance no connection with the rights and immunities of the people? Are not all of them susceptible of practical construction, and many of them of that business-like. treatment, in the application of which it is agreed on all hands Mr. O'Connell has displayed such considerable talent? It must be recollected, that we are here combating the idea of Mr. O'Connell's failure in the House. The question now is, not whether he will display as much ability as a member of Parliament, as he did when a member of the Association, but whether he will fail or succeed in the former vocation. Farther on we shall not be backward in assigning limitations to his powers, but at no stage of our inquiry can we for a moment concede any thing that would seem to infer a general incompetency, such as that which is here insinuated with respect to his future career. Doubtless there are legislative subjects, in discussing which Mr. O'Connell would appear to considerably less advantage than he woull on others, nay, on which he would absolutely fail; but unquestionably this latter could not take place but in comparatively few instances. Does any one imagine that Mr. O'Connell is so wayward and so wrongheaded as that, upon entering the House, he will forth with betake himself to the consideration of those matters for which he is un

fitted ; that he will immediately set about fathoming the mysteries of foreign relations, or precipitating himself with chivalrous devotion into the abyss of political economy? It is only a miscalculation of Mr. O'Connell's Powers of “conduct” that can give rise to that supposition, and it would be only by acting in conformity with such a supposition that he could exhibit the presumed deficiency, which train of reasoning looks very like what logicians call an argument in a circle. What does he himself profess, in his speech at the last Clare election, that he will devote himself to? Why, to opening close boroughs; to purifying the elective franchise; to furthering the local interests of Clare; to the reduction of ecclesiastical revenues; to reform in Parliament; to reform in law. Whether all these be sound measures, or not, is nothing to the question. They are such as Mr. O'Connell, by his habits, is most competent to; and they are such as have all the essential characteristics which are to be found in the transactions of Catholic affairs. The same indefatigable and active spirit, the same practical wisdom and energy of understanding, which exhibited themselves, and proved adequate in the one, will exbibit and prove themselves adequate in the other; and it is either from an inability to per. ceive the force of analogy, or from a gratuitous and groundless assumprion that Mr. O'Connell will in the House turn his mind to subjects for the discussion of which he is unfitted, that it can be supposed he will fail in bis Parliamentary career.

We now turn, for a season, from the “ Great Agitator” to his colleague. Laying claim to a more lofty and transcendental order of intellect than his learned compeer is possessed of, Mr. Sheil demands a proportionably higher order of analysis to form an estimate of his powers. As far as our fiat goes, we for the most part acknowledge the claims of Mr. Sheil; at the same time, we think it only fair to give him notice, that we shall have to qualify somewhat this decree when we come to speak less abstractedly. As in Mr. O'Connell's case, so in that of his talented coadjutor, we shall commence by combating the erroneous opinions which are currently held with respect to him. The most prevalent we are aware of is this; that, with a copious imagination, and a large fund of enthusiasm, Mr. Sheil possesses few, if any, of the more solid and essential qualities of intellect: and that, whilst, as a public speaker, he may be capable of creating a temporary excitement, through which the hearer will probably be sensible of a spurious gratification, yet that he is wholly incompetent to ripen into utility, or to mature into any practical advantage, the unwholesome products of his genius. We think this is unsound criticism, and that it originates, as usual, in the superficiality of the analysis on which it is built. The public, from the nature of the circumstances under which he was placed, have experienced Mr. Sheil principally as a declaimer, and some cannot conceive his ever appearing in any other light. Now, we think he is several degrees above this character; and that we can frequently recognise beneath the turbid streams of passion, sarcasm, and irony, which issue from the convulsed lips of the speaker, the clear and steady current of calmer and deeper thought. But when leaving the narrow channels of local interests, he widens, as at Penenden Heath, into extended views, then must all acknowledge the capacity of the orator. We think there is more of the pbilosophy of eloquence about Mr. Sheil than is usually suspected. Of a very inflammable térnperament like most of his countrymen, embarked in a spirit-stirring cause, his political liberty the prize contended for, it was natural that the dictates of a higher order of reflection should have been laid aside, ere they were matured, for the impulse of his feelings. Placed in the front of the battle, an object of obloquy, contumely, and scorn, the same ele. ments of declamatory strife were consequently elicited from him in return. Here was no time for the diplomacy of warfare, the subtle argument, the unperturbed chain of reasoning, or even the mellowed tone of a qualified emotion,-much less for the suggestions of a tranquil philosophy. The parties engaged hand to hand; burning invectives, red-hot denunciations, were bandied to and fro, and the whole artillery of wrath and indignation brought into action. Mr. Sheil understood tbe nature of the encounter, or rather he felt it, and acted accordingly. His temperament, no doubt, suggested the quality of his speeches, but bis judgment corroborated the choice. The orator who cannot, or will not, vary his powers to the emergency; who supplicates when he should denounce, blesses when he should curse, invokes when he should evoke, is temperate when he should be on fire, reasons when he should rage, that orator, if le can be called an orator, bas learned but half his art, and is ignorant of its most essential rudiments-the book of human nature. The occasions on which Mr. Sheil has hitherto been brought before the public, were such as required a highly-animated and impassioned speaker, and as such he supplied that want. It is inconsequential to say that, therefore, he is inadequate to support any other character in oratory. The notion that a fervid enthusiasm and a strong imagination are incompatible with the highest exercise of the understanding, is now classed amongst the exploded hypotheses of former times; and experience has shown that intellect is inert until impregnated by the fires of the soul. If naturally destitute of these, we in vain, like the sacrilegious pilferer of old, endeavour to filch them from Heaven, Chatham, Grattan, Canning, Plunkett, Grey, Brougham, all possessed and possess these kindling principles, the first two more apparently, as being more frequently engaged in measures wbich were calculated to fan them into a flame. The absence of passion and enthusiasm on the part of a patriot struggling in the same cause that Mr. Sheil did, would have formed a strong presumption of impotence in his temperament as destitute of these qualities, or misconception in his judgment in coercing them; and on the few occasions on which circumstances required a different " conduct” in his speeches, such as the case of Penenden Heath, we find our opinion of his graver powers fully verified by the chaster, more argumentative, and more philosophic tone, which he then ably and judiciously adopted.--But Mr. Sheil is also accused of being an orator. There is a certain set of persons who cannot imagine any connexion between rationality and eloquence, and who conceive Reason to be an iniposter unless she address them in rags. It is only when nakedness reveals infirmity, that the charity of their understandings is excited. The meagre, decrepid, and cadaverous appearance of the supplicant satisfies them that they are not outwitted, and persuades them of the truth of the story. These persons eschew a happy turn of expression as they would the songs of Calypso, and look upon taste as the womb of mendacity. “Touch not the unclean thing," is an injunction which seems to weigh heavily on their consciences when they come in contact with such, and they appear uneasy until they can take refuge in every-day wisdom or vapid common-place. With them, a sterility of conception, and a poverty of language, are potent indications of a hale and vigorous intellect, and the unspiritualized productions of what they call common-sense (another word for popular delusion) the most unerring tokens of the same. With true plebeian taste, they love to look at the carcase of the mind when there exists not vitality within. These persons, too, flee the abstract, or any thing that is akin to a philosophic course of thought. They love particulars. With them the one is wild theory, the other sound argument; a ponderous and phlegmatic method of delivery also begets in them respect; and on the whole, measuring general intellect by their own slender epitome, they dare to condemn those who surpass its narrow dimensions. We do not here digress to break a lance with the Utilitarians. However disposed we may be to differ from the dogmas of their creed, they are nevertheless too respectable a body of opponents to treat with any thing but courtesy, and their principles much too plausible to be carried by a random assault. It is the Inutilitarians, those who would throw every thing overboard but prudery, gossip, and common-place; those who pore with rapture over the lucubrations of Lord Bexley and Mr. Bankes, and who turn with disrelish from the inspirations of sound and unquerulous politicians; who look upon Sadler as a prophet, and Huskisson as a mountebank; who accord the palm of oratory to Sergeant Lefroy because he is prosy, and deny it to Sheil because he is eloquent: these are the persons whom for a moment we turn aside to censure, smite, and put to shame.

Some stronger ground than the foregoing personages have selected must be chosen to show Mr. Sheil's incapacity, some more natural presumption of it must be exhibited, than his possessing imagination, or enthusiasm, or eloquence. As well might they deduce physical debility from the strength of the muscles, or moral depravity from the health of the conscience. We mean not, however, as we before slated, to speak the language of advocacy; and farther on, we shall not be backward in declaring our sense of Mr. Sheil's defects. At present, we combat a sweeping assertion, and must meet it by general arguments. But, at this or any other time, we unreservedly give as our verdict, that the nature of Mr. Sheil's talents is by no means indicative of their insuthciency, but of their vigour and strength. We shall not, indeed, go so far as to say that he would appear to most advantage in the opening of a budget, or in expounding a system of finance; we doubt whether he would shine in the Exchequer, or shed a lustre on the Mint, although it appears, latterly, that a knowledge of simple addition and multiplication is all that the trustees of the public burthens require. As a political economist, also, we know not Mr. Sheil, nor as such are we ever likely to recognise him. There is certainly a limit in abstract reasoning, beyond which he would not ambition to pass; and we doubt not but that he would feel altogether desolate and unprotected whenever he travelled out of the jurisdiction of the passions. His insufficiency, however, on such occasions would not arise from any natural defect, but from what, in its operation, is nearly tantamount to it,-namely, distaste. Where this did not exist, his judgment, we think, would be fully competent, whether the subject on which he exercised it was

« ElőzőTovább »