Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 45


In a former letter I have hinted, that I shortened my tour westward, on purpose to hear the debates in Parliament. But,


this being a very quiet session, I have had very little to say upon that subject. In the ordinary course of business, there are but few questions debated in this assembly, of sufficient importance to dignify eloquence. It is not enough, that speakers have fluency of speech, precision of intellect, and fertility of imagination; they must also have an argument, in some degree, commensurate to their abilities. The extent of the subject is apt to enlarge the powers of the speaker, and even stretch them beyond their natural limits. On the contrary, a narrow subject, though capable of ornament, refuses grandeur, and without sublimity, speaking is not oratory. Twopence a gallon, more or less, upon ale or spirits, can neither awaken ardour, nor rouse attention. The charter of a corporation is of more moment, yet a debate upon it can only animate those who are interested. Whereas a great national question will call forth all the energies of the speaker, and agitate every feeling of the hearer.

I have frequently attended the house, and had but once an opportunity of hearing any great exertions. This was upon the affair of supply, which naturally brought on the


question of the present state of the nation. And it was amazing, how differently that state was represented by the different parties. On one side of the house, it was held forth as the most flourishing of any country under heaven, and that nothing was wanting to make the people the most happy in the universe, but a contented resignation to the present measures of administration. On the other side, you might have heard it represented as the most injured nation on the earth, despised as an alien, insulted by pensions, oppressed by taxes, and fettered in commerce. So feelingly did Mr. Ogle paint the miseries of the common people, that their cries almost tingled in my ears.

Mr. Flood spoke, for the first time, on the opposite side of the question; but he confined himself to calculation, and affected rather to demonstrate than persuade. But there was no spark of that flame remaining, wherewith he is said to have set the galleries in a blaze, whenever he spoke — and when he was so mighty a favourite, that they preferred him to their Burkes, and their Barrés. It would, to be sure, have been extremely embarrassing for him, to have played the orator in behalf of measures,


which, for a series of years, he had employed every art of rhetoric to stamp with infamy.

Mr. H. H—n has a mellifluous voice, and pleasing elocution. His exordium gave me hopes of great matters, but his oratory is of that wordy, ostentations kind, which must sometimes disappoint your expectations. He is here called Prancer63 from some similitude they find in him to a horse in the manege, curvetting at the height of his mettle, without making any progress forward.

Mr. Scott, the solicitor-general, is the most powerful among the supporters of government. He does not affect making long speeches, though one of the ablest advocates of the bar; for declamation, in favour of court measures, is but ill heard in any country. His talent lies in promptitude of reply, in dilution of objections, and in turning the arguments of his adversaries against themselves.

Mr. Hussey Burgh is a first-rate speaker in the opposition, his expression is clear, his


language flowing, his action graceful, and his manner persuasive. Mr. Yelverton is vehement and forcible. But the greatest pleasure I received, was from a very young man, a Mr. Daly, whose sentiments were such as became a country gentleman, and whose manner was vastly engaging. He was clear, he was manly, he was copious. His invective against the Secretary was so keen, and so poignant, that Demosthenes, at his age, would not have been ashamed of it. He lifted up his voice, he said, in behalf of his oppressed country, which he had just heard represented in such an opulent condition. I who had so recently seen the scenes he so pathetically bewailed, could not help going along with him in every thing he said, that was not personal. Yet, what was advanced by the friends of administration, was in some degree true; the kingdom being certainly, upon the whole, in a progressive state of improvement. What must it then have been, if things are so much mended?

Among other good stories of a late member, Mr. Harwood, they tell you a reply he made to a speech of the late Dr. Andrews, a very eloquent and ingenious man; who


had been at some pains to collect all, that could speciously be said, in favour of the opulent state of the kingdom, its export of provisions from the south, of linen from the north, the magnificence of the capital, and the sumptuous entertainments everywhere given, &c. &c. The old barrister is represented as rising up slowly, and standing up for some time, shifting his cloak from shoulder to shoulder, without articulating a word but — Mr. Speaker — and at length measuring out, in teigueish accents, a laboured panegyric upon his honourable friend's powers of speech. He congratulated the house upon such a senator, the university upon such a president, and the kingdom upon such an advocate, who had proved it, all at once, to be so very rich, from being of late so very poor — ‘As to myself, says he, it would be the utmost ingratitude if I did not return the gentleman my particular thanks for the pleasure he made me feel during his very long, yet very short oration; for he persuaded me that every halfpenny in my pocket was turned into a guinea; nor am I convinced that the thing may not be so still; wherefore


let me examine.’ — Then pulling some money out of his pocket, he turned round to the house, and concluded with these words: — ‘Ah! no, my dear friends, I find I was deceived, for the halfpence are but halfpence still.’

There is, as you know, a volume of the speeches, delivered in one session only, collected by Sir James Caldwell; which certainly does credit to the recollection of that ingenious baronet; yet they do not allow here that it reflects any honour on the nation. For they say that justice is not done to any of the speakers, except those of the middle class; the third class being made to speak too well, but the first not well enough. We, however, thought that, upon the whole, it placed Irish oratory in a very favourable point of view.

It is, on all hands, agreed that the dignity of the long robe has always been supported here with great credit. The opinion of the Attorney-general is reckoned almost infallible; and they talk of old Malone as a prodigy, but he is now past seventy, and seldom speaks in the house, though his powers are not diminished at the bar.


The first-rate lawyers look down upon a seat on the bench. A seat in parliament is a sufficient passport to a puisny Judge's place; and till of late, all the chief Judges were English; now, administration rewards parliamentary services with those offices. The only English judge, at present, is the lord Chancellor, and he gives universal satisfaction. Business is almost entirely conducted by lawyers in the house of commons; and in the house of lords very little is done, but merely passing of bills.

It is remarked, that whatever fashion prevails in London, is generally followed in Dublin. No sooner were your medical wigs laid aside, than an attempt was made to do the like here. But in vain! the faculty were not yet ripe enough for this capital improvement in the practice of physic. A consultation of the whole college was held upon it, and it was carried by the authority of the seniors, rather than a majority of the fellows, in favour of the prescriptive honours of the head.

Old Malone has given another instance of the clearness of his head, by disencumbering


it of this load of barbarism. And a more venerable figure my eyes never beheld, than this great lawyer in his silver locks. But nobody durst follow his example, though he is the prince of his profession. The Irish judges, however, do not wear such immense volumes upon the breast as those of England. I am persuaded that such tortuous wreaths, of horse tails, and goats beards, do not inspire that reverence which they might once perhaps have done; they give the person rather a burlesque air, and take off from that venerable aspect which their natural locks gave to Coke and Verulam.

But let me not waste my paper, and your patience, with such trivial reflections which, however I may make them, I only give you as the last strokes of that sketch I have attempted of the present state of Ireland; which state reflects, as a mirror, the true spirit of its political constitution. And having now touched upon almost every subject worthy the attention of an Englishman, it is full time that we close our correspondence, which has been protracted


to an uncommon length; especially as the utilitas juvandi has all along been preferred to the gratiae placendi.

If rejecting the common sentimental aids, I have been sometimes dull, and often tedious, you are partly to blame, for you tell me I have made you see some things in a new light, and express a wish that I had said more even upon turf-bogs. Laudari a laudato viro is, you must confess, an animating consideration. I do not know how I may have communicated my ideas relative to this country, but I know they are very different from what they were when I saw you last; and I am persuaded, that in England we know less of Ireland, than of the more remote parts of the empire. We look upon it as a spot over-run with lakes and bogs, where nothing is worth notice but a Giant's-causeway, a Killarney, a Dargle, or a Salmon-leap. If such objects had fallen in my way, I should only have considered them as not unworthy observation: As a citizen of the world, altiora peto. I look upon Ireland as one of the most important political objects which an Englishman can behold, who at once wishes


the aggrandisement of the British empire, and the happiness of human nature at large. We frequently squander much blood and treasure in the extension of territory, while we neglect to improve, to the best advantage, that territory we possess; as individuals purchase new estates, without taking care to cultivate their old ones.

Farewell, my dear Watkinson, till I see you; and again farewell.