O'CONNELL'S LEADERSHIP--1813 TO 1821.
While the Veto controversy was carried into the press and the Parliamentary debates, the extraordinary events of the last years of Napoleon's reign became of such extreme interest as to cast into the shade all questions of domestic policy. The Parliamentary fortunes of the Catholic question varied with the fortunes of the war, and the remoteness of external danger. Thus, in 1815, Sir Henry Parnell's motion for a committee was rejected by a majority of 228 to 147; in 1816, on Mr. Grattan's similar motion, the vote was 172 to 141; in 1817, Mr. Grattan was again defeated by 245 to 221; in this session an act exempting officers in the army and navy from forswearing Transubstantiation passed and became law. The internal condition of the Catholic body, both in England and Ireland, during all those years, was far from enviable. In England there were Cisalpine and Ultramontane factions; in Ireland, Vetoists and anti-Vetoists. The learned and amiable Charles Butler--among jurists, the ornament of his order, was fiercely opposed to the no less learned Dr. Milner, author of "The End of Controversy," and "Letters to a Prebendary." In Ireland, a very young barrister, who had hardly seen the second anniversary of his majority, electrified the aggregate meetings with a new Franco-Irish order of eloquence, naturally enough employed in the maintenance of Gallican ideas of church government. This was Richard Lalor Shiel, the author of two or three successful tragedies, and the man, next to O'Connell, who wielded the largest tribunitian power over the Irish populace during the whole of the subsequent agitation. Educated at Stoneyhurst, he imbibed from refugee professors French idioms and a French standard of taste, while, strangely enough, O'Connell, to whom he was at first opposed, and of whom he became afterwards the first lieutenant, educated in France by British refugees, acquired the cumbrous English style of the Douay Bible and the Rheims Testament. The contrast between the two men was every way extreme; physically, mentally, and politically; but it is pleasant to know that their differences never degenerated into distrust, envy or malice; that, in fact, Daniel O'Connell had throughout all his after life no more steadfast personal friend than Richard Lalor Shiel.
In the progress of the Catholic agitation, the next memorable incident was O'Connell's direct attack on the Prince Regent. That powerful personage, the de facto Sovereign of the realm, had long amused the Irish Catholics with promises and pledges of being favourable to their cause. At an aggregate meeting, in June, 1812, Mr. O'Connell maintained that there were four distinct pledges of this description in existence: 1. One given in 1806, through the Duke of Bedford, then Lord-Lieutenant, to induce the Catholics to withhold their petitions for a time. 2. Another given the same year in the Prince's name by Mr. Ponsonby, then Chancellor. 3. A pledge given to Lord Kenmare, in writing, when at Cheltenham. 4. A verbal pledge given to Lord Fingal, in the presence of Lords Clifford and Petre, and reduced to writing and signed by these three noblemen, soon after quitting the Prince's presence. Over the meeting at which this indictment was preferred, Lord Fingal presided, and the celebrated "witchery" resolutions, referring to the influence then exercised on the Prince by Lady Hertford, were proposed by his lordship's son, Lord Killeen. It may, therefore, be fairly assumed, that the existence of the fourth pledge was proved, the first and second were never denied, and as to the third--that given to Lord Kenmare--the only correction ever made was, that the Prince's message was delivered verbally, by his Private Secretary, Colonel McMahon, and not in writing. Lord Kenmare, who died in the autumn of 1812, could not be induced, from a motive of delicacy, to reduce his recollection of this message to writing, but he never denied that he had received it, and O'Connell, therefore, during the following years, always held the Prince accountable for this, as for his other promises. Much difference of opinion arose as to the wisdom of attacking a person in the position of the Prince; but O'Connell, fully persuaded of the utter worthlessness of the declarations made in that quarter, decided for himself that the bold course was the wise course. The effect already was various. The English Whigs, the Prince's early and constant friends, who had followed him to lengths that honour could hardly sanction, and who had experienced his hollow-heartedness when lately called to govern during his father's illness; they, of course, were not sorry to see him held up to odium in Ireland, as a dishonoured gentleman and a false friend. The Irish Whigs, of whom Lord Moira and Mr. Ponsonby were the leaders, and to whom Mr. Grattan might be said to be attached rather than to belong, saw the rupture with regret, but considered it inevitable. Among "the Prince's friends" the attacks upon him in the Dublin meetings were regarded as little short of treason; while by himself, it is well known the "witchery" resolutions of 1812 were neither forgotten nor forgiven.
The political position of the Holy See, at this period, was such as to induce and enable an indirect English influence to be exercised, through that channel, upon the Irish Catholic movement. Pope Pius VII., a prisoner in France, had delegated to several persons at Rome certain vicarious powers, to be exercised in his name, in case of necessity; of these, more than one had followed him into exile, so that the position of his representative devolved at length upon Monsignor Quarrantotti, who, early in 1814, addressed a rescript to Dr. Poynter, vicar-apostolic of the London district, commendatory of the Bill of 1813, including the Veto, and the Ecclesiastical Commission proposed by Canning and Castlereagh. Against these dangerous concessions, as they considered them, the Irish Catholics despatched their remonstrances to Rome, through the agency of the celebrated Wexford Franciscan, Father Richard Hayes; but this clergyman, having spoken with too great freedom, was arrested, and suffered several months' confinement in the Eternal City. A subsequent embassy of Dr. Murray, coadjutor to the Archbishop of Dublin, on behalf of his brother prelates, was attended with no greater advantage, though the envoy himself was more properly treated. On his return to Ireland, at a meeting held to hear his report, several strong resolutions were unanimously adopted, of which the spirit may be judged from the following--the concluding one of the series--"Though we sincerely venerate the supreme Pontiff as visible head of the Church, we do not conceive that our apprehensions for the safety of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland can or ought to be removed by any determination of His Holiness, adopted or intended to be adopted, not only without our concurrence, but in direct opposition to our repeated resolutions and the very energetic memorial presented on our behalf, and so ably supported by our Deputy, the Most Reverend Dr. Murray; who, in that quality, was more competent to inform His Holiness of the real state and interests of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland than any other with whom he is said to have consulted."
The resolutions were transmitted to Rome, signed by the two Archbishops present, by Dr. Everard, the coadjutor
of the Archbishop of Cashel, by Dr. Murray, the coadjutor
Killala, Killaloe, Kilmore, Ferns, Limerick, Elphin, Cork, Down and Conor, Ossory, Raphoe, Clogher, Dromore, Kildare and Leighlin, Ardagh, and the Warden of Galway. Dr. Murray, and Dr. Murphy, Bishop of Cork, were commissioned to carry this new remonstrance to Rome, and the greatest anxiety was felt for the result of their mission.
A strange result of this new embroglio in the Catholic cause was, that it put the people on the defensive for their religious liberties, not so much against England as against Home. The unlucky Italian Monsignor who had volunteered his sanction of the Veto, fared scarcely better at the popular gatherings than Lord Castlereagh, or Mr. Peel. "Monsieur Forty-eight," as he was nicknamed, in reference to some strange story of his ancestor taking his name from a lucky lottery ticket of that number, was declared to be no better than a common Orangeman, and if the bitter denunciations uttered against him, on the Liffey and the Shannon, had only been translated into Italian, the courtly Prelate must have been exceedingly amazed at the democratic fury of a Catholic population, as orthodox as himself, but much more jealous of State interference with things spiritual. The second order of the clergy were hardly behind the laity, in the fervour of their opposition to the rescript of 1814. Then--entire body, secular and regular, residing in and about Dublin, published a very strong protest against it, headed by Dr. Blake, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, in which it was denounced as "pregnant with mischief" and entirely "non-obligatory upon the Catholic Church in Ireland." The several ecclesiastical provinces followed up these declarations with a surprising unanimity, and although a Vetoistical address to His Holiness was despatched by the Cisalpine club in England, the Irish ideas of Church government triumphed at Rome. Drs. Murray and Milner were received with his habitual kindness by Pius VII.; the illustrious Cardinal Gonsalvi was appointed by the Pope to draw up an explanatory rescript, and Monsignor Quarrantotti was removed from his official position. The firmness manifested at that critical period by the Irish church has since been acknowledged with many encomiums by all the successors of Pope Pius VII.
The Irish government under the new Viceroy, Lord Whitworth (the former ambassador to Napoleon), conceiving that the time had come, in the summer of 1814, to suppress the Catholic Board, a proclamation forbidding his Majesty's subjects to attend future meetings of that body issued from Dublin Castle, on the 3rd of June. The leaders of the body, after consultation at Mr. O'Connell's residence, decided to bow to this proclamation and to meet no more as a Board; but this did not prevent them, in the following winter, from holding a new series of Aggregate meetings, far more formidable, in some respects, than the deliberative meetings which had been suppressed. In the vigorous and somewhat aggressive tone taken at these meetings, Lord Fingal, the chief of the Catholic peerage, did not concur, and he accordingly withdrew for some years from the agitation, Mr. Shiel, the Bellews, Mr. Ball, Mr. Wyse of Waterford, and a few others, following his example. With O'Connell remained the O'Conor Don, Messrs. Finlay and Lidwell (Protestants), Purcell O'Gorman, and other popular persons. But the cause sustained a heavy blow in the temporary retirement of Lord Fingal and his friends, and an attempt to form a "Catholic Association," in 1815, without their co-operation, signally failed.
During the next five years, the fortunes of the great Irish question fluctuated with the exigencies of Imperial parties. The second American war had closed, if not gloriously, at least without considerable loss to England; Napoleon had exchanged Elba for St. Helena: Wellington was the Achilles of the Empire, and Castlereagh its Ulysses. Yet it was not in the nature of those free Islanders, the danger and pressure of foreign war removed, to remain always indifferent to the two great questions of domestic policy--Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform. In the session of 1816, a motion of Sir John Newport's to inquire into the state of Ireland, was successfully resisted by Sir Robert Peel, but the condition and state of public feeling in England could not be as well ignored by a Parliament sitting in London. In returning from the opening of the Houses in January, 1817, the Regent was hooted in the street, and his carriage riddled with stones. A reward of 1,000 pounds, issued for the apprehension of the ringleaders, only gave additional eclat to the fact, without leading to the apprehension of the assailants.
The personal unpopularity of the Regent seems to have increased, in proportion as death removed from him all those who stood nearest to the throne. In November, 1817, his oldest child, the Princess Charlotte, married to Leopold, since King of Belgium, died in childbed; in 1818, the aged Queen Charlotte died; in January, 1820, the old King, in the eighty-second year of his age, departed this life. Immediately afterwards the former Princess of Wales, long separated from her profligate husband, returned from the Continent to claim her rightful position as Queen Consort. The disgraceful accusations brought against her, the trial before the House of Lords which followed, the courage and eloquence of her counsel, Brougham and Denman, the eagerness with which the people made her cause their own, are all well remembered events, and all beside the purpose of this history. The unfortunate lady died after a short illness, on the 7th of August, 1821; the same month in which Ms Majesty--George IV. --departed on that Irish journey, so satirized in the undying verse of Moore and Byron.
Two other deaths, far more affecting than any among the mortalities of royalty, marked the period at which we have arrived. These were the death of Curran in 1817, and the death of Grattan, in 1820.
Curran, after his failure to be returned for Newry, in 1812, had never again attempted public life. He remained in his office of Master of the Rolls, but his health began to fail sensibly. During the summers of 1816 and '17, he sought for recreation in Scotland, England and France, but the charm which travel could not give--the charm of a cheerful spirit--was wanting. In October, 1817, his friend, Charles Phillips, was suddenly called to his bed-side at Brompton, near London, and found him with one side of his face and body paralyzed cold. "And this was all," says his friend, "that remained of Curran--the light of society--the glory of the forum-- the Fabricius of the senate--the idol of his country." Yes! even to less than this, was he soon to sink. On the evening of the 14th of October, he expired, in the 68th year of his age, leaving a public reputation as free from blemish as ever did any man who had acted a leading part, in times like those through which he had passed. He was interred in London, but twenty years afterwards, the committee of the Glasnevin Cemetery, near Dublin, obtained permission of his representatives to remove his ashes to their grounds, where they now finally repose. A tomb modelled from the tomb of Scipio covers the grave, bearing the simple but sufficient inscription--CURRAN. Thus was fulfilled the words he had uttered long before--"The last duties will be paid by that country on which they are devolved; nor will it be for charity that a little earth will be given to my bones. Tenderly will those duties be paid, as the debt of well-earned affection, and of gratitude not ashamed of her tears."
Grattan's last days were characteristic of his whole life. As the session of 1820 progressed, though suffering from his last struggle with disease, he was stirred by an irresistible desire to make his way to London, and present once more the petition of the Catholics. Since the defeat of his Relief Bill of 1813, there had been some estrangement between him and the more advanced section of the agitators, headed by O'Connell. This he was anxious, perhaps, to heal or to overcome. He thought, moreover, that even if he should die in the effort, it would be, as he said himself, "a good end." Amid--
he consulted with the Catholic delegates early in May. O'Connell was the spokesman, and the scene may yet be rendered immortal by some great national artist. All present felt that the aged patriot was dying, but still he would go once more to London, to fall, as he said, "at his post." In leaving Ireland he gave to his oldest friends directions for his funeral--that he might be buried in the little churchyard of Moyanna, on the estate the people gave him in 1782! He reached London, by slow stages, at the end of May, and proposed to be in his place in the House on the 4th of June. But this gratification was not permitted him: on the morning of the 4th, at six o'clock, he called his son to his bed-side, and ordered him to bring him a paper containing his last political opinions. "Add to it," he said, with all his old love of antithesis, "that I die with a love of liberty in my heart, and this declaration in favour of my country, in my hand."
So worthily ended the mortal career of Henry Grattan. He was interred by the side of his old friend, Charles James Pox, in Westminster Abbey; the mourners included the highest imperial statesmen, and the Catholic orphan children; his eulogium was pronounced in the House of Commons by William Conyngham Plunkett, and in the Irish capital by Daniel O'Connell.