« VorigeDoorgaan »
MEMOIR OF MR. SHEIL.
Mr. Sheil warmly and efficiently assisted in this contest (of which his own narrative appears in the second volume); and his speech at its close, eminently practical as well as eloquent, is entitled to rank among his happiest efforts.
In the October following, being in London, it was suggested that Mr. Sheil should speak in advocacy of the Catholic claims, at a great Anti-Catholic meeting of the freeholders of Kent. He was unable, from the opposition presented to himself and other liberals, to utter more than a single sentence. Having taken the precaution, however, to give a copy of his (intended) harangue to the editor of "the Sun" newspaper, it was published, the same day, as part of the proceedings, and made a great impression on the public mind. Mr. Sheil's own account of the Penenden Heath Meeting, as it was called from the locality where it was held, appears in the second volume.
The Roman Catholic Relief Bill, passed in 1829, was the natural consequence of the Clare Election. It opened a new and enlarged sphere of action to Mr. Sheil, who was now eligible to sit in Parliament. At this time he was only thirty-six years old, with a high reputation, great powers, and immense popularity. Through the influence of Lord Anglesey, he was elected for the borough of Milbourne Port, but he had previously been an unsuccessful candidate for the County of Louth in 1830, for which he was elected in 1831. He was returned for the County of Tipperary in 1832 and in 1835, without a contest, and, against a strong opposition, in 1837. Accepting office in 1838, he was again unsuccessfully opposed. From 1841 to 1850, he represented the small Irish borough of Dungarvan.
In Parliament, the position occupied by Mr. Sheil was immediate, unquestioned, and exalted. In fact, he took rank, at once, as one of the best orators in the House of Commons. He was far from being a ready debater-though some of his extempore replies were quick, reasoning, and acute-but his prepared speeches enchained attention, and won the applause even of his antagonists. He had the disadvantage of a small person, negligent attire, shrill voice, and vehement gesticulation; but these were all forgotten when he spoke, and his sin
gularly peculiar manner gave the appearance of impulse even to his most elaborated compositions. Words can not briefly describe the character of Sheil's rhetoric: it was aptly said, in the style of his own metaphors, "he thinks lightning."
Mr. Sheil was personally much liked by all parties in the Legislature. In 1834, when he was charged with having secretly and treacherously urged the Minister to carry an Irish Coercion Bill, which the liberal members were publicly opposing, it is doubtful whether his own party, or his opponents, were most rejoiced at his full acquittal.
After his entrance into parliamentary life, his bar-practice in Ireland was almost wholly neglected. In 1844, however, although he had himself avoided participation in the Repeal excitement, he reappeared in the Four Courts, at Dublin, at the State Trials, as advocate for John O'Connell, and delivered a most eloquent speech in his defence, the delivery of which occupied six hours. This closed his professional career.
From his entrance into Parliament, he rather sided with the Whig than the Irish party. In time he had his rewardhaving been successively a Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, Vice-President of the Board of Trade, Judge-Advocate General, and Master of the Mint, besides being a Queen's Counsel and Privy Counsellor. Of late years, his voice was seldom heard in the House. He seemed to think that his work was ended with Emancipation and the abolition of Tithes. He had declined into a mere placeman—realizing Moore's sarcasm :
"As bees on flowers alighting, cease their hum,
Curiously enough, Mr. Sheil's appointment under the Whigs, in 1846, to the office of Master of the Mint, broke up the Irish party which O'Connell long had led. On acceptance of office, it was requisite that he should go back to his constituents of Dungarvan, as a candidate for re-election. A strong and rising section of the Repealers urged that, as in 1828 with Vesey Fitzgerald, Mr. Sheil should be opposed, as member of a Government who would not grant "justice to Ireland," save on the strongest pressure from without. O'Connell would
MEMOIR OF MR. SHEIL.
not consent thus to oppose Sheil, having better hopes of the Whigs than his more youthful and eager associates. O'Connell allowed Sheil to be re-elected, without opposition, on the ground of his own reluctance to embarrass the Government. Certain resolutions, affirming this temporizing policy, were proposed by John O'Connell, and carried by a large majority in the Repeal Association. But the minority-more powerful in virtues, boldness, and talent, than in numbers-seceded from the Association, and formed what was called the "Young Ireland" party, resolved to achieve the independence of their country, even if it were to be battled for with arms as well as words. Most distinguished in this party were O'Brien, Mitchel, Meagher, and Martin, who soon after founded "The Irish Confederation," one principle of which was opposition to office seeking on the part of persons professing nationality. Soon after, O'Connell died. The Revolutions of 1848 came next, and that which was attempted in Ireland, with an unsurpassed purity and intensity of purpose, failed like all the rest.
In November, 1850, when Lord John Russell was attacking the Catholic religion, as consisting of "the mummeries of superstition," and was preparing to bring in his Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, the Embassy to Florence was offered to, and accepted by, Mr. Sheil, whose health was declining, and whose religious feelings must have been opposed, had he remained in England, to Lord John Russell's anti-Catholic measures.
To Florence, therefore, he proceeded, full of hope that the fine climate would renew his failing health, and looking on his appointment as a dignified close to his public career. The suicide of Mr. Power, son of Mr. Sheil's second wife (his first had been Miss O'Hallaran, niece of Sir William M'Mahon, Master of the Rolls in Ireland), gave him such a shock as to induce an attack of gout in the stomach, of which he died. His remains were conveyed to Ireland in a British ship-ofwar, and were interred at Long Orchard, four miles from Templemore, in the County of Tipperary.
Fain would I here have done more than thus briefly and rapidly record the leading events in Mr. Sheil's public life, but my space is necessarily limited. Perhaps I may have the oppor
tunity of doing him fuller justice in a future volume, in which I may attempt to give pen-portraits of politicians and authors, artists and polemics, lawyers and orators, whom I have known in Europe.
The publication of "Sketches of the Irish Bar" was commenced in 1822, in The New Monthly Magazine, a London periodical then conducted by Thomas Campbell, the poet. The idea originated with William Henry Curran, son and biographer of the great Irish orator and patriot, but the execution was Sheil's.
The first sketch, which appeared in August, 1822 (and perhaps one of the ablest, being analytic as well as rhetorical), was that of Plunket. The far-famed paper on. O'Connell, which is the best known of the series (having been repeatedly reprinted in Europe and America, and translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish), did not appear until July, 1823. It immediately attracted attention and applause; and, from that time, the Sketches of the Irish Bar" were eagerly looked for in The New Monthly, the reputation of which they mainly contributed to sustain. The last sketch was that of Leslie Foster, published in February and March, 1829.
A schoolboy, when the "Sketches" were commenced, (and, albeit a Protestant, entertaining a strong general impression that my countrymen, the Irish Catholics, were very harshly treated,) I eagerly perused such of them as were copied into an excellent journal, now no more, called The Cork Mercantile Chronicle. As I grew older, I could better appreciate their keen satire, their sharp antithesis, their close observation, their personal gossip, their liberal spirit, and their generous sentiment. At last, it was my own hap to become a member of the press, at an age when (I now feel) I should rather have been improving my own mind, than presumptuously attempting to instruct others.
In 1826, an enterprising bookseller in Cork resolved to make the experiment of trying whether Ireland, which eagerly received her literature from London and Edinburgh, could support a periodical of her own. He engaged the services of
MEMOIR OF MR. SHEIL.
some distinguished literati in the South of Ireland, and had no lack of younger contributors willing to write for "the honor and glory" of being in print. Among these were several who have since been distinguished. There was Callanan, author of the exquisite lyric called "Gougane Barra," whose rhythm flows along like the melodious rippling of a gently-murmuring rivulet; there was O'Meagher, author of a poem called "Zedechias," and now the efficient and able Paris correspondent of the London Times; there was O'Leary, who wrote the chanson à boire "Whiskey, drink divine!" so redolent of Innishowen; there was John Windele, now a zealous and rational antiquarian; there was the late John Augustus Shea, already distinguished among his fellows for poetic genius, flashing wit, classic eloquence, and social companionship; and, lingering far behind, as became the youngest and humblest, the writer of this notice completed the array of volunteer contributors.
It struck all of us that the periodical would at once achieve success, if Mr. Sheil could be induced to become a contributor. Mr. Bolster, the publisher, obtained an interview, and asked whether Mr. Sheil could write for him, and was gratified with an affirmative reply. As the conversation went on, Mr. Sheil mentioned several subjects on which he was willing to write. The publisher was charmed with the interest which the future contributor appeared to take in the periodical. At last came the business question: "How much per sheet do you mean to pay?" The somewhat hesitating reply was, that no payment was contemplated at first, but that, whenever any profits accrued, he might depend on being remunerated. Mr. Sheil shook his head and said, "I am afraid your terms will not suit me. However, as you have done me the compliment of wishing me to write for you, I must give you something. Instead of calling your periodical Bolster's Magazine of Ireland,' accept a more appropriate name for it, from me. Considering the place whence it is to issue, and the terms which you offer, let me suggest that you call it The CORK-SCREW.'"
My own personal acquaintance with Mr. Sheil was made in October, 1828, in London, on the evening of the Penenden Heath Meeting. His conversation-full of wit and humor,