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JOHN PHILPOT CURRAN
continually for food. It teaches them to imitate those saints on the Pension List that are like the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet are arrayed like Solomon in his glory. In fine, it teaches a lesson, which, indeed, they might have learned from Epictetus, that it is sometimes good not to be over-virtuous; it shows that, in proportion as our distresses increase, the munificence of the Crown increases also; in proportion as our clothes are rent, the royal mantle is extended over us.
THE MARCH OF THE MIND [From a speech in the Irish Parliament in 1796 we choose the following brief extract, in which Curran replaces satire and humor by eloquence, and strikingly delineates the march of the human mind.)
Gentlemen say the Catholics have got everything but seats in Parliament. Are we really afraid of giving them that privilege? Are we seriously afraid that Catholic venality might pollute the immaculate integrity of the House of Commons ?—that a Catholic member would be more accessible to a promise, or a pension, or a bribe, than a Protestant ? Lay your hands upon your hearts, look in one another's faces, and say Yes, and I will vote against this amendment. But is it the fact that they have everything? Is it the fact that they have the common benefit of the Constitution, or the common protection of the law ?
Another gentleman has said, the Catholics have got much, and ought to be content. Why have they got that much ? Is it from the minister ? Is it from the Parliament which threw their petition over its Bar ? No! they got it by the great revolution of human affairs; by the astonishing march of the human mind; a march that has collected too much momentum, in its advance, to be now stopped in its progress. The bark is still afloat; she is freighted with the hopes and liberties of millions of men ; she is already under way; the rower may faint, or the wind may sleep, but, rely upon it, she has already acquired an energy of advancement that will support her course and bring her to her destination ; rely upon it, whether much or little remains, it is now vain to withhold it; rely upon it, you may as well stamp your foot upon the earth, in order to prevent its revolution. You cannot stop it! You will only remain a silly gnomon upon its surface, to measure the rapidity of rotation, until you are forced round and buried in the shade of that body whose irresistible course you would endeavor to oppose !
THE EVIDENCE OF MR. O'BRIEN [The following is an example of Curran's method of presenting the evidence of a witness to a jury.]
JOHN PHILPOT CURRAN
What is the evidence of O'Brien ? what has he stated ? Here, gentlemen, let me claim the benefits of that great privilege which distinguishes trial by jury in this country from all the world. Twelve men, not emerging from the must and cobwebs of a study, abstracted from human nature, or only acquainted with its extravagances; but twelve men, conversant with life, and practised in those feelings which mark the common and necessary intercourse between man and man. Such are you, gentlemen ; how, then, does Mr. O'Brien's tale hang together? Look to its commencement. He walks along Thomas Street, in the open day (a street not the least populous in the city), and is accosted by a man, who, without any preface, tells him he'll be murdered before he goes half the street, unless he becomes a United Irishman ! Do you think this a probable story?
Suppose any of you, gentlemen, be a United Irishman, or a Freemason, or a Friendly Brother, and that you met me walking innocently along, just like Mr. O'Brien, and meaning no harm, would you say, “Stop, sir, don't go further, you'll be murdered before you go half the street, if you do not become a United Irishman, a Freemason, or a Friendly Brother ?" Did you ever hear so coaxing an invitation to felony as this? “Sweet Mr. James O'Brien, come in and save your precious life; come in and take an oath, or you'll be murdered before you go half the street! Do, sweetest, dearest, Mr. James O'Brien, come in and do not risk your valuable existence." What a loss had he been to his king, whom he loves so marvelously !
Well, what does poor Mr. O'Brien do? Poor, dear man, he stands petrified with the magnitude of his danger; all his members refuse their office; he can neither run from the danger, nor call for assistance ; his tongue cleaves to his mouth, and his feet incorporate with the paving stones; it is in vain that his expressive eye silently implores protection of the passenger; he yields at length, as greater men have done, and resignedly submits to his fate: he then enters the house, and being led into a room, a parcel of men make faces at him ; but mark the metamorphosis—well may it be said, that “miracles will never cease,”—he who feared to resist in the open air, and in the face of the public, becomes a bravo, when pent up in a room, and environed by sixteen men ; and one is obliged to bar the door, while another swears him ; which, after some resistance, is accordingly done, and poor Mr. O'Brien becomes a United Irishman, for no earthly purpose whatever, but merely to save his sweet life!
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN (1751-1816)
THE CELEBRATED ORATOR AND DRAMATIST
UBLIN has the honor of being the birthplace of two of Great
Britain's most famous orators—Edmund Burke and Richard
Brinsley Sheridan, though both of them spent their lives and won their fame in England. Sheridan was a man of double, or triple, powers; the greatest of modern English dramatists; a wit of the first water; and an orator of striking ability. Studying in Dublin and at Harrow, he wasted his time in indolence, and left school with the reputation of “an impenetrable dunce." There never was a greater mistake. He might have graduated with a splendid record, if he had chosen to study.
Sheridan first showed his powers in the drama. The “Rivals," first played in 1775, soon became very popular. The “Duenna” met with brilliant success, and the “School for Scandal” established his reputation as a dramatic genius of the highest order. It also showed his great powers as a wit, it scintillating with witty sayings from end to end. His reputation made in the drama, in 1780 Sheridan entered Parliament, where he was destined to make his mark brilliantly in oratory. It was especially in the trial of Warren Hastings, in which Sheridan, Burke, Fox and others represented the House of Commons before the House of Lords, sitting as a court of impeachment, that he established his fame, his Begum speech creating an extraordinary sensation at the time, and being still regarded as one of the most splendid examples of eloquence extant.
THE ARRAIGNMENT OF WARREN HASTINGS [Sheridan made two famous speeches in the Hastings trial. The following extract gives an excellent idea of his powers. It is a fine example of ironical oratory, ending with an earnest appeal to the principles of honor and virtue.]
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
I trust your Lordships will not believe that, because something is necessary to retrieve the British character, we call for an example to be made without due and solid proof of the guilt of the person whom we pursue :no, my Lords, we know well that it is the glory of this Constitution, that not the general fame or character of any man ; not the weight or power of any prosecutor ; no plea of moral or political expediency; not even the secret consciousness of guilt which may live in the bosom of the Judge ; can justify any British court in passing any sentence to touch a hair of the head, or an atom, in any respect, of the property, of the fame, of the liberty of the poorest or meanest subject that breathes the air of this just and free land. We know, my Lords, that there can be no legal guilt without legal proof, and that the rule which defines the evidence is as much the law of the land as that which creates the crime. It is upon that ground we mean to stand.
Major Scott comes to your Bar; describes the shortness of time; represents Mr. Hastings as it were contracting for a character, putting his memory into commission, making departments for his conscience. A number of friends meet together, and he, knowing (no doubt) that the accusation of the Commons had been drawn up by a Committee, thought it necessary, as a point of punctilio, to answer it by a Committee also. One furnishes the raw material of fact, the second spins the argument, and the third twines up the conclusion, while Mr. Hastings, with a master's eye, is cheering and looking over this loom. He says to one, “ You have got my good faith in your hands; you, my veracity to manage. Mr. Shore, I hope you will make me a good financier. Mr. Middleton, you have my humanity in commission." When it is done, he brings it to the House of Commons, and says, “I was equal to the task. I knew the difficulties, but I scorn them ; here is the truth, and if the truth will convict me, I am content myself to be the channel of it!" His friends hold up their heads, and say, “ What noble magnanimity! This must be the effect of conscious and real innocence." Well, it is so received, it is so argued upon; but it fails of its effect,
Then says Mr. Hastings : “That my defence ! no, mere journeyman work-good enough for the Commons, but not fit for your Lordships' consideration.” He then calls upon his counsel to save him : “I fear none of my accusers' witnesses. I know some of them well ; I know the weakness of their memory, and the strength of their attachment; I fear no testimony but my own-save me from the peril of my own panegyric; preserve me from that, and I shall be safe.” Then is this plea brought to your Lordships' Bar, and Major Scott gravely asserts that Mr. Hast. ings did, at the Bar of the House of Commons, vouch for facts of which he was ignorant, and for arguments of which he had never read.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
After such an attempt, we certainly are left in doubt to decide to which set of his friends Mr. Hastings is the least obliged, those who assisted him in making his defence, or those who advised him to deny it.
I am perfectly convinced that there is one idea which must arise in your Lordships' minds as a subject of wonder : how a person of Mr. Hastlings' reputed abilities can furnish such matter of accusation against himself. He knows that truth must convict him, and concludes a converso, that falsehood will acquit him ; forgetting that there must be some connection, some system, some co-operation, or, otherwise, his host of falsities fall without an enemy, self-discomfited and destroyed. But of this he never seems to have had the slightest apprehension. He falls to work, an artificer of fraud, against all the rules of architecture; he lays his ornamental work first, and his massy foundation at the top of it; and thus his whole building tumbles upon his head. Other people look well to their ground, choose their position, and watch whether they are likely to be surprised there; but he, as if in the ostentation of his heart, builds upon a precipice, and encamps upon a mine, from choice. He seems to have no one actuating principle, but a steady, persevering resolution not to speak the truth or to tell the fact.
It is impossible, almost, to treat conduct of this kind with perfect seriousness ; yet I am aware that it ought to be ore seriously accounted for ; because I am sure it has been a sort of paradox, which must have struck your Lordships, how any person having so many motives to conceal; having so many reasons to dread detection; should yet go to work so clumsily upon the subject. It is possible, indeed, that it may raise this doubt, whether such a person is of sound mind enough to be a proper object of punishment; or at least it may give a kind of confused notion that the guilt cannot be of so deep and black a grain, over which such a thin veil was thrown, and so little trouble taken to avoid detection. I am aware that, to account for this seeming paradox, historians, poets, and even philosophers—at least of ancient times-have adopted the superstitious solution of the vulgar, and said that the gods deprive men of reason whom they devote to destruction or to punishment. But to unassuming or unprejudiced reason there is no need to resort to any supposed supernatural interference; for the solution will be found in the eternal rules that formed the mind of man, and gave a quality and nature to every passion that inhabits it.
An honorable friend of mine, who is now, I believe, near me, has told you that Prudence, the first of virtues, never can be used in the cause of vice. But I should doubt whether we can read the history of a Philip of Macedon, a Cæsar, or a Cromwell, without confessing that there have