« PreviousContinue »
well paid, and his eulogy was warmest when the ear it could have gratified was closed for ever, and the support it might have conciliated lay scattered and demoralized.
Mr. M'Cullagh has done his own part well, and though the interest may have been allowed to languish occasionally, it must be borne in mind that the author had no choice of materials and no scope for imagination. The serenity, not to say the sluggishness, of the atmosphere in which Sheil chose to reside after he entered Parliament, though he hardly could have been said to climb what he himself calls the frozen summits of society, was yet sufficient to deprive the latter portion of his life of the dramatic interest that attached to his earlier movements. In truth it is greatly to be doubted if any of his efforts in Parliament, even those which have been entirely successful, at all equalled his early oratory; and this doubt is by no means confined to ourselves. After all it is by no means unnatural that a reader should follow with more lively sympathy struggles so animated and so various, as those which preceded the great measure of '29, than the less exciting because less truthful contests in Parliament, where honourable gentlemen, like ancient Pistol on the bridge, "speak as brave words as ever were uttered," and do as dishonorable acts. There is no intention assuredly on our part to connect the name of Sheil with any of these dishonorable acts. On the contrary, we feel bound to express our own opinion, that his reputation, unlike that of some others, has come not only undamaged but rather mended, from the hands of a friendly biographer. And here precisely we are reminded of an episode in his parliamentary life which we had marked for extract. It bears upon those dishonest transactions that are more often imputed than brought home to public men, whose existence is felt rather than seen, which are matters of notoriety though seldom of proof, and from the imputation of which Sheil would seem to have been sufficiently vindicated by the proceedings detailed in the passage we quote, which include the report of the Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to investigate the charge, and Sheil's speech in reference to the report :—
"Your Committee, in entering on the delicate and embarrassing duty imposed upon them, ascertained from Mr. Hill, that though he could not admit the entire accuracy of the above paragraph as a report of what he had publicly spoken at Hull, he nevertheless recollected to
have publicly charged an Irish Member of Parliament with conduct similar in substance to that which the paragraph describes. The Irish Member so alluded to was Richard Lalor Sheil, Esq., Member of Parliament for the county of Tipperary; and Mr. Hill stated the charge to the best of his belief, to have been substantially as follows:
That Mr. Sheil made communications respecting the Irish Coercion Bill to persons connected with the Government and others, with the intention thereby of promoting the passing of the Coercion Bill, and having a direct tendency to produce that effect, whilst his speeches and votes in the House were directed to the defeat of the Coercion Bill.'
Such was the substance of the allegation into which your committee proceeded to enquire. Two witnesses were called before them at the suggestion of Mr. Hill, and others were about to be examined, when Mr. Hill himself, finding the testimony already heard very different from what he had expected, freely and spontaneously made the following communication to the Committee :
That he had come to the conviction that his charge against Mr. Sheil of having directly or indirectly communicated, or intended to communicate, to the Government, any private opinions in opposition to those which he expressed in the House of Commons, had no foundation in fact; that such a charge was not merely incapable of formal proof, but was, in his present sincere belief, totally and absolutely unfounded; that he had originally been induced to make mention of it in a hasty and unpremeditated speech, under a firm persuasion that he had received it on undeniable evidence; but that being now satisfied of the mistake into which he had fallen, and convinced that the charge was wholly untrue, he came forward to express his deep and unfeigned sorrow for having ever contributed to give it circulation.' Mr. Hill added, that if there were any way consistent with honour by which he could make reparation to Mr. Sheil, he should deem no sacrifice too great to heal the wound which his erroneous statement had inflicted.'
It is with the highest gratification that your Committee find themselves enabled thus to exonerate an accused Member of Parliament from imputations alike painful and undeserved. The voluntary avowal of an erroneous statement on the part of Mr. Hill, puts it now in their power to pronounce a decided opinion, and to close the present inquiry. Neither of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee deposed to any facts calculated to bear out the allegation against Mr. Sheil, nor did their testimony go to impeach his character and honour in any way, or as to any matter whatever. The Committee have no hesitation in declaring their deliberate conviction that the innocence of Mr. Sheil, in respect of the whole matter of complaint referred to their investigation, is entire and unquestionable. Your committee feel bound at the same time to express their full confidence in Mr. Hill's declaration, that the statement impeaching Mr. Sheil's character was made by him at Hull, under a sincere, though mistaken persuasion of its accuracy. They derive this confidence as well from the tone of generous regret which characterized
his communication at the close of their proceedings, as from the candid admissions, and the evident anxiety to avoid all exaggeration and mis-statements, which they have observed throughout his testimony, as he delivered it in their presence,' Upon the reading of this report there were loud cries for Lord Althorp, who said, that no man rejoiced more at its contents than he did. He was called upon to state what his opinion was, now that he had heard the report of the Committee. As to the facts to which the report referred, he had no scruple at all in saying that he was satisfied with it. He had since he last addressed the House, made inquiries respecting the information given him on the subject, and he was then prepared to say if the honorable and learned member for Tipperary asserted distinctly that he had not done what he had stated him to have done, that he believed his assertion. He was in this position. He had certain information given him on the authority of gentlemen on whose veracity he entirely relied. They might have been mistaken in what they stated to him. But if the honourable and learned member would then come forward and say that it was untrue that he had ever used language in private, different from that which he had used in public on the Coercion Bill, he would not only say that he entirely believed him, but he would also apologise to him for the language he had used.
Mr. Sheil rose amidst loud cries of hear' from all parts of the House, which were succeeded by profound silence. After a short pause he said—
'I stood before this House a few nights ago, with no other sustainment than the consciousness of my innocence; I now stand before it with that innocence announced, in the clearest and most unequivocal language, by a Committee composed of men themselves above all suspicion, to the world. I do feel my heart swell within me at this instant, and almost impede my utterance. Justice has been done me. It has been done not only by my judges but by my accuserr-he preferred his charges in the House, he reiterated them before the Committee, and having gone into his evidence and failed, he then offered me the only reparation in his power; and with a frankness of contrition which mitigates the wrong he did me, he came forward and announced that not only could he not prove his charge, but that he believed it to be utterly destitute of foundation. That gentleman having made this acknowledgment, then turned, and addressing himself to me, in the tone and with the aspect of deep emotion, asked me to forgive him. I had, I own, much to forgive; he had wounded me to my heart's core; he had injured me, and given agony to mine; he had committed a havoc of the feelings of those who are dearer to me than my life, and to whom my honour is more precious than my existence. He had furnised to the Secretary for the Colonies the occasion of addressing me in the language and with the gesture of solemn admonition, and of pointing out the results of an inquiry, in the tone of prophetic warning. I had indeed much to forgive, but I forgive him. We have heard much
denunciation from ministers respecting the disclosures of private discourse, and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the repre
sentative of the Government, who entertains such a horror of a practice detested by all honourable men, is the very first to make reference to the babble of clubs, to declare his belief of information to which he gratuitously attaches an injurious importance, and to announce that he would not give up his author, but would take upon himself the responsibility. This defiance having been given, the House interposed; no resource was left me but to protest that I never expressed myself in favour of the Coercion Bill, and to demand inquiry. I insisted on it. The Secretary for the Colonies, out of regard no doubt for my reputation, pointed out the probable results. His suggestions had no other effect than to confirm me in my purpose, and to make me call more loudly for trial; that trial has proceeded, my private conversation at a Club-house has been given in evidence, and the Committee have declared me innocent of every charge which has been preferred against me. Did I shrink from the ordeal? Did I resort to chicane? Did I make my honour a matter of casuistry and special pleading? No Sir; I invited, I demanded investigation; and my private conversation at the Athenæum Club having been detailed a conversation after dinner, never recollected even by the narrator for eight months-the accuser declared that his charge was totally destitute of foundation, and the Committee at once resolved on my unqualified acquittal. One of the informants of the noble lord was produced-why were they not all brought forward? accusers were welcome to have got together every loose phrase, every casual and giddy expression, uttered in the moments of thoughtlessness and exhilaration; they were welcome to have selected and collected every sentence uttered by me in convivial gatherings, and to have raked and gathered the sweepings of Club-houses, in order to have made up a mass of solid testimony, and to have cast it into the balance against me. They were welcome to have put me through an ordeal-such as not one of the ministers themselves could encounter. Which of you all would dare to stand the test? Which of you all would have the veil of his privacy rent to pieces, and all his thoughts uttered in the familiarity of common life divulged? But they were welcome to have got together all the whisperers and eavesdroppers of all their clubs against me; I should have defied them. I was prepared with proof to be given by my most intimate and confidential friends, the men with whom I have lived on terms of familiarity and of trust for upwards of twenty years, the companions of my early life, who know me as I do myself, and to whom ny thoughts and feelings are almost as well known as their own. I should have been prepared with their evidence, and have established that wherever the Coercion Bill was glanced at, I condemned it in terms of unmitigated detestation. I denounced it as a violation of every one of those principles of liberty of which the Whigs were once the devoted but not unalterable champions. I did not once, but one hundred, times express my horror of the atrocities perpetrated in parts of the north of Ireland. I did say that to put ruffianism down, something ought to done; I referred to the suggestions made by the Committee which sat in 1832, in the Queen's County, and which was composed of men of all parties; but never, I repeat with an
emphasis into which heart and soul are thrown; never did I express myself favourable to a Bill which I reprobated in this House, which I denounced elsewhere in terms of equally vehement censure; and if in place of standing here I were lying on my death-bed and about to appear in the presence of my God, I should not dread, with the utterance of these words, if they were to be my last, to appear before him.'
We have been considerably embarrassed in our choice of extracts, and if our space permitted we should gladly set one of his early triumphs in juxta position with one of his parliamentary efforts, even the most successful; and we think the comparison would be in favour of the view we have adopted. For this purpose we should have, perhaps, selected the address upon the deputation to England, as a specimen of his youthful eloquence; and side by side with it, his famous speech in answer to Lord Lyndhurst's equally celebrated and admittedly uniortunate proclamation, of the threefold alienage of the Irish. Not being able, however, to give both, our choice has at length fixed upon the latter, because we find it more prominently and at large in Mr. M'Cullagh's book, and accordingly we quote:
"At last our enfranchisement was won by our own energy and determination; and when it was in progress we received assurances that, in every respect, we should be placed on a footing with our fellow-citizens; and it was more especially announced to us, that, to corporations and all offices connected with them, we should be at once admissable. Pending this engagement, a bill is passed for the reform of the corporations of this country, and in every important municipal locality in England, councillors are selected by the people as their representatives. This important measure having been carried here, the Irish people claim an extension of the same advantages; and ground their title on the Union, on Emancipation, on Reform, and on the great principle of perfect equality between the two coun tries, on which the security of one country and the prosperity of both must depend. This demand on the part of Ireland is rejected; and that which to England no one was bold enough to deny, from Ireland you are determined, and you announce it, to withhold. Is this justice? You will say that it is, and I should be surprised if you did not say so. I should be surprised indeed, if while you are doing us wrong, you did not profess your solicitude to do us justice. From the day on which Strongbow set his foot upon the shore of Ireland, Englishmen were never wanting in protestations of their deep anxiety to do us justice :-even Strafford the deserter of the people's causethe renegade Wentworth, who gave evidence in Ireland of the spirit of instinctive tyranny which predominated in his character-even Strafford while be trampled upon our rights, and trod upon the heart of the country, protested his solicitude to do justice to Ireland.