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connection derived; I see the two countries preserving their due distance from each other, generating and imparting heat, and light, and life, and health, and vigour; and I will abide by the wisdom and experience of the ages which are passed, in preference to the speculations of any modern philosopher.'
It is no deduction from the oratorical splendour of this passage that the wisdom and experience of the age which had passed told a different story that the two legislatures could never be made to harmonise, except by keeping the one dependent on the other. Here is another and much admired passage :
For the present Constitution I am ready to make any sacrifice I have proved it. For British connection I am ready to lay down my life-my actions have proved it. Why have I done so? Because I consider that connection essential to the freedom of Ireland: do not, therefore, tear asunder to oppose to each other these principles, which are identified in the minds of loyal Irishmen. For me, I do not hesitate to declare, that if the madness of the revolutionist should tell me you must sacrifice British connection, I would adhere to that connection in preference to the independence of my country; but I have as little hesitation in saying, that if the wanton ambition of a minister should assault the freedom of Ireland and compel me to the alternative, I would fling the connection to the winds, and I would clasp the independence of my country to my heart.'
Plunket's excellence in a lighter style was displayed in his reference to the suggestion in the Speech from the Throne, that the carrying of the Union would be a great satisfaction to the Lord Lieutenant in his old age:
'I must, for one, beg to be excused from making quite so great a sacrifice, from mere personal civility, to any Lord Lieutenant, however respectable he may be. The independence of a nation, I must own, does not appear to me exactly that kind of a bagatelle which is to be offered, by way of compliment, either to the youth of the noble lord (Lord
Castlereagh), who honours us by his presence in this House, or the old age of the noble marquis (Cornwallis), who occasionally sheds his setting lustre over the other. To the first I am disposed to say, in the words of Waller—
'I pray thee, gentle boy, Press me no more for that slight toy ;'
and to the latter I might apply the language of Lady Con
"That's a good child; go to its grandam-give grandam kingdom, and its grandam will give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig- there's a good grandam."
I hope, therefore, Sir, I shall not be thought impolite if I decline the offer of the Constitution of Ireland, either as a garland to adorn the youthful brow of the Secretary, or to be suspended over the pillow of the Viceroy.'
The Irish lawyers had the strongest personal interest in opposing the Union. Attendance in the British House of Commons was incompatible with their professional duties; and the parliamentary career of Plunket, who could not afford the required sacrifice, was temporarily closed. This did not prevent him from being made Solicitor-General in 1803, and AttorneyGeneral in 1805; the Irish law officers not being required to engage in politics unless they thought fit. He sat for Medhurst during the short Parliament of 1807; and in 1812, having in the meantime secured an independence, was a successful candidate for the University of Dublin, which he represented till he was elevated to the peerage in 1827. He was out of Parliament from 1807 to 1812, and the first speech by which he came fairly before the British House of Commons was on Grattan's motion (February 25, 1813) for Catholic Emancipation. It was more than equal to his fame. It not only excited the warmest admiration, it actually gained votes: a rare, almost unprecedented feat in the days of the unreformed House, when members were less hampered by constituencies, and party discipline was unrelentingly enforced. Fer
guson of Pitfour (the friend of the celebrated Duchess of Gordon,) boasted that he had heard many a speech which altered his conviction, never one that had the slightest effect upon his vote. This was the common sentiment; at least amongst members for the Northern division of this island; and it materially enhances Plunket's triumph that two of his converts (or perverts, as their friends called them) were Scotch!
Another occasion on which he played a prominent part was on the introduction of the Six Acts in 1819, in the course of which he dwells on the evils of a licentious press, and the danger of discussions which subjected the arcana of Government to the superficial judgment of the masses. Forcible as were his arguments and appropriate his illustrations, we find nothing among them equal to Curran's on the same subject: There are certain fundamental principles which nothing but necessity should expose to public examination, they are pillars, the depth of whose foundation you cannot explore without endangering their strength.'
In reference to Plunket's speech on the press, the late Lord Dudley wrote to the Bishop of Llandaff: 'Plunket's speech, in answer to Macintosh, was amongst the most perfect replies I ever heard. He assailed the fabric of his adversary, not by an irregular fire that left parts of it standing, but by a complete radical
1 The most remarkable instance of gaining votes by a speech was Lord Macaulay's speech on the late Lord Hotham's Bill for excluding the Master of the Rolls and other persons holding judicial offices from the House of Commons. On this occasion the anticipated decision of the House by a large majority was reversed. The late Sir Robert Peel told a member of the present Cabinet (Mr. Cardwell) that the three speeches most effective for the proposed object which he had ever heard were- -Plunket's speech in (1813) on Catholic Emancipation, Canning's Lisbon Embassy speech, and the speech of Mr. T. C. Smith (afterwards Master of the Rolls in Ireland) in defence of the Irish prosecutions instituted by him as Attorney-General for Ireland. Mr. O'Flanagan · places Plunket's first great speech in the session of 1807; during which, if Hansard has treated him fairly, he never addressed the house at all.
process of demolition that did not leave one stone standing on another.' The same may be said of his speech in answer to Copley (Lord Lyndhurst) in the Emancipation debate of February, 1825; although it was not until Copley had spoken for fifteen or twenty minutes that Canning gave up the intention of replying on the instant, and requested Plunket to speak next. We were present, and we could almost fancy that the author of The New Timon,' who has painted a life-like portrait of Plunket, was also present during the delivery of this speech :—
'Now one glance round, now upwards turns the brow,—
Tones slow, not loud, but deep-drawn from the breast;
But as he neared some reasoning's massive close,
Some grey old keystone and knocked down with scorn.'
Yet what he displayed on this occasion was not so much what is commonly called eloquence, as the perfection of debating power. He never once warmed into declamation: it was hard, cold hitting, or pitiless tearing, throughout. He took up Copley's studied sophistries one after the other, crushed them together, broke them to bits, and then flung them aside like rubbish.
The powers which he here displayed at the bidding and on the behalf of his political leader and friend, had been called forth once before with a similar result in self-defence, when (in 1823) a vote of censure on him was moved for instituting, as Attorney-General for Ireland, a prosecution for conspiracy against the rioters in the Bottle Riot, so called because the main overt act was throwing a bottle at the Lord Lieu
tenant (Lord Wellesley) in the theatre. As Plunket walked down Parliament Street, on his way to meet this attack, he said to Mr. Blake: 'I feel like a man going to execution under an unjust sentence.' From the grandson's account it would appear that his apprehensions were by no means groundless: The House received him with indifference, almost with coldness : gradually, as he commenced his defence, and his spirit was fired by a sense of this unwonted distrust, he rolled forth mass after mass of unanswerable reasoning. The audience could not deny the justice of the cause: they believed the honesty of the man, and when, at length, he closed with these simple words "My public conduct I consign to the justice of this House, my private character I confide to its honour," it was felt that he had completely vindicated himself.'
On Canning becoming Premier, Plunket was raised to the peerage, and first the Great Seal of Ireland, and then the English Mastership of the Rolls, were intended for him; when he wrote, April 20, 1827, to a friend Things have taken a turn, to me very distressing the result, in short, is, I am a peer, and for the present without office. The Rolls I declined, not being able to reconcile myself to act against the feeling of a great number of the profession against the appointment of an Irishman, or rather an Irish barrister. Tell my friends not to question me or be surprised.' The double disappointment was somewhat mitigated by the Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas in Ireland, Lord Norbury having been induced to retire in his favour, and in January, 1830, he at length reached the Irish woolsack, which he retained till June, 1841, when he was literally jockeyed out of it by the Whigs to make way for Lord Campbell, or (as the late Sir Robert Peel put it) to gratify the vanity of, certainly, an eminent and distinguished lawyer by a six weeks' tenure of office.'