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THE title which I have prefixed to this volume strictly speaks what I intend it to be. No labored detail, no tedious narrative, no ambitious display of either fine writing or critical investigation, but the simple, and, in some measure, the self-drawn picture of a man who was a great ornament to the country in which it was his misfortune to be born. Before I proceed one step in my progress, the reader has a right to know what claim there is on his credulity, or what are the qualifications for the execution of such an undertaking. Early in life, I had been so accustomed to hear the name of Curran mentioned with admiration long before I could understand the reason, that I began to make his character an absolute article in my literary creed, and to hold it in a kind of traditional reverence. As the mind strengthened, an inquiry naturally arose into the causes of such enviable celebrity. The bon vivant referred me to his wit; the scholar to his eloquence; the patriot to his ardent and undeviating principle. The questions on which he had voted were connected with the best days of Ireland, and his vote was always on the side of his country; the causes which he had advocated were sometimes of the most personal, and sometimes of the most public interest, and in these his eloquence was without a parallel; while his innumerable pleasantries formed, as it were, the table currency of a people proverbially convivial. With such a complication of proofs, my judgment readily confirmed.
what my schoolboy faith had received his speeches became my manual, his name almost my adoration; and in a little poem,* composed while at the Temple, I gave him the rank which I thought he merited among the ornaments of his country. The subject of the poem gave it circulation, and either fame or friendship soon brought it to the notice of Mr. Curran. When I was called to the bar he was on the bench; and, not only bagless, but briefless, I was one day, with many an associate, taking the idle round of the hall of the Four Courts, when a common friend told me he was commissioned by the Master of the Rolls to invite me to dinner that day at the Priory, a little country villa about four miles from Dublin. Those who recollect their first introduction to a really great man, may easily comprehend my delight and my consternation. Hour after hour was counted as it passed, and, like a timid bride, I feared the one which was to make me happy. It came at last, the important five o'clock, the ne plus ultra of the guest who would not go dinnerless at Curran's. Never shall I forget my sensations when I caught the first glimpse of the little man through the vista of his avenue. There he was, as a thousand times afterward I saw him, in a dress which you would imagine he had borrowed from his tip-staff-his hands in his sides—his face almost parallel with the horizon-his under lip protruded, and the impatient step and the eternal attitude only varied by the pause during which his eye glanced from his guest to his watch, and from his watch reproachfully to his dining-room. It was an invincible peculiarity; one second after five o'clock, and he would not wait for the viceroy. The moment he perceived me, he took me by the hand, said he would not have any one introduce me, and with a manner which I often thought was charmed, at once banished every apprehension, and completely familiarized me at the Priory. I had often seen Curranoften heard of him-often read him-but no man ever knew any thing about him who did not see him at his own table
*The Emerald Isle.
with the few whom he selected. He was a little convivial deity! He soared in every region, and was at home in all; he touched every thing, and seemed as if he had created it; he mastered the human heart with the same ease that he did his violin. You wept, and you laughed, and you wondered; and the wonderful creature who made you do all at will never let it appear that he was more than your equal, and was quite willing, if you chose, to become your auditor. It is said of Swift that his rule was to allow a minute's pause after he had concluded, and then, if no person took up the conversation, he recommenced. Curran had no conversational rule whatever; he spoke from impulse; and he had the art so to draw you into a participation, that, though you felt an inferiority, it was quite a contented one. Indeed, nothing could exceed the urbanity of his demeanor. At the time I speak of he was turned of sixty, yet he was as playful as a child. The extremes of youth and age were met in him; he had the experience of the one and the simplicity of the other. At five o'clock we sat down to dinner, during which the host gave ample indications that it was one of his happy days. He had his moody ones: there was no one more uncertain. Joyous was my anticipation of a delightful evening. But, alas! what are the hopes of man? When the last dish had departed, Curran totally confounded me with a proposal, for which I was any thing but prepared-" Mr. Phillips, as this is the first of, I hope, your very many visits to the Priory, I may as well at once initiate you into the peculiarities of the place. You may observe, though the board is cleared, there are no preparations for a symposium: it all depends on you. My friends here generally prefer a walk after dinner. It is a sweet evening; but if you wish for wine, say so without ceremony." Even now can I see Curran's star-like eyes twinkling at the disappointment no doubt visible in mine. I had heard, and truly, that he was never more delightful than with half a dozen friends, after dinner, over his bottle. The hope in which I had so long reveled was realized at last-and
here came this infernal walk and the "sweet evening!" Oh, how I would have hailed a thunder-storm! But, to say the truth, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing, and the flowers were blooming and breathing so sweetly on that autumn eve, that, wondering not at the wish of my companions, I also voted for the "walk." Never was man so mystified. We took the walk, no doubt, but it was only to the drawing-room, where, over a dessert freshly culled from his gardens, and over wines for which his board was celebrated, we passed those hours which formed an era in my life. It was the commencement of that happy intercourse which gave this world a charm it ought, perhaps, never to possess. Yet, alas! that evening has its moral now. The tongue which chained its hours is in the dust; the joyous few who felt its spell have followed; and all are gone save the mourner who recalls it! There is, in fact, scarcely a page of these recollections which does not fill me with a sense of solitude.
"When I remember all
The friends, so linked together,
I've seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed."
From that day till the day of his death, I was his intimate and his associate. He had no party to which I was not invited, and, party or no party, I was always welcome. He even went so far as to offer me apartments in his town residence, in Stephen's Green. He was then Master of the Rolls. How often since that day has he run over to me, to its minutest incident, the history of his life; often would he describe his early prospects, his crosses and his successes, his friends and his enemies, and all the varieties of a checkered existenceover whose road, for every mile he passed, he had, like Burke,
to pay a toll to envy. Such is the claim which I have to be his biographer. I disclaim being an elaborate, but I hope to be a faithful one; withholding what was confidential, sketching what seemed peculiar or characteristic, writing chiefly from his own authority, and so far claiming to be authentic.
Mr. Curran was born at Newmarket, a small village in the county of Cork, on the 24th of July, 1750. His father, James Curran, seneschal of the manor, was possessed, besides the paltry revenue of the office, of a very moderate income. Strange as it may seem, their paternal ancestor came over to Ireland one of Cromwell's soldiers; and the most ardent patriot she ever saw owed his origin to her most merciless and cruel plunderer! Old James Curran's education was pretty much in the ratio of his income. Very different, however, in point of intellectual endowments, was the mother of my friend, whose maiden name, Philpot, he bore himself and preserved in his family. From his account, she must have been a very extraordinary woman. Humble in her station, she was of course uneducated; but nature amply compensated her for any fortuitous deficiencies in that respect. Witty and eloquent, she was the delight of her own circle, and the great chronicle and arbitress of her neighborhood. Her legends were the traditions of the "olden time," told with a burning tongue, and echoed by the heart of many a village Hampden. Her wit was the record of the rustic fireside; and the village lyric and the village jest received their alternate tinge from the truly national romance or humor of her character. Little Jacky, as he was then called, used to hang with ecstasy upon her accents he repeated her tales he re-echoed her jests — he caught her enthusiasm; and often afterward, when he was the delight of the senate and the ornament of the bar, did he boast with tears that any merit he had he owed to the tuition of that affectionate and gifted mother. Indeed, there can not be the least doubt that the character of the man is often molded from the accidental impression of the childhood; and he must have been but an inaccurate observer who did not