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The late Chief Justice Bushe thus described Shiel :
“His mind is one of the richest in poetry and eloquence that I ever met with. For the purpose of producing an effect upon a popular audience in Ireland, I consider him as standing in the very first rank. The rich poetical invectives with which his speeches abound, if versified, would be fine satirical poetry.”
Notwithstanding this well-deserved praise, Shiel was more adapted to a cultivated assembly than to a popular audience; and his great contemporary, O'Connell, whose physical superiority gave him great advantages, was much more effective as a popular orator. .
Charles Kendal Bushe, whom I have quoted, deservedly ranks amongst the most gifted of our orators. Lord Brougham speaks of him thus :
“He has not the condensed and vigorous demonstration of Plunkett, but we have an equal display of chastened abstinence, of absolute freedom from all the vices of the Irish school, with, perhaps, a more winning grace of diction ; and all who have witnessed it agree in ascribing the greatest power to a manner that none could resist. The utmost that partial criticism could do to find a fault, was to praise the suavity of the orator at the expense of his fire.”
John Kemble described Bushe as the greatest actor of his day off the stage.
But, in my humble judgment, no speech actually delivered, or prepared for a public assembly, by any orator, no matter how gifted, has equalled in its combination of everything that is calculated to attract and persuade-a work of fiction, but the production of a mind that for versatility of genius stands unrivalled. I allude to Shakespeare's speech of Mark Anthony over the dead body of Julius Cæsar. This is Fiction; but we must distinguish fiction from falschood. A speech was actually spoken by Mark Anthony on that occasion, and with the results described by Shakespeare. What was the actual language used on the occasion we know not; Shakespeare's brilliant imagination and knowledge of human nature supplies the omission of the historian. But we know that the result of Mark Anthony's discourse was to turn the whole tide of popular feeling from intense admiration of Brutus as the liberator of his country, to fierce denunciation of the same man. And yet the position of Brutus after the death of Cæsar, and the scene of the assassination itself, is well described as one of the most spirit-strirring that human imagination can produce. The poet Akenside considers it more exciting than the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. He says :“ Is there among the adamantine spheres Wheeling unshaken through the boundless void, Aught that with half such majesty can fill The human bosom, as when Brutus rose Refulgent from the stroke of Cæsar's fate Amid the crowd of patriots, and his arm Aloft extending like eternal Jove When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud On Tully's name, and shook his crimson sword Of Justice in his wrapt astonish'd eye, And bade the father of his country hail ! For lo, the tyrant prostrate in the dust, And Rome again is free.”
And yet the eloquence of Mark Anthony was the means of driving this hero into exile. This passage from Shakespeare to which I have referred, is given as an illustration in most of the collections of speeches used in instructing pupils in the art of elocution, and many of my hearers may think it unreasonable to be furnished with specimens that they have been familiar with from their school-days. But experience will teach us that many of the flowers that we cull in the sunny paths of youth, are unsurpassed in beauty by those we subsequently meet in our wanderings in after life. Just as the tourist who sets out from these islands on his first continental excursion will—if he has had the benefit of the advice of an experienced traveller of taste and education-make his first stop at the splendid old city of Rouen, where he will be amazed at the magnificence of the ecclesiastical architecture, and he will leave it with this feeling“If I find so many wonders near home, what may I expect to see as I advance ?” And yet few have found that the impression made on them by the Ducal City on the banks of the Seine, has been surpassed or equalled by any thing that they have seen in their subsequent travels.
The speech of Mark Anthony roused the passions of the Roman populace, and involved the nation in civil war.
It is lamentable to find the gift of Eloquence and the great power which accompanies it used for such purposes; and whilst Ireland can furnish numerous instances of great and gifted men, it is a subject for just national pride, that in the various periods of her exciting history, she has produced some statesmen whose honesty of purpose and sterling qualities of heart have won for them as much esteem and admiration as has been awarded to the most brilliant efforts of their eloquence, or the most triumphant results of their oratory.
We cannot judge calmly of the men of the present day, or of those who have passed away within a period comparatively recent; but a sufficient period has elapsed since the death of the Right Honourable Henry Grattan to justify me in closing my observations by adopting the eulogium passed on him by that remarkable man, the Reverend Sidney Smith :
“Great men hallow a whole nation, and lift up all who live in their time. What Irishman does not feel proud that he has lived in the days of Grattan? Who has not turned to him for comfort from the false friends and open enemies of Ireland ? who did not remember him in the days of its burnings, and wastings, and murders ? No government ever dismayed him ; the world could not bribe him ; he thought only of Ireland lived for no other object-dedicated to her his beautiful fancy, his elegant wit, his manly courage, and all the splendour of his astonishing eloquence. He was so born and so gifted that poetry, forensic skill, elegant literature, and all the highest attainments of human genius were within his reach ; but he thought the noblest occupation of a man was to make other men happy and free, and in that straight line he went on for fifty years, without one motive in his heart which he might not have laid open to the view of God and man. He is gone, but there is not a single day of his honest life of which every good Irishman would not be more proud than of the whole political existence of his countrymen—the annual deserters and betrayers of his native land.”
This is great but well-deserved praise, and the more to be appreciated as coming from so distinguished a man, and so honest a politician, as the celebrated Canon of St. Paul's.
May I be permitted, in conclusion, to express a hope that those who may be gifted with this wonderful power may be induced to use it, not for the purpose of personal aggrandizement, not for the furthering of private interests, but for the glorious privilege of honestly and sincerely promoting the peace and prosperity of our common country.