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ART. VIII.-SIIEIL. 1. Memoirs of the Right Ilonourable Richard Lalor Sheil.

By W. Torrens M‘Cullagh. London : Colburn, 1855. 2. Sketches, Legal and Political, by the late Right Honourable

Richard Lalor Sheil. Edited, with Notes, by M. W. Savage, Esq. London : Colburn, 1855.

It is mournful to see the last of an ancient house; to think of the liopes and destinies that sleep for ever more in the family vault; to know that the career of adventure, mishap, success, ruin, and retrieval that have filled a thousand years with their memories, delighting and paining us even yet, have at length reached the term of all ambition and all existence and that what kings, parliaments and headsmen, the blood that has been spilled by the axe or corrupted by the lawwhat the fall of dynasties and uprooting of religions had suffered to continue, las fallen away and mouldered of itself. It is sad to witness the decay and extinction of an old nationality, whether crushed by the heel of violence or wasted in the embrace of corruption; and it is almost equally sorrowful to sce the cliaracter of a nation die out, though its geography survive-to look in vain for anything that gave it individuality or procured it interest, and to find that the old genius of the people, with its archetypal excellencies and anomalous defects, is without a home on the Earth. With a somewhat similar feeling of melancholy, we turn to the volumes before us—a memorial of the life and death of Richard Sheil, one who for all that appears upon the surface of society, was the last of Irish orators—the last of Irish dramatists, and perhaps the last specimen of what the Irish bar was once. It was reserved for him to close the brilliant series of orators and statesmen, who preserved and transmitted so faithfully the peculiar features of the national intellect, embellished but not changed, who were purely Irish without being purely ridiculous, and whose works are not only the pride of their particular country, but the classics of the tongue. Were we less disposed to selfcomplacency in Ireland than is commonly believed, it is impossible to overlook the fact that were it not for Ireland,

the Empire would have no one orator to take his place beside the great of antiquity, or to match in later times with Mirabeau, Berryer or Montalembert. It is a strange and seemingly unaccountable circumstance, that England proper, the nurse of statesmen and patriots, the theatre of struggles as exciting as ever put men's blood into commotion, with every condition of existence favourable to the growth of oratory, and with splendid trophies from every field of literature, should be indebted to a country so singularly miserable as Ireland for all her orators, for Burke, Grattan, Sheridan, Plunkett and Sheil. It is not through inadvertence or disrespect we pass over O'Connell-He resembled La Bridaine-No one can rightly understand his reputation that did not hear his voice and watch his eye-but amongst those whose oratory was of more substantial make, Sheil appears to have been the last representative of the Irish school, and with all its faults, those of Sheil included, we cannot but regret that it has ceased to exist, and that Irish oratory is only too respectable when it does not sink below the dead level of English mediocrity or break in froth upon English impassibility. The House of Commons, as constituted at any time for the last forty years, is capricious. not fastidious, and the countenance it gave to Sheil was the result, not of interest or feeling, but of curiosity. He was regarded in that assembly as a kind of oratorical pyrotechnist, not in the best sense which would make him an artist of “words that burn," but rather as a brilliant and lat. terly a harmless exhibitor of rockets, wheels and bouquets, which though bright and many-coloured, were but squibs

after all.

We cannot but think Sheil was by no means what he might have been. It would take us over a very wide field to speculate at large upon the secret of his failure so far as that failure extends, and in linking him on to the series of great names to which his unquestionably belongs, we are willing to forget his short comings in their merits and his own, but it is impossible to resist the conclusion, that he was capable of much greater things than he accomplished, and ought to have filled a far greater space in the eye of the public than he actually did. It does not appear that he ever quite realised his position, and though his individual efforts were so carefully elaborated, every thing was made up for parliamentary effect rather than enduring fame. Unlike Burke, he spoke for a success, and lived but upon cheers-his speeches resembled those moving panoramas so popular of late, which must be seen by gas light and set off by orchestral accompaniment. He required to have taken a middle course between O'Connell's and his own. The sincerity and heartiness which a vigorous though not violent participation in the struggles immediately subsequent to Emancipation must have given to his oratory, were greatly wanting to him. There was nothing to give strength to his vehemence or heat to his lustre. Right or wrong, there existed an almost universal persuasion that Sheil was not thoroughly in earnest, and we think his own conduct rather encouraged the belief. He made his election of official life too early. He forgot that he had not been rocked and dandled into statesmanship, and that he should fare hardly with those who had been, unless he made them feel that they overlooked him at their peril. Unfortunately he was satisfied to remain a convenience of the minister, to take some trifling advancement, just sufficient to save the principle that a Roman Catholic might be promoted, and instead of being a vessel of honour, to fill a place amongst the broken tea-things wisely kept for show. The fact is (to use his own expression) he had been too long used to the yoke, and never recovered his perpendicular; he continued to slouch and stoop when the pressure was removed ; his ambition did not teach him that whatever was nakedly possible might be converted into reality, and that within certain limits he ought to have the choice of his position.

It will be perceived we take the very lowest ground, and endeavour to ascertain what would have been the most judicious course for one who had regard to his own character and interest. We are quite willing to believe with Mr. M‘Cullagh that Sheil took higher ground himself, and that with no undue regard to personal interest, he had an attachment to his party as romantic as it was ill requited, and innocently connected the welfare of his country with the aggrandisement of his friends. What is most to be complained of in Sheil was an excess of humility, an ignorance of his own value, or an over estimate of the difficulties in his path. Indeed the modesty of his pretensions, or rather of the pretensions which he put forward on behalf of Roman Catholica generally, in his "Effects of Emancipation,” will account sufficiently for the well disciplined quietness with which he took up any subaltern position assigned to him. This was not quite judicious—what Sheil wanted in weight he ought to have made up in activity; he ought not to have kept so completely out of contact with this country, he should have condescended to ascertain the play of its pulse with his own touch; but he withdrew to a different atmosphere, and looking through a strange medium it is not surprising if his discernment was less faithful than it might have been. In such an assembly as the British Parliament, notwithstanding our boast of public opinion and public virtue, no man can reach the level of his own intellectual eminence, or secure a field for the exercise of his political abilities, unless, not having been born great, he has learned to make himself feared. It was not admiration of his eminent qualities, nor yet their poverty in what are called natural leaders, that compelled the protectionists to submit to the hardship of Mr. Disraeli. They accept him, not so much because they cannot do without him, but because he could afford to do without them, and on much the same principle as a prudent solicitor will often retain counsel, less to secure his services than to escape his opposition. Had Sheil been equally discerning, had he been as expert a tactician as he was an accomplished speaker, his place in the administration and his pedestal in history should have been far different from what one was and the other is.

There have appeared two works in connection with his name, by authors sufficiently well known to the public, the Memoirs by Mr. M'Callagh, and the Sketches, Legal and Historical, Sheil's own production, for whose appearance in their present form the public in both countries should feel greatly indebted to Mr. Savage. In both works we have a picture of times we had almost said happily gone by, but unless we mistake the symptoms of the public mind, it is to be feared we should be premature in saying so. At all events the great actors in those scenes, the men who breathed their spirit into the passions of the period, have passed from the earth. Sheil was second to O'Connell only, and in the estimate he has given of the characters of his confederates, but especially of his leader, he is in no one instance ungenerous or disparaging, and though more than once in opposition to the latter, he maintained the struggle without bitterness, and seemed to have remembered it without rancour; the homage he rendered to O'Connell was uniform, ungrudging, and must have been disinterested; he never allowed himself to sneer when a sneer could have been well paid, and his eulogy was warmest when the ear it could have gratified was closed for ever, and the support it might have conciliated lay scattered and demoralized.

Mr. M'Cullagh has done his own part well, and though the interest may have been allowed to languish occasionally, it must be borne in mind that the author had no choice of materials and no scope for imagination. The serenity, not to say the sluggishness, of the atmosphere in which Sheil chose to reside after he entered Parliament, though he hardly conld have been said to climb what he himself calls the frozen summits of society, was yet sufficient to deprive the latter portion of his life of the dramatic interest that attached to his earlier movements. · In truth it is greatly to be doubted if any of his efforts in Parliament, even those which have been entirely successful, at all equalled his early oratory; and this doubt is by no means confined to ourselves. After all it is by no means unnatural that a reader should follow with more lively sympathy struggles so animated and so various, as those which preceded the great measure of '29, than the less exciting because less truthful contests in Parliament, where honourable gentlemen, like ancient Pistol on the bridge, “speak as brave words as ever were uttered,” and do as dishonorable acts. There is no intention assuredly on our part to connect the name of Sheil with any of these dishonorable acts. On the contrary, we feel bound to express our own opinion, that his reputation, unlike that of some others, has come not only undamaged but rather mended, from the hands of a friendly biographer. And here precisely we are reminded of an episode in his parliamentary life which we had marked for extract. It bears upon those dishonest transactions that are more often imputed than brought home to public men, whose existence is felt rather than seen, which are matters of notoriety though seldom of proof, and from the imputation of which Sheil would seem to have been sufficiently vindicated by the proceedings detailed in the passage we quote, which include the report of the Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to investigate the charge, and Sheil's speech in reference to the report :

“ Your Committee, in entering on the delicate and embarrassing duty imposed upon them, ascertained from Mr. Hill, that though he could not admit the entire accuracy of the above paragraph as a report of what he had publicly spoken at Hull, he nevertheless recollected to

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