« PreviousContinue »
Deceived by his tout ensemble, several young Englishmen, who thought it a duty incumbent upon them to take every opportunity of quizzing the Paddies, have ventured to break their Birmingham wit upon our hero, but they soon found that they “had caught a tartar.” His keen, sarcastic wit, and expressive gestures, turned the laugh against themselves, and made them quit the field with disgrace.
The people of England, in general, although situated almost within sight of Ireland, are wonderfully ignorant of that coun'try, and have the most absurd notions of the size, strength, and manners of her inhabitants. Accustomed to contemn the Irish, and blinded by pride and prejudice, Englishmen will not believe that any man can be born in Ireland with a capacity above the rank of a drayman or a haymaker. And when such men as are named below,* are mentioned as being natives of Ireland, John Bull is surprised and incredulous, for he thinks no man with brains can possibly be born out of Old England !
Besides a long list of statesmen and warriors, driven to foreign countries, by restrictive laws, Ireland can boast of her Usher, Boyle, Denham, Congreve, Molyneux, Farquhar, Steele, Sloan, Berkley, Orrery, Parnel, Swift, Helsham, Robinson, Johnson, (Chrysal,) Sterne, Goldsmith, Tickel, Brooke, two Lelands, Hamilton, Kirwan, Bickerstaff, Macklin, Malone, Mrs. Sheridan, two Sheridans, Griffith, Courtnay, Burgh, Burke, Flood, Grattan, Carran, and others. What country in the world, of the same extent, can pro. duce such a constellation of genius? And yet this is the despised nation!
+ The English have contrived to throw the character of blundering on a nation who have been rendered unfortunate by their subjection to English injustice. A blundering Irishman is a constant fund of amusement on the English stage; many a play would be damned but for an Irishman's mis. takes; and many a paragraph writer would starve, but or his far-fetched witticisms on the natives of Ireland. A late writer has defined a blunder to be “a laughable confusion of ideas,”+ to which the vulgar and the ignorant of every country are liable, and none more than the English themselves but that the Irish can attain to the utmost purity and elegance of speaking and writing the English language, let the foregoing list of names and the following pages testify.
See Paddiana, and Edgeworth's Dissertation on Balls.
With respect to person, Mr. Curran, like Mr. Grattan, is not much indebted to nature. His stature is low, and his whole appearance far from prepossessing. He has, however, an eye which emits the fire of genius, and is admirably calculated to transmit either the scintillations of fancy, or that deep and touching pathos of the heart, which he not only feels himself, but can so powerfully excite in others. Of dress, he is remarkably, perhaps culpably, negligent; he has often played Cicero in the senate, in the garb of Scrub! His negligence in this respect has sometimes led him into street adventures of a funny and ridiculous nature-but Mr. C. is exceedingly fond of whatever is humourous. He tells several stories of himself with infinite spirit, much to the amusement of the company; and all the high wits, and all the low wits of the city, can repeat a deal of comical sayings and doings of the great orator Curran.
IF it were worth while to combat the notion, that descent, that nobility, should alone be a passport to honour and virtue, the history of this man would furnish the refutation. From no worm-eaten statutes, from no musty records of nobility, does he derive his title to honour, or his claim to reputation. He searched no herala's office for the purpose of ascertaining the age of his tribe; he bribed no court favourite to revive some title which was extinct, in his favour. The star and garter, with all those other gewgaws which amuse so many children in the shape of men,* held out no temptar tion to him. Overlooking all such puerile and anile distinctions, he threw himself on the resources of his mind, resting his claim on the judgment of his cotemporaries and posterity.
To the unaccommodating spirit of the Spartan is joined in him, the polish, the delicacy of Athenian manners. Now, he reaches the point in debate by a few bold and nervous sentences, expressed with laconic vigour and epigrammatic spirit: Now, his words appear to move only to the melodious and measured cadences of Attic harmony. The Spartan economy is forgotten, and an imagination, luxuriant beyond all account, is permitted to range as it were in despite of control, and in derision of method, in all the sportiveness of mirth, and all the poignancy of satire.
* See p. 4. of the Historical Sketch.
of this man happily corresponds with his gepius; easily, by its compass and flexibility, accommodating itself to the several passions which he wishes to convey. It is a clear medium by which he is enabled, to transfuse his spirit into his hearers, and kindle in their hearts an enthusiasm in defence of liberty, which, like the Greek fire, is not afterwards to be extinguished.
When his soul is inflamed with the frantic excesses of tyo ranny, the darkness on his brow gives notice of the tempest that is gathering; while the lightning in his eye, an unerring precursor, announces the thunder that is to follow. His in, vective is keen, is terrible, is desolating. The great lords of the court tremble on their benches, surrounded by guards, and clad in purple and ermine, whilst, like a minister of divine wrath, he denounces against them the vengeance of Heaven, and the curses of posterity. The spies of the government have been known to faint under his examination, alleging that they were unable to bear the fire of his eloquence, and the torture of his interrogatories.
He is small of stature, and of a visage sallow and wan: but when he opens his lips, his personal defects vanish; his stature reaches the clouds, and he appears to be alone graceful and lovely in the creation. You are under a species of enchantment similar co what Horace alludes to in his Art of Poetry, when the skilful dramatist transports you sometimes to Thebes and sometimes to Athens. Curran is indeed a magician who enchains the imaginations of his hearers, and the spell is of such potency, that neither wisdom nor ignorance have any charm to resist it.
When he harangues in defence of the rights of mankind, the most bigoted are in love with liberty and virtue ; whilst, with a master hand, he portrays the miseries of Ireland, not a dry eye is to be seen; the court is drowned in tears; corrupt juries, packed and empannelled for the special pur. pose of condemnation, softened and touched by his eloquence, resign to him their victim; the prison doors fly open at his
approach ; the chains fall from the hands of the victims. He is the angel of mercy, whose lips, touched with fire by the Almighty, whisper hope in the dungeon of despair, and speak deliverance to the captive.
But to form a correct estimate of this wonderful man, you must consider him not merely as an orator, as a man distinguished only in a single walk or department of literature. Men in general have their fort or strong ground in which lies their peculiar excellence and strength. But this is not the case with him; in every thing he is great, in every thing equal. He is, as it were, a centre in the circle of sciences, an attractive and luminous focus, on which rays are incessantly falling from all parts of the orb; a profound mathematician; a logician, acute, subtle, and persuasive; a philosopher, elegantly speculative, and profoundly erudite; a wit, sometimes lashing vice with the wrath and indignation of Juvenal, sometimes tittering at folly with the elegant and courtly irony of Flaccus; a politician, clear-sighted, steady and incorruptible; an orator realizing and transcending the definition of Cicero.
IT has been remarked that human nature is the same in every age; that is, I presume, that the judgment and passious of men are, in all ages, to be affected equally by the
Among many arguments which countenance the contrary opinion, the variation of taste on literary subjects presents itself with considerable force. But in no department of the belles lettres is this change more striking