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REVIEW OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
Recollections of Curran, and some of his Contemporaries. By CHARLES PHILLIPS, Esq. London. Hookham, 1818.
We do not know when the present character of Irish eloquence and composition became established in that country. All the writings of Swift, who was once their most popular author, are completely in a different strain; his Drapier's Letters, addressed particularly to the populace, have not a vestige of that boiling imagination about them, which throws off fully as much scum, as it sparkles with purer matter; nor, among his multifarious correspondents of every sex, station, and profession, do we find any of the germs of that flashy manner now so much in vogue in the country which he first rendered illustrious by his genuine wit, and perspicuous reason. The general literature of Ireland has, we think, lost by this departure from the model of their great original. Except Miss Edgeworth, there is not one male or female writer breathing among them, who can express a plain thing in a plain way. They are all looking at the stars when they ought to be tracing their way along the earth; and, as will necessarily happen to people whose contemplations are so aerial, they, in consequence, not unfrequently lose themselves in the clouds. Indeed, even where their sky is clearest, they have a wonderful propensity to linger in the neighbourhood of their favourite constellation the Bull. We are not insensible, however, to the charms of Irish oratory, and, although, like all their other writing, it has too few resting-places in which the orator may alight for a moment from his flights, and by coming down to the natural condition of his audience, be only the more enabled to hurry them along with him again, in the renewed whirlwind of passion; although there is a kind of bluster from the beginning of their orations to the end;-a torrent of figures of every shape and size, with out one instant of remission, (so un
like the finer models of ancient eloquence,) we yet must say, that there is more of the substance, as well as of the embellishments of rhetoric in their efforts both at the bar and in the senate, than in any which we are enured to in this colder and less impassioned island. The highest aim of an English orator is to carry the fortress, after having made his regular approaches;-he assails the heart through the head. An Irish orator storms at once reason, feeling, and fancy, in one tumultuous and desultory mode of attack. It is little matter with him where he begins, or in what method he proceeds; it is the effect of the whole that he trusts to, and that is often irresistible. Compare, in this view, the orations of Mr Fox and Mr Grattan, of Lord Erskine and Mr Curran. In the former, there is much more logic and reasoning, in the latter, much more passion and imagination mingled with the tissue of the argument, and many more hazardous flights which are successful or not, as it may happen. There is nothing in our cloquence, in the style of invective especially, that is any thing equal to the unbridled power and licence of the Irish. That is all they have retained of Swift, and they have tricked it out in their own gaudy and meretricious colours. What was ever heard, for instance, in our House of Commons, the least approaching to the famous attack of Mr Grattan on Mr Flood? It is a specimen of the highest eloquence, bordering, according to the custom of the country, both on the vulgar and the fantastic.
"I will suppose a public character, a man not now in this house, but who formerly might have been here. I will suppose that it was his constant practice to abuse every man who differed from him, and to betray every man who trusted to him. his cradle, and divide his life into three him active, I will begin from stages; in the first he was temperate, in the second corrupt, and in the third seditious.-Suppose him a great egotist, his honour equal to his oath, and I will stop him and say, Sir, your talents are not great as your life is infamous;-you were
silent for years, and you were silent for money when affairs of consequence to the nation were debating, you might be seen passing by these doors like a guilty spirit, just waiting for putting the question, that you might hop in and give your venal vote; or at times, with a vulgar brogue, apeing the manner, and affecting the infirmities of Lord Chatham, or like a kettle-drummer, lather yourself into popularity to catch the vulgar; or you might be seen hovering over the dome like an illomened bird of night, with sepulchral notes, a cadaverous aspect, and broken beak, ready to stoop and pounce upon your prey. You can be trusted by no man ;-the people cannot trust you,-the ministers cannot trust you,--you deal out the most impartial treachery to both-you tell the nation it is ruined by other men, while it is sold by you, you fled from the mutiny bill,you fled from the sugar bill,-I therefore tell you, in the face of your country, before all the world, and to your beard, you are not an honest man.'
How extraordinary is the following diatribe of Mr Curran upon the Lord Chancellor Clare, before whom he was pleading, the drift of which was fully understood by the whole audience, although under the pretext of being levelled against a former Chancellor!
removed him to a greater distance than he was before; as a little hand that strives to grasp a mighty globe, is thrown back by the re-action of its own effort to comprehend. It may be given to an Hale er an Hardwicke to discover and retract a mistake; the errors of such men are only specks that arise for a moment upon the surface of a splendid luminary; consumed by its heat, or irradiated by its light, they soon disappear; but the perversenesses of a mean and narrow intellect are like the excrescences that grow upon a body naturally cold and dark; no fire to waste them, and no ray to enlighten, they assimilate and coalesce with those qualities so congenial to their nature, and acquire an incorrigible permanency in the union with kindred frost and kindred opacity. Nor, indeed, my Lords, except when the interest of millions can be affected by the vice or the folly of an individual, need it be much regretted that to things not worthy of being made better, it hath not pleased Providence to afford the privilege of improvement."
"In this very chamber did the Chancellor and judges sit, with all the gravity and affected attention to arguments in favour of that liberty and those rights which they have conspired to destroy. But to what end, my Lords, offer arguments to such men? A little peevish mind may be exasperated, but how shall it be corrected by refutation? How fruitless would it have been to represent to that wretched Chancellor that he was betraying those rights which he was sworn to maintain; that he was involving a government in disgrace, and a kingdom in panic and consternation; that he was violating every sacred duty, and every solemn engagement, that binds him to himself, his country, and his God! Alas! my Lords, by what argument could any man hope to reclaim or to dissuade a mean, illiberal, and unprincipled minion of authority, induced by his profligacy to undertake, and bound by his avarice and vanity to persevere! He probably would have replied to the most unanswerable arguments by some cant, contumelious, or unmeaning apothegm, delivered with the fretful smile of irritated self-sufficiency, and disconcert
ed arrogance; or even, if he could be dragged by his fears to a consideration of the question, by what miracle could the pigmy capacity of a stunted pedant be enlarged to a reception of the subject? The endeavour to approach it would only have
We are indebted for these quotations to Mr Phillips, to whose book it is now full time for us to pay our respects. It is quite an Irish account of a great Irish orator,-and with many trivial anecdotes, unnecessary episodes, and some inflated passages of fine writing in the true Philippic style,—it yet gives us a lively picture of Curran and of several of his eminent contemporaries. This uncommon man rose from a very low origin,-when a boy he was the wag of his village, and even, on one occasion, enacted with great applause in the character of Mr Punch's man, till unfortunately he became so scurrilous, that the puppetshow was interrupted by the outery of the populace. He seems to have inherited his peculiar talents from his mother, who is described as a right Irish woman, with all the cleverness and eccentricity of that character. She happily lived to see her son rising at the bar. Some interesting anecdotes are told of benevolent individuals who sent him to school and college. He received in these seminaries a good classical education, but was not at all remarkable for his diligence. He was called to the bar in 1775, having previously married, though but ill able to support a wife, especially with the prospect of a family. This connection indeed turned out very ill starred, and was hurtful both to his happiness and reputation. At this point of the history, Mr Phillips gives
an amusing sketch of some of the most distinguished characters then at the Irish bar, such as John Scott, after wards Lord Clonmell, Walter Hussey, and John Hely Hutchinson. It was Arthur Wolfe, afterwards the unfortunate Lord Kilwarden, who first discovered the talents of young Curran, and advised an old solicitor, Bob Lyons, who is well described as a true sample of the Irish attorney of those days, to send him a brief. The twenty guineas which accompanied it came in admirable time to stop the mouth of a clamorous landlady, and the ability with which he executed his work brought him into immediate reputation. He was soon well employed in the circuits, though his career was almost finished on one occasion by the revenge of a little boy, who, with much malice prepense, fired a blunderbuss at him, in return for a box on the ear. Curran's acquaintance with low life, and all the peculiarities of the vulgar Irish character, was of admirable use to him in examining witnesses,-a part of his duty for which he was quite as much distinguished as for his great eloquence. He could meet them in all their windings and all their wit, and when he once caught the clue, there was no escaping him. Another requisite for his success was personal courage. His invectives were so pointed, that he was often obliged to justify them in the field; we know not, indeed, how many duels he fought in the course of his splendid career. He now, too, became an intimate associate of the most eminent wits and politicians. There was a bacchanalian society which went under the title of "The Monks of the Screw," of which he was one of the leading ornaments, -although in its numbers were to be found all that Ireland possessed of genius and distinction. One of the most interesting persons of this club was Barry Yelverton, afterwards Lord Avonmore, a man of great powers and learning, united with an almost infantine simplicity of character. In the course of their political divisions, Curran and he unhappily contracted a coolness. The orator happened after this to be pleading before his old friend, now a judge,-and we are tempted to transcribe the passage in which he patetically alluded to their former social meetings, the effect of
which was so powerful on the feelings of the kind-hearted Lord Avonmore, that it immediately brought about a renewal of their intimacy. In the course of a dry law argument, he broke out in the following fine appeal:
this extraordinary construction has receiv
from the dearest and tenderest recollections
yours. Yes, my Lord, we can remember
those nights with no other regret, than distinction were those melancholy that they can return no more, for ones which followed close upon the crimes of the Irish rebellion. During this disastrous period, in which
"We spent them not on toys, or lust, or wine,
But search of deep philosophy,
Wit, eloquence, and poesy,
"The animosity rose at last to such an height, that political differences were
Arts which I loved; for they, my friend, almost considered as revolutionary symp
toms."" He plainly proved, (says Mr Phillips,) that he was not to be intimidated. He stood dly, and even indignantly forward, commencing what might be He advocated the accused; he arraigned called a system of defensive denunciation. the government; he thundered against the daily exhibition of torture; he held up the
informers to universal execration; and at
the hourly hazard of the bayonet or the
consciousness, how nobly does he appear
"But, my Lords, to return to a subject, from which to have thus far departed, I think may not be wholly without excuse."
"He then proceeded (says Mr Phillips) to reconsider the legal argument, in the midst of which this most beautiful episode bloomed like a green spot amid the desert. Mr Curran told me himself, that when the court rose, the tipstaff informed him he was wanted immediately in chamber by one of the judges of the Exchequer. He of course obeyed the judicial mandate, and the moment he entered, poor Lord Avonmore, whose cheeks were still wet with the tears extorted by this heart-touching appeal, clasped him to his bosom, and from that moment every cause of difference was obliterated."
Mr Curran came into Parliament in 1783, and was very active as an opposition member, particularly during the administration of the Duke of Rutland. His appearances in the House, however, (like Lord Erskine's,) were by no means so much admired as his great exhibitions at the bar.
"I was intimate enough with Mr Curran, (says our author,) to allude to the subject, and took the liberty of asking, whether he thought the Irish Parliamentary reporters had done him justice. The answer which he gave me was, Whether the Parliamentary reporters have done justice to my
efforts in the House of Commons it is not for me to say, but that the public have not, I am certain. You must consider, that I was a person attached to a great and powerful party, whose leaders were men of importance in the state, totally devoted to those political pursuits from whence my mind was necessarily distracted by studies of a different description. They allotted me my station in debate, which being generally in the rear, was seldom brought into action till towards the close of the engage ment. After having toiled through the four courts for the entire day, I brought to the House of Commons a person enfeebled, and a mind exhausted. I was compelled to speak late in the night, and had to rise early for the judges in the morning,-the consequence was, my efforts were but crude; and where others had the whole day for the correction of their speeches, I was left at the mercy of inability or inattention."
The trials in which he gained most
Mr Curran, as may be supposed, was a decided opponent of the Irish Union, and, indeed, the carrying of that measure, with the increase of his bodily infirmities, helped to deepen a constitutional melancholy to which he was always subject, and which particularly preyed upon him in his latter days. He was made Master of the Rolls during the short Whig administration, but was but ill qualified for that office. He had neither the law which were requisite. Our author, nor the capacity of continued exertion who was one of his most intimate associates during the latter years of his life, went with him to Cheltenham in 1816, when he was very feeble, and his mind much unhinged by the disease which oppressed it;-but it was only to see him carried off suddenly by a stroke of apoplexy. The most striking passage of Mr Phillips's book is the fol ing; there is something in it very
"It was a deplorable thing to see him in the decline of life, when visited by this constitutional melancholy. I have not unfrequently accompanied him in his walks upon such occasions, almost at the hour of midnight. He had gardens attached to the Priory, of which he was particularly fond; and into these gardens, when so affected, no matter at what hour, he used to ramble. It was then almost impossible to divert his mind from themes of sadness. The gloom of his own thoughts discoloured every thing; and from calamity to calamity he would wander on, seeing in the future nothing for hope, and in the past nothing but disappointment. You could not recognize in him the same creature, who, but an hour preceding, had set the table in a roar, his gibes, his merriment, his flashes of wit, were all extinguished. He had a favourite little daughter, who was a sort of musical prodigy. She died at the age of 12; and he had her buried in the midst of a small grove just adjoining this garden. A little rustic memorial was raised over her, and often and often I have seen him, the tears chasing each other' down his cheeks, point to his daughter's monument, and wish to be with her and at rest." Such, at times, was the man before whose very look not merely gravity but sadness has often vanished,-who has given birth to more enjoyment, and uttered more wit than, perhaps, any of his contemporaries in any country,-who had in him materials for social happiness, such as we cannot hope again to see combined in any one, and whose death has cast, I fear, a permanent eclipse upon the festivities of his cirale. Yet even these melancholy hours were not without their moral. They proved the nothingness of this world's gifts, the worse than inutility of this world's atainments;-they forced the mind into involuntary reflection,-they shewed a fellow creature enriched with the greatest natural endowments, having acquired the most extensive reputation without a pecuniary want, or a professional rival; yet, weighed down with a constitutional depression that left the poorest wealthy, and the humblest happy, in the comparison. Nor were they without a kind of mournful interest, he spoke, as, under such circumstances, no human being but himself could have spoken,—his mind was so very strange ly constituted, such an odd medley of the romantic and the humorous,-now
soaring into regions of light and sublimity for illustrations, and now burrowing under ground for such ludicrous and whimsical examples, drawing the most strange
inferences from causes so remote, and accompanied at times with gestures so comic, that the smile and the tear often irresistibly met during the recital. Perhaps, after one of these scenes of misery, when he had walked himself tired, and wept himself tearless, he would again return into the house, where the picture of some friend, or the contingency of some accident, recalling an early or festive association, would hurry him into the very extreme of cheerfulness! His spirits rose,-his wit returned,-the jest, and the tale, and the anecdote, pushed each other aside in an almost endless variety and day dawned upon him the happiest, the pleasantest, and the most fascinating of companions. The friends whom he admitted to an intimacy may, perhaps, recognise him, even in this hurried sketch, as he has often appeared to them in the hospitality of the Priory:but alas! the look all-eloquent, the eye of fire, the tongue of harmony,—the exquisite address that gave a charm to every thing, and spill-bound those who heard him, are gone for ever!"
The Philosophy of Arithmetic; exhibiting a Progressive View of the Theory and Practice of Calculation; with an enlarged Table of the Products of Numbers under One Hundred. By JOHN LESLIE, F. R.S.E. Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh. Constable and Company, 1817.
To the author of the volume, of which we have now given the title, we are indebted for many discoveries both in science and the arts; and for several treatises in pure geometry, in which the demonstrations are conducted with a conciseness, and yet clearness, which he has shewn to be not incompatible with the strictest rules of reasoning.
The work now before us is very characteristic of the writings of its author. With, perhaps, too great a departure from simplicity of expression, he yet contrives to make interesting what is in its nature abstruse; and he seldom leaves even the most intricate of his researches, without fully convincing us that he is qualified to unravel it. To those, however, who regard any work, in proportion to its application to the business of life, the Philosophy of Arithmetic"
"The will be of small estimation. object proposed was not merely to teach the rules of calculation, but to