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Hunted the tyrant from his brazen throne-
Oh! this is brave.
Farewell!-Now, sweet, to Venus's chamber! [Exeunt
MR. PLUNKET AND HIS INFORMATIONS.
NOTWITHSTANDING the authority of Cardinal de Retz, as to the ease with which affairs of state are directed, we are often presented with proofs, that some who superintend the direction of important offices, however simple their duties, are inadequate to the task. This may arise from various causes besides want of capacity for situations, which, in most European countries, leave little more to do than to copy forms and imitate the examples of predecessors, whether such forms and examples be adopted to the present time or not. Let political chances produce a concatenation of novel circumstances around him, and what becomes of the individual whom the world had lately deemed a constellation in the official hemisphere? He is at a nonplus immediatelythe mask is removed, and a mere common-place countenance is discovered to have been beneath it. He who looked a skilful equestrian in the management of his jog-trot hack-let him be placed upon a barb or hunter that has blood enough to curvet and prance a little, and he is speedily in the mire. The rara avis of our day is the public man whose sway, prompted by the ambition of honest fame arising from the success of well-directed efforts for the public good, finds testimony, under all circumstances, of the correctness of his views and the success of his exertions. But all men are not men of genius:-still it is reasonable to expect that those, from whose habits scarcely a greater exertion of intellect is required in public duties, than the shopkeeper or artizan displays in his daily avocations, shall be equally adequate to their business, especially if far greater things have been expected from them on the ground of past promise. Men of genius and talent may err as well as others they may be great only in the pursuit of one absorbing object, and common-place in most besides; but they will never fail in matters intimately connected with what first fixed upon them the eyes of the world. In regard to official situations, men often accept them, when foreign to their natural habits, in consequence of not having virtue to resist the temptation of place, at the expense of past fame. Others are pushed or drop into offices through the casualties of life, to the fulfilment of which they can only pretend-honour is in a manner forced upon them. But it is a rare thing indeed when one, who has been looked up to in a particular character for a series of years-whose principles, talents, and judgment, have been highly estimated-who is elevated to an office, to which, from his former career,
be seemed perfectly well adapted, should run counter to the tenets of his past life, and egregiously blunder in his own every-day profession, so as to compromise his patrons and friends, annihilate his fame, and make himself contemptible to the enemies, in whose eyes he was but just before an object of respectful fear. The man so circumstanced is a melancholy illustration of the mutability of human destiny. Like a dethroned king, he is one of the most helpless and pitiable objects under the sun. He may continue to retain his nominal dignities, indeed, but his moral ascendency is no more-he has fallen to the common level—a forlorn being, ruined by the possession of that power which renders other men great—a hidden shoal on which the hopes of a nation have been shipwrecked. A similar fate has been that of Mr. Plunket in his office of Attorney-general of Ireland. He has sunk to the level of his profession; he is now but a mere lawyer, of first-rate oratorical talents still; but he is no statesman-no man to fill a post in a pressing exigency, and gain fame from subduing difficulties-the impression he had made on the public mind is obliterated-the glory that had circled round him is extinguished :-he is an eclipsed satellite that can emerge no more.
In this work there is a sketch of Mr. Plunket's forensic character prior to his being installed into the office of Attorney-general. It is worthy of perusal at the present moment, if it be only to contrast the proud expectations lately entertained respecting him with his present depression to read extracts of his own speeches (and there are others not given there infinitely more violent) and to estimate their value and tendency in Mr. Plunket's mouth at a moment when Great Britain was involved with foreign enemies and revolutionary feelings at home, and to compare them with what he now styles sedition, at a moment when the country is flourishing, and fresh vigour has been infused into it by the enlarged policy of ministers. How could the Attorney-general, in the name of principle and consistency, and at such a time too, select words of the nature of those Mr. O'Connel used, and make them the plea for prosecuting a man of his character under pretence of sedition! There seems, indeed, to be no limit to the execrable abuse of the word "tendency" among lawyers. We are not taking up the cause of Mr. O'Connel further than that cause is in the present instance the cause of justice and common sense. We know that intemperate speeches cannot be beneficial to any party; but a speech merely intemperate, is not on that account alone to subject a party to the penalty of the law, while the shadow of freedom exists in the country. Mr. O'Connel we believe to be decidedly loyal to the government; but he contends, as every man of reason must, against the injustice of depriving twelve parts out of thirteen of his countrymen of civil rights on account of religious opinions. He has much of the rashness of the Irishman in his character; but would a generous government be over-nice with a man of unimpeachable attachment to it, even were he a little over-zealous in his efforts to redress, by legal means, the oppressions under which his countrymen labour? Would a politic government stop up an open and legitimate channel by which the sufferings of a people could reach it; thus detaching from the ignorant
* Vol. v. page 97.
and uninformed, among the least educated people in the world, those who might lead them by their influence and keep them peaceable by their till now unchallenged devotion to peace and order ?-we think not. Mr. O'Connel, when he puffs the grammars of Cobbet or the principles of that charlatan-when, in the effervescence of overwrought feeling, he uses strong language, cannot meet support, though we must allow a little blustering to the national character. The language which the Irish Attorney-general made his late attempt to prosecute by means that his brother officer in England would have subjected himself to well-merited obloquy if he had used in a like case*—had it been prosecuted to conviction, (and it was not Mr. Plunket's fault the language was not,) must have put an end to free political conversation in Ireland, and have added silence in suffering to the miseries of that unhappy country. What Mr. Plunket's notion is of the office of Attorney-general, we have learned nothing from his conduct out of it. Upright lawyers have said that it is the Charybdis of the profession, that whatever good qualities a professional man may have before he accepts it, they are sure to be shipwrecked there—and this seems to be too truly the case. It is difficult to characterise the two acts which have immortalized Mr. Plunket in office. They were either the illjudged efforts of an arbitrary desire to crush, destroy, and annihilate defendants at all hazards; or failures in judgment, which a law Tyro would hardly have committed. To the latter cause, therefore, we cannot ascribe them; while his reply on the trial of Emmett seems to lead to the former conclusion, as to the severity of his character and the obtuseness of his natural feelings. There is no nobleness of spirit, no generosity of soul about him-he is one who will never spare a foe, even when fallen-Væ victis is his motto. But the exaction levied by the tyranny is so monstrous, that it is like
Vaulting ambition which o'er-leaps itself
His prosecution of the Orange rioters was of this character. Insulting as they were daring, a noble and humane mind would have felt pleasure in discovering that no harshness of the law obliged it to send to the block unhappy men whose outrages, great as they were, were surely not of sufficient enormity to be expiated in blood. The noble Marquis, who was exposed to their insults, had seen too much of life and of dangerous services not to scorn them, and is too high-minded to have wished more than that proper and reasonable examples should have been made of them. This, however, was not enough for Mr. Plunket; he would not throw away a chance of the utmost possible exaction that might be levied. He completely lost sight of the vulgar word "discretion," and could not believe that, being opposed to a powerful party, it would be better to proceed by the middle and humane path of firmness and moderation; he must be aut Cæsar aut nullus.
The charge against Mr. O'Connel was taken from a newspaper violently opposed to him in politics,-it is presumed, on the oath of its reporter;-the other newspapers reported it differently. After arrest and bail, evidence was publicly beaten up for. This may be all strictly legal; indeed all things are legal with lawyers, unless contravened by the direct words of an act of parliament ;-but is there never impolicy, absurdity, or wickedness in acting upon this doctrine?
+ See vol. v. p. 98. New Monthly Magazine.
He conjured up before his own eyes, in consistency with professional fictions, the phantom of a king; and then, like the Catholic, worked himself to believe a "real presence." His shadowy monarch is assailed by ideal conspirators, and their phantasmic high treason he will have atoned for by substantial flesh and blood. Thank God, Mr. Plunket was defeated in his attempt to make a party riot and a wicked assault high treason: had he not been, could he ever have reposed again soundly upon his pillow? Perhaps he might; but then, too, he might have thanked Heaven, with the Pharisee, that he was not as other men!"
Mr. Plunket came into notice by his violent opposition of the union, and has been distinguished for the verbal support of a liberal course of acting towards Ireland. These have been the medium through which he has been known, where his eloquence in the Four Courts would never have availed him. What was Mr. O'Connel's seditious speech to many of his own? Not a tithe as violent; and yet he seems to have forgotten that they made him what he is. Now as he was never held to bail or censured for them, either his country has been retrograding in freedom ever since, or he has tried his best to make the world believe so. No one will compare the conduct of the present ministry towards Ireland with the oppressive measures once pursued towards it. Did Mr. Plunket never try back, look within, and consider this? His disdain for those popular feelings which raised him into notice is not singular; his guide is policy alone; he has no sympathy with the people. Yet his knowledge, out of his profession, would never have distinguished him, much less his learning. Destitute of imagination, in the poetical sense of the term, he has in consequence little or no sensibility" for another's pain ;" yet he may at the present moment have that which " the unfeeling" suffer for their own.
When a change in his Majesty's councils caused an alteration of the futile system which had been persevered in for centuries towards Ireland, it was hailed with pleasure by every good man. Lord Wellesley's experience in office, and zeal for the welfare of Ireland, were universally acknowledged. Whether he has done all he could do, those in cabinet secrets best know-we are of opinion that he has gone as far as he is allowed to go by persons in this country, who have kindred feelings with the "enjoying and revelling" few in Ireland. But there can be no doubt that much good has been effected by him, and the noble Marquis best knows what obstacles have lain in his way to impede the progress of more extensive benefits. The British cabinet, to aid the new policy still further, nominated Mr. Plunket as a coadjutor in the work of conciliation; and, considering how that gentleman then stood in public opinion, no one better could have been named. His professional rank, his avowed principles, his high character, gave lofty hopes which have been since doomed to disappointment. The assistance which Lord Wellesley have received from him, has not been adequate to the exigency of the time, nor aided the extension of the principle of conciliation. Mr. Plunket has gained no disciples, and added no strength to the new system. He is not naturally an inviting, conciliating man-he always wishes to bear down and carry his object by sheer force; he ever seeks to do too much he has no tact for governing men, nor, we should presume, much knowledge of human nature beyond its exhibition in law affairs.
VOL. IX. No. 50.-1825.
His impatient overbearance pushes him to extremes, even to a trespass on truth, as in his allusion to the state of the Irish clergy in parliament, of which, perhaps, he was hardly conscious at the moment. Like the true lawyer, he will get a verdict any how, and would carry measures out of court in the same way. But he has not the judgment to make his ambition successful; and it may now be doubted, if he had, whether his ambition would be virtue. His lack of the qualities necessary to one in his situation at the present moment is most astonishing in a man of his standing. Even if government had determined to let the Catholics see there was a limit they must not pass, and that they must check every intemperance, some ground of attack might have been chosen, or some fallible point been waited for, which might have served better than the present to indicate its temper.
In his manner of proceeding, besides the harmlessness of the sentence uttered in the present times, and the want of regard to the very freedom of speech itself, and his own lapses, Mr. Plunket did the business ungracefully. He overlooked the depth he must sink in general estimation if he failed, and disregarded all consequences if successful. He passed by the want of unison in his measures with the policy of ministers-he saw not the false conclusions which urged him to the measure, nor observed that it would be a fatal drawback from the talent and intellect he had hitherto the credit of possessing. It cannot surely be, that eloquence alone and a stiff bow now and then before the public, have hidden deficiencies which were little expected in such an individual. His friends made many excuses respecting the affair of the theatre, but it is impossible that a second error of the same kind can be medicined by friendship, or purged by recollections of former professions. Not only his judgment, but his conduct in past life, is rendered more than suspicious-" What trick, what device, what starting-hole" can he now "find out to hide from this open and apparent shame!" How can the sarcastic and ironical Mr. Plunket, at whom the bar looked with awe, bear the caustic smiles and cutting innuendoes of his enemies a second time—he who would "bestride the world like a Colossus." A jury of Orangemen was, it is said, impannelled to defeat his high-treason charge; in the second instance a jury, not one of which is of the faith of the party arraigned, and therefore, according to appearances, admirably selected to assure the AttorneyGeneral's triumph, (at least his party did not this time complain that they were all of one colour,) mortifies him by a second defeat.* This jury was discerning enough to see that, if they put down under pretext of sedition, what was not really so, the evil might one day recoil upon themselves-they acted from a conscientious conviction that it was a monstrous attempt upon the freedom of speech; and if so, they deserve the thanks of every party.
The conduct of the magistrate in calling himself upon Mr. O'Connel, to hold him to bail, proves that he thought him incapable of any very notorious offence; his conduct in so doing was honourable to him; but can the conduct of the prosecution be so characterised? No copy of
* Notwithstanding the result of both cases, we cannot see why Catholics and Protestants are not eligible alike. Why was not this looked to after Mr. Plunket's last defeat?