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handwriting of Edmund Burke. The purposes for which the "Club" existed are set forth in the Preamble to the Laws
A weekly Club instituted for the improvement of its members in the more refin'd, elegant, and usefull parts of Litterature, these seeming the most likely means for attaining the great end in view-the formation of our minds and manners for the functions of Civil Society, for Conversation and Emulation greatly facilitate and further such a design-nay such a design could not be carried on at all without them. Each may become Master of the Arts and Sciences in his closet, but the practice and the benefit and the use of them can only be known and had in Society.
There we have fair opportunities of correcting our taste, regulating and enriching our judgement, brightening our wit, and enlarging our knowledge and of being serviceable to others in the same things. For this purpose 'tis necessary we acquire an habit of expressing our thoughts in an easie genteel style and manner, with readiness, justness, force and proper grace. Language is the eye of Society. Without it we could very ill signify our wants for our own relief; and by no means communicate our knowledge for the amusement or amendment of our fellow creatures, and therefore without it the comforts of life could not be enjoyed.
The preamble, from which this extract is taken, though actually from the pen of Buck, bears internal evidence of being in no small degree inspired by Burke. The "Club" met on Tuesdays and Fridays and sat from five o'clock to nine p.m. "the absent censur'd, less sick." On Tuesdays an oration was spoken and a miscellaneous paper handed in by each member, and on Fridays "a speech out of some book must be spoken off with proper emphasis and action, and a written paper be given in on a given topic on morality."
It is not possible to say how long the "Club," or "Academy of Belles Lettres"-to give it its full title existed. The only extant Minute Book comes to an abrupt conclusion at the end of Trinity Term on Friday, 10th July, 1747. Up to that date all the proceedings had been most fully and carefully entered, but the manuscript précis of the speech of Buck which ends these first records is evidently left unfinished.
It is probable that the "Club" continued for some time, because an Historical Club was formed in Trinity College on the 24th October, 1753, for the cultivation of Historical knowledge, and four years later we read that a Committee sat to take into consideration a scheme for incorporating with the Old Historical Club, which however they did not think fit to do1. The Minute Book of the New Club, which brought down the proceedings to 24th October, 1757, was unfortunately lost during the
1 Cp. Auditorial Address of Robert Walsh, B.A., on the History of the College Historical Society, 1864.
exile of the College Historical Society from Trinity College from 1815 to 1843, and no record either of the "Club" founded by Burke, or the "Historical Club" of 1753, now remains, except the Minute Book of 1747. The tradition has, however, been handed down from generation to generation in the University of Dublin that the source of the College Historical Society was the debating club founded by Edmund Burke1.
This small manuscript which is the most precious possession of the College Historical Society has itself experienced the vicissitudes through which the Society passed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It probably shared the expulsion of the Society from Trinity College in 1794 and again in 18152. But it was back within the walls of the College in 1813, for in the front page of it appears the following entry in the writing of the famous and eccentric ViceProvost John Barrett, Senior Fellow, Trinity College, Dublin, into whose hands it had evidently fallen3.
1743. 19 April
Edmond Bourke-Pens-filius Johannis generosi, annum 16 agens-
JOHN BARRETT, Sen. Lect:
1 Prior, in his Life of Burke, mentions one Brennan and two or three more" as being members of the Club, the records of which he states he has seen, but if so his inspection must have been perfunctory. Brennan's name does not appear in the Minute Book. A quotation from the records of 5th June, 1747, is given by Prior. It is from the existing book and had been copied into Todd's Life of Milton, post p. 266. Brennan, as previously stated, was a member of the Correspondence “Club," but not of the "Club" the origin of the College Historical Society founded in 1747. Henry Rogers, in the biographical sketch attached to his edition of Burke's works (London, 1842), writes: "During his residence in the University he was in the habit of attending the meetings of the 'Historical Society' then first established. It consisted of the students of Trinity College and it was kept up with considerable spirit and numbered amongst its members many who afterwards ranked among the most celebrated men of Ireland."
"Between 1757 and 1770, the date from which the proceedings are known, all accounts fail. But it is clear from the speeches of the members in 1770 that the Club founded by Burke was regarded as the parent of this Association." Trinity College, Dublin, by W. MacNeile Dixon (College Histories), London, 1902.
See also The Book of Trinity College, Dublin, p. 253. Dublin, Hodges and Figgis,
2 The Cambridge Union Society was founded in this year 1815 and in two years it, like the College Historical Society, came under the displeasure of the University authorities; its debates were stopped from 1817 to 1821.
This entry was copied by Barrett from one of the College registers which is at fault in giving the Christian name of Burke's father as John. The 19th April was the date of the entry in the Senior Lecturer's books, not the date of Matriculation. See ante p. 21.
For an amusing account of "Jacky" Barrett, see the Dublin University Magazine, vol. xviii, p. 350. Tradition says that he never went outside the College Gate except once a year, to lodge his savings in the Bank of Ireland, unless compelled to do so
When the Society was expelled in 1815 a committee of seven was formed for the purpose of "resigning to the Provost and Senior Fellows the rooms used by the Society, and for securing the property of the Society until a favourable opportunity occurred for its revival." On its re-formation within the College precincts in 1843, Mr Lundy Foote, who had been Auditor in 1815, handed over to the Society its property which then remained in his possession, but this Minute Book was not amongst these effects. It had evidently been seen in 1804 by John Walker1, a distinguished Fellow of Trinity College, who furnished to the Rev. Henry Todd when writing his Life of Milton a full extract of the Minute of 5th June, 1747, which records the fact that Burke declaimed the speech of Molock and received the thanks of the Society. Todd's work was published in 18092.
Prior states in his fifth edition, p. 15 (1854), for the first time that he had seen the original records of the Club. The first edition of his Life of Edmund Burke was published in 1824 and the third in 1839. He does not state in whose custody the records were when he had access to them.
From 1823 to 1831 Walter Berwick, afterwards Judge of the Court of Bankruptcy in Ireland, was Treasurer of the Historical Society while it was compelled to meet outside the College. The Minute Book of 1747 came into his possession, and when in 1864 the Auditor, Robert Walsh, afterwards the Venerable Robert Walsh, D.D., Archdeacon of Dublin, was collecting materials for his Address on the History of the College Historical Society, he came across the manuscript in the library of Judge Berwick, who informed him that he had bought it for a few pence on the Quays3. Four years later Judge Berwick was killed in the accident to the Irish Mail on the London and North Western Railway at Abergele in North Wales. The book was probably dispersed with his library for it again disappeared. It was eventually discovered in 1877 among the dusty by circumstances of pressing importance, as for instance once when subpoenaed to Naas Assizes, or when he went to visit his skip lying in Hospital with a broken leg resulting from an accident which befell her when fetching her master's daily supply of milk. This last expedition was made by him to recover the halfpenny with which she had been entrusted for the purchase of this supply.
1 Fellow, 1791. Editor of Walker's Livy. He also edited Select Dialogues from Lucian, and prepared editions of other Classical authors. He edited an edition of Euclid. His Essays and Correspondence were published in London, 1838.
2 See post p. 266.
Sir Joseph Napier, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, made use of the manuscript which was then in the possession of Judge Berwick, for the purposes of an address he delivered in Dublin in 1862 before the Young Mens' Christian Association, and quoted passages from it.
shelves of a second-hand book shop on the Dublin Quays, and bought by the late Mr Walter Starkie, who was then Record Secretary, and restored by him to the College Historical Society, where at length it lies in its proper resting place among the records of the Society.
The Minute Book is in an excellent state of preservation. One hundred and ten pages of closely written manuscript testify to the zeal and ardour of that member who was the prime mover and driving power of the Society, Edmund Burke.
Of the seven members who, as far as the existing record goes, originally formed the "Club," it has only been possible to identify the names of three in the books of Trinity College, Dennis, Buck, and Burke. The names of the others, Mohun, Hamilton, Shackleton, and Ardesoif do not appear in the list of Graduates, nor have they been found up to the present in the Matriculation books of the College. But, as pointed out in the introduction to The Catalogue of Graduates of the University1, the registers during this period cannot be relied upon as complete. They were not kept with regularity, and both the entrance and the degree were often left unrecorded through the carelessness of the Tutors and other College authorities2.
With the exception of Burke none of these members of the Club ever rose to fame as public men. Of Mathew Mohun it has been impossible to find any trace. It is possible his name may be spelled Mahon in the College books where the name Mahon occurs frequently. His career in the Society was brief, for he was formally expelled on 18th May. Attempts to discover any facts concerning Joseph Hamilton or identify him among the many Hamiltons in Trinity have met with no better success. Richard Shackleton (his daughter tells us) attended lectures in College, learned Hebrew there, and took his degree, at that time a very unusual step for a Quaker3.
Andrew Buck entered Trinity College in 1741 as a Sizar. He was elected a Scholar in 1745, and took his B.A. degree in 1746, and D.D. in 1781. In the register there is this entry dated 20th January, 1746. "This day being the anniversary of the birth of the Prince of Wales-Sir Buck made a speech on the occasion." He was some years senior to Burke. He seems on the whole to have been an active member of the Club, in spite of the fact that he was continually incurring the displeasure of Burke, who regarded him as "almost a disaffected member." He was a man of marked ability as is shown by the pre2 See ante p. 76.
1 Dublin, Hodges and Smith, 1869, p. ix.
3 See ante p. 15.
amble and laws drawn up by him, and by several of his speeches. Portion of the Minute Book is in his handwriting. Buck took Holy Orders, and adopted the profession of a schoolmaster, in which he appears to have had a successful career, founding the Hibernian Academy in North King Street, Dublin. Amongst his assistants may be mentioned one man of distinction, Barry Yelverton, to become known later on in Irish history as Lord Avonmore, Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Beginning life in great poverty the future Chief Baron was glad to earn his livelihood by becoming an usher in Andrew Buck's school, a fact to which ungenerous reference was made in after years by his political opponents, as we know from these lines which were posted up in the Parliament House in Dublin about 1780:
To put an end to all dissention
Let needy Grattan have a pension,
Buck died in 1801, leaving three sons and one daughter. One of these sons, John Buck, became a Fellow of Trinity College in 1781, and Rector of Desertcrete and Clonoe, County Meath, in 1787. He died in 1842.
Abraham Ardesoif was the son of a Captain Abraham Ardesoif, an officer in the army who, on his death in 1744, left a widow and five children in poor circumstances2. Mrs Ardesoif died in 1746 and bequeathed any money she died possessed of to her three daughters, and but one shilling to her son, who "tho' as dear to me as any of my children is in a way of supporting himself, having provision made for him by the will of his late Grandfather, Mr John Plummer, of Athlone." Further facts concerning Ardesoif are not forthcoming. His conduct in the Club was "middling," as Burke describes it. We find him early in the proceedings directed to bring papers on "Love" and "Drunkeness" and an oration on "Stage Playing." He is frequently fined and censured for not complying with this order, and towards the end of the proceedings absents himself entirely from the Club.
1 Cp. Georgian Society's Publications, vol. III, p. 91. Napper Tandy was educated at Ballitore. He entered the school 4th May, 1749.
2 The following Gazette was published in Dublin, 11th April, 1744. "His Majesty has been pleased to make the following promotion in Colonel John Folliot's Regiment of Foot. Patrick Wemyss Esq. in the room of Abraham Ardesoif decd."
* This will is in the Public Record Office, Dublin. (Now destroyed.)