Page images
PDF
EPUB

proposed to inspire the Jew of Bristol with the desired degree of manificence, by abating somewhat from the number of his teeth, was his cruelty more atrocious than if practised in sport, or for the gratification of a gratuitous love of misery, it would have been, or than the cruelties of Nero and Domitian, of which such only was the motive? We would venture to say, that the Duke of Newcastle, or Lord Lonsdale, opposing the cession of a right, the enforcing of which involves a privation of property, admitted indeed to be usurped, are not so culpable as others not similarly affected.

That faculty of Sir Charles, through the liberal exercise of which he has recently engaged the public attention, is his eloquence. Of this quality of the redoubtable knight, the distinctive characteristics are prolixity and pedantry. To his prolixity, three causes jointly contributeimpertinency, tautology, and a use, the most luxuriant, of synonymes. He who is influenced by the taste defined in these terms, and, at the same time, is master of the impudence necessary to the effective exercise of it, can hardly fail to be at least as prolix as his auditors can well desire. We will explain how prolixity of speech may be of eminent service. Before we had been duly schooled in the business of life, and, having corrected our more romantic opinions, learned the value of everything to be more or less, as it happens to be more or less conducive to thrift, however ungenerous, the mention of the names of Demosthenes and Cicero had the effect of provoking in our mind, so often as we heard of them, the idea of that last limit of excellence, beyond which it was denied, in future, eloquence should ever advance. While labouring under this infirmity in taste, we are sure we should not have been found attending to the confident vulgarity of Hunt, or the solemn inanity of Sadler, were they seasoned with a thousand “ hear-hims,” without strong impatience. We were in the habit of justifying our admiration of those masters, not so much by reference to that less worthy element of their orations which we have—the matter or composition of them merely, as to that equally worthy which we have not—the delivery. What man, after Chatham or Mirabeau, would not such speeches expose in the delivery? There is one mode of eloquence, however, beyond those masters of oratory, although found not among the least useful in despatching the business of life, and accordingly, in modern times, not unfrequently recurred to; we mean that of speaking “ against time.” The omission too of Quinctilian to treat of this figure, and indoctrinate us in the rules to which the use and application of it ought to be subject, we must ever regard as a serious omission. hero (to use the dainty appellation of the novel-writers) is, however, not to be confounded with these ancient orators.

Upon this important mode of speech he appears to have bestowed, not merely a due and becoming share of culture, but even to have chosen it as that in which he delights to luxuriate. Genius has, by Dr. Johnson, been pronounced to be, great natural abilities determined to some congenial pursuit. We do not entirely approve this definition of genius; but since this is not the proper place to propose an objection to it, we will suppose it not to be incorrect. To insure the efficient exercise of the art of eloquence in the consumption of time, the faculties requisite are, as we have already hinted, skill in impertinency and tautology, and the absence of that certain sensibility which Xenophon unwisely judged to constitute the capital grace of the youthful Cyrus. Sir Charles thus endowed, we cannot in justice refuse him the praise of genius. A certain professor, not of oratory, called himself "le dieu de la danse !" If this spirit be not a little immodest, Sir Charles is entitled to exclaim, “I am the god of speaking against time!” His exercise of this art to impede the progress of reform, must have been, we think, sufficient to satisfy its enemies; for it was much more than sufficient to satisfy its friends. The redoubtable Doctor, whose authority has been already cited, has proposed that it is

“Our

only the work, the accumulation of years, which can procure for its author the prize of immortality. The reader would never guess that this solemn reflection was prompted by Swift's “Directions for Servants."

If there be truth in the following story, Sir Charles's skill in this art is not the effect of original effort, but the creation of long repeated practice. When our knight first took his seat at the Bar of the court of Chancery, he found, for his competitors, men rich in professional intelligence it is true, but unpretending and unambitious—Stanley, Steele, Cox, Cooke, Pemberton, &c. In the midst of these, Sir Charles's stouter loquacity, free command of synonymes and sonorous enunciation, by which he has ever been distinguished, became by some mistaken for eloquence, or at least useful advocacy; and, accordingly, among the solicitors (and they were not a few) who happened to be infected with this taste he became popular.

That the proceedings of election-committees are, in no trifling degree, influenced by party-spirit, and that in the contests which are settled by the means of their heteroclitic justice as much is to be accomplished by a certain stoutness and overbearing carriage in that which is wrong, as by purity of ratiocination in that which is right, it would be affectation to deny. To the conductors of these proceedings, Sir Charles was qualified to be a valuable ally; and, as might have been expected, his services were frequently engaged. In the course of one of these contests in which he was concerned, a defect of evidence on his side became manifest, and, worse than that, the witness capable of supplying it was at a distance. Sir Charles inquired of his troubled client what time would be necessary to procure his attendance, and was hopelessly answered—“Not less than three days.” It was not necessary that the witness should be produced until the rest of the case on Sir Charles's side was closed, which catastrophe Sir Charles chivalrously proposed to avert, and provide the committee with employment, until the arrival of the witness, by the expedient of making a speech. Accordingly, while a messenger started off in a chaise and four on the one hand, Sir Charles started off on the other in a speech against time. The messenger exhibited so much dispatch, that on the third day the witness arrived at Old Palace Yard, and was produced in the committee-room, where our hero was found, not only exempt from fatigue, but even exhibiting the most rampant freshness - loudly vociferating, swinging his arms in humble imitation of the sails of a windmill, buffeting, and belabouring the table before him and every thing animate or inanimate within his reach, and employing all his other usual methods of correcting the sluggishness of justice. He was apparently capable of speaking against time until a witness could be fetched from New South Wales. Sir Charles's client approached him with a look of gratitude, and announced to him in a whisper the success of his services, and hinted to him how happy he must be to be released from the further prosecution of his longilocutory toils. Sir Charles, instead of being, pleased with the considerateness of the man, seemed only indignant at the doubt of the extent of his talent which the intimation implied, and resolutely persisted in speaking bis predestined time out. It has been pertinently remarked, that he who engages in a contest with time is under the disadvantage of having an adversary exempt from casualty : but when Time sees Sir Charles preparing to overlay him with a speech, let him provide againt the rust of leisure, and oil and lay by his scythe.

We have remarked that one of the means through which Sir Charles is enabled to effect his excellent prolixity, is his luxuriant use of synonymes ;-we will illustrate our meaning by an example.

We will suppose Sir Charles engaged to express the sense of this passage, occurring in the Life of Savage—“ It is generally reported that this project was for some time successful, and that Savage was employed at the awl longer than he was willing to confess.” The learned knight

our

would acquit himself, in the Wetherellese style, in some such strain as this :-“ It is generally, and not uncomm monly I believe I may say, reported, rumoured, and related, that this project, scheme, or design, was, for some time, successful, fortunate, and auspicious; and that Savage, I beg pardon, Mr. Savage, was employed and occupied at the awl, the bodkin, the borer, the punch, the perforator, the subulary instrument, longer than he was willing to confess, admit, or acknowledge.” Now let the reader imagine all this to be spoken slowly by a semi-quixotic-looking gentleman, with his hands in the custody of the pockets of his unmentionables, or one of them, peradventure, in a situation yet more centrical, and the speaker to be oscillatory, sometimes backwards and forwards, and sometimes from side to side, and he will have acquired a tolerably due idea of one humour of eloquence of the learned representative of the municipal dignity of Boroughbridge. It is not easy to speculate at all satisfactorily as to what may be the principle of this practice, but it suggests itself to us that, as it is the method of prudent grooms, to prevent their horses from contracting swelled legs by standing long together in their stalls, to take them forth successively to exercise, so Sir Charles, erecting himself into a sort of master of the horse of the “ winged words,” and apprehensive that they may contract swelled legs, or some consimilar ailment, if suffered to stand without exercise in the columns of the dictionary, deems it his duty to conduct them forth whenever an opportunity presents itself. Whatever be the meaning of this practice, hero” never seems so thoroughly happy as when riding at the head of a long string of synonymes. We have likewise never been able to understand by what rule it is that he submits to be governed in bringing his harangues to a conclusion. Some men are content to conclude when they have said once what they have to say ; but this, it is plain, is not the rule of Sir Charles. Some men cease from fatigue, and others from confusion or embarrassment, before they have reached that term ; but this has never been a

reason with Sir Charles, for we never saw him embarrassed, even in circumstances under which, in other men, embarrassment would have seemed a grace. As to fatigue-we bave seen him, after having a thousand times repeated the same thing, leave off as fresh as when he began. We have often, when he has put a period to his effusions, wondered why he, who has not seen reason to stop before, has stopped when he has.

It is the humour of some to suppose Sir Charles to be a superior scholar; we own, at the same time, that we never knew this honour to have been attributed to him by any one possessing pretensions to much scholarship of his own. We happen too to entertain a creed, relative to the efficacy of study, in common with the late Dr. Priestly, and in common, we suppose, with all those who have ever made the experiment recommended by him, which makes against this claim. Whenever any one complained of his imperfect knowledge of a subject with which he desired to acquire a full acquaintance, Priestly's advice was—" Then write a book about it.” We have had reason to subscribe to the soundness of this advice, and to be satisfied that there exists no mode of study so efficacious as that which the due composition of a book on the given subject, and for the press too, prescribes ; we know of no other course capable of inducing an inquiry at once so copious and so exact. We are able to understand what is meant by the predication of superior scholarship of Bentley, Porson, Parr, &c. by their works, but we have not yet seen Sir Charles's; and, until we shall have done so, we must beg, leave to reserve our judgment concerning his extraordinary scholarship. The only evidence to which we have been admitted has been that depraved luxuriancy of Anglo-Latin gibberish, which is invariably seen dancing among the other extravagancies with which the knight's harangues abound; but this is hardly proof of genuine scholar

ship ;-it does but provoke in us a certain feeling towards it similar to such as we suppose moved the captain, described by Swift in his ballad on “ Hamilton's Bawn,” to exclaim

Your Novids, and Blutraks, and Omurs, and stuff,

By G-, I don't value them this pinch of snuff. Great scholars have afforded so many instances of their, if not conscious defiance, at least negligent observance of the admitted rules and customs of society, that a certain waywardness, or unfashionableness of manner, is supposed to constitute one of their characteristics. However we may be inclined to doubt it in solid learning, we are not only willing to admit, but even to assent fully to, Sir Charles being a scholar in manners, a great scholar too, and one of the first of great scholars. We will not here discriminate between that real courtesy and good breeding, by the breach of which the feelings of a reasonable man may be offended, and the observance of those petty, unmeaning forms of society, in the invention of which the idlers, who are admitted to legislate for fashion, are daily exercising their fertile phantasies. We have been at different times amused with the relation of too many instances, in which that deference due to those present has been by the learned knight signally overlooked. We recollect to have once ourselves been in a situation to observe a notable example of his independence and refined scholarship as to manners, which, however, we shall not report.

When the wealthy Crosus, we are told, inquired of Solon, whether he were not to be esteemed happy, the answer which he received from the sage was to this effect — Your question cannot be answered before your death. This answer always appeared to us to bear the air of that most ludicrous category of conceits, the Hibernicism ; and, literally understood, it undoubtedly does so. How it should be impracticable to predicate present happiness of a man because he might at some time thereafter, before his death, be seen in a different condition, we could not divine ; but if (as it seems to us to be due to this celebrated master of ethics that it should be) this answer were designed to emphatically describe and admonish the royal interrogator of the absolute instability of human fortune, then is it not unworthy of the respondent's venerable name; and had it been granted to him to know the subject of this article, he would have found another instance, added to the thousand recorded, of the truth of this apophthegm. We have heard that Sir Charles, now so bravely incurious in the niceties of dress, was once, not only the reverse, but particularly dainty in his attire. If at that season his nether garment tightly braced up, and the rest of his habiliments correspondently disposed, he had presented himself to Solon with this question, Am I not a smart fellow ?” how well would the philosopher have been justified by the interrogator's senile vagaries in demurring to the inquiry:

Sir Charles happened, once in his life, to encounter mob popularity, a visitation which, to one of his ultra-prerogative temperament, must have been no doubt suficiently distressing. It was through his own fault; for, if to have contributed to the signal defeat of a criminal prosecution for an offence contrived for its own sinister purposes, and to have baffled and exposed its hypocritical designs, were a valuable service, then did Sir Charles deserve the pain of his popularity. He did his duty well, and completely overwhelmed this shift of the ministry. The ministry was composed of the apathetic official hacks, dull as their desks, whom Mr. Percival had left behind him,-of the true old Tory “ life and fortune breed, familiarly versed in the arts by which public attention is to be diverted from the vices of government, and silence imposed upon complaint.

The traitors had a gun, a dozen balls in an old stocking, two ounces

[ocr errors]

of powder, compelled “ by reason of the premises” to retain their black inglorious state, and a red bandkerchief adjusted to “ flout the pale blue sky

from the proud altitude of a walking-stick ; and the finding (supposing them not to have been put there by the finder himself secundum artem, of which there is little doubt,) of these stores and ensigns at the tail of a waggon, from which had been haranguing their mirth-loving countrymen the Catilines of Clerkenwell—a forlorn radical apothecary, a ruined half-bred gentleman-gambler,an idle cobbler distinguished for cherishing at the same time a love of carousing and a club-foot, and a pale consumptive artisan-was not evidence so cogent and emphatic of the deep danger of the state, as to justify, before a reasonable people, the spectacle of a public prosecution upon a charge of “compassing the death of our Sovereign Lord the King,” and “ conspiring to levy war against our said Sovereign Lord the King.” But then every thing, say the schools, is received according to the recipient; and taking into account the country's easy susceptibility of similar delusions, the insolent partisanship of the judge, the ordinary compliance of juries, and subserviency of counsel, the confidence, however erroneous, of the ministry and crown-lawyers was thoroughly justified. Their discomfiture was attributable solely to the intractable spirit, united to a certain disconcerting originality in manner, of our knight.

We had nearly forgotten to mention bow a malignant attempt was made to injure the fair fame of the gun, and its humble military friends, the stocking, &c. by imputing to them a connexion with a certain proclamation, represented to have been found at the lodgings of one of the orators of the waggon, but prudently enough not until the orator, by being locked up in prison, was disabled from preventing the measure, without which there can be no finding; whereby 22,000,000 of persons were invited to accept offices in the capacities, respectively, of High Admiral, Commander-in-chief, &c. the authorship of which it was proposed to assign to the orators, but which they, knowing themselves to be without the least title to claim it, were too modest to permit.

We shall always say, that no man has, in our time, appeared so fit as Sir Charles to mar a low “police trick," as the French would say, of this sort. To have treated it with any degree of ceremony, or observed, in dealing with it, any self-restriction, would have been to confer upon it plausibility and character; but Sir Charles resisted it in his lounging, unceremonious, round, unsparing manner, and succeeded in getting it mobbed out of court. Instead of treating the trial as that of the prisoners, he made it, in effect, that of the ministers and crown-lawyers, and boldly exposed the real object of their proceedings. When Sir Charles was exercising in this way every form of reproach, he was repeatedly interrupted by the Judge (Lord Ellenborough), but was utterly unmanageable by any known method of restraint. Whenever Lord Ellenborough requested him (enforcing it with his cavalier carriage and his Cumberland croak) to understand that the question to be determined by the jury was, whether the prisoners at the bar were guilty of the crimes described in the indictment or not, Sir Charles never, as others would have done, suffered himself to be allured into a debate with his Lordship on the question of his right to proceed in the course proposed, but begged his Lordship’s pardon, was sorry, &c., and then spliced his broken thread of insult and invective against the ministers. His cross-examination of the ministerial tool, Castles, was precisely such as it ought to have been, addressed to a man holding a high place in infamy,-peremptory, unreserved, and searching. We can at this time, in fancy, see this pink of miscreants at the moment when, having been during his examination in chief treated with all the studied deference and courtesy due to a man the first in honour and eminence,-when Sir’d and Mister Castles'd to nauseousness by the crown lawyers, his timidity had become wrought

« PreviousContinue »