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ROBERT EMMET (1780-1803)
speech,” but that was a great speech, an extraordinary effort for a man of only twenty-three years of age. He was'fighting for his life and his country, two causes abundantly well calculated to rouse a man to the supreme exercise of his faculties, and as a masterpiece of extemporaneous eloquence this impassioned speech has no superior in any language. Emmett was one of the chiefs of the “ United Irishmen.” Inspired by the misguided fervor of youth, he put himself at the head of a party of the rabble of Dublin, who killed a. number of people, including the Chief Justice. The party was quickly dispersed, and Emmett—who missed the opportunity to escape by lingering to bid farewell to his lady-love, a daughter of Curran, the orator—was arrested, put on trial, found guilty of high treason, and executed the next day.
R OBERT EM MET, as an orator, was practically “a man of one
A PATRIOT’S PLEA
[After the verdict of guilty was rendered, Emmett was asked, in the usual form, " What have you, therefore, now to say, why judgment of death and execution should not be awarded against you according to law?" He rose and delivered an extended address to the Court, interrupted at intervals by Lord Norbury, chief among his judges, who permitted himself to be incensed by the condemned man’s remarks. From this death plea we select some of the more thrilling passages]
What have I to say, why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me, according to law? I have nothing to say which can alter your predetermination, or that it would become me to say with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are here to pronounce, and which I must abide. But I have that to say which interests me more than life,
and which you have labored—as was necessarily your office in the present 506 ROBERT EMMET
circumstances of this oppressed country—t0 destroy. I have much to say, why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been heaped upon it. I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your minds can be so free from impurity as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter. I have no hope that I can anchor my character in the breast of a Court constituted and trammelled as this is. I only wish, and it is the utmost I expect, that your Lordships may suffer it to float down your memories, untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbor, to shelter it from the rude storm by which it is at present buffeted.
Were I only to sufier death, after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence, and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur. But the sentence of the law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of that law, labor, in its own vindication, to consign my character to obloquy : for there must be guilt somewhere,—whether in the sentence of the Court, or in the catastrophe, posterity must determine. A man in my situation, my Lords, has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune, and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated, but the difficulties of established prejudice. The man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port ; when my shade shall have joined the bands or those martyred heroes who have shed their blood, on the scafi‘old and in the field, in defence of their country and of virtue ; this is my hope: I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious Government which upholds its dominion by blasphemy of the Most High ; which displays its power over man as over the beasts of the forest ; which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand, in the name of God, against the throat of his fellow, who believes or doubts a little more, or a little less, than the Government standard,—a Government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans and the tears of the widows which it has made.
I appeal to the immaculate God,—-to the throne of Heaven, before which I must shortly appear,—to the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before,—that my conduct has been, through all this peril, and through all my purposes, governed only by the convictions which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and that I confidently and assuredly hope that, wild
Orators of the Victorian Reign
prominent respects of human progress was
the nineteenth. Greatest in science, greatest in invention, greatest in industrial evolution, it was, while not greatest in oratory, a great field for the outpouring of eloquence. And this was coupled with the fact that the art of stenography had so advanced that the preservation of the spoken words of the orator became an easy feat. In former centuries only those orators who carefully wrote out their speeches, and published them as literature, could count upon their transmission to posterity. The impromptu and extempore speaker could never look for a faithful preservation of his words. Much of the so-called oratory which remains to us from ancient times consists of speeches written by historians and attributed to their leading characters. In some cases these may have closely reproduced the actual speeches; in others they were probably largely or wholly imaginary. The loss of oratory in medimval times must have been large, but the difficulty of preserving it had been fully overcome by the nineteenth century, and there are more speeches put upon permanent record now in a year than there were in centuries of the past. The century in question has been prolific in British orators of fine powers, those of supreme eloquence being fewer, indeed, than those of the preceding century, yet such names as those of Gladstone, Bright, Brougham, O’ Connell and some others give a high standing to the oratory of the Victorian age.
GREATEST of all the centuries in several
T is to John Randolph that O’Connell owes the title of . “ The I First Orator of Europe,” which we have aflixed to his name. It was as “ The Liberator ” that he was known at home, as a tribute to his strenuous efforts to free Ireland from the supremacy of English rule. The history of the great agitator we must deal with very briefly. A native of County Kerry, he studied law and was called to the Irish bar in 1798, and for twenty-two years enjoyed an enormous practice in the Munster circuit. During this time he was a vehement advocate of the rights of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation came in 1828, and he entered Parliament in 1830, where he agitated for the repeal of the Union of Ireland with Great Britain, and for ten years and more stirred up the members by his wit, irony, vehemence and invective. Yet he kept the Irish from violent outbreaks until 1843, when the Young Ireland party threatened to break loose from his dictation. He now traversed Ireland in an agitation for repeal, monster meetings being held—that on the Hill of Tara, on August 15th, numbering three—quarters of a'million. As a result he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to raise sedition, and sentenced to fine and imprisonment—lying three months in prison before his release by the House of Lords. With this began the breakdown of his health and great strength, he dying in 1847 while on his way to Rome.
As an orator O’Connell was gifted with remarkable natural powers. Disraeli, one of his active opponents, says that “his voice was the finest ever heard in Parliament, distinct, deep, sonorous, and flexible.” While often slovenly in style, his powers of moving an audience—an Irish audience in particular—was irresistible. In the great