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LETTER

TO

WILLIAM SMITH, ESQ.,

ON THE SUBJECT OP

CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION.

JANUARY 29, 1795.

LETTER.

Y DEAR SIR, – Your letter is, to myself, infi.

nitely obliging: with regard to you, I can find no fault with it, except that of a tone of humility and disqualification, which neither your rank, nor the place you are in, nor the profession you belong to, nor your very extraordinary learning and talents, will in propriety demand or perhaps admit. These dispositions will be still less proper, if you should feel them in the extent your modesty leads you to express them. You have certainly given by far too strong a proof of self-diffidence by asking the opinion of a man circumstanced as I am, on the important subject of your letter. You are far more capable of forming just conceptions upon it than I can be. However, since you are pleased to command me to lay before you my thoughts, as materials upon which your better judgment may operate, I shall obey you, and submit them, with great deference, to your melioration or rejection.

But first permit me to put myself in the right. I owe you an answer to your former letter. It did not desire one, but it deserved it. If not for an answer, it called for an acknowledgment. It was a new favor; and, indeed, I should be worse than insensible,

• William Smith, Esq., to whom this Letter is addressed, was then a member of the Irish Parliament: he is now (1812) one of the Barons of the Court of Excheqaer in Ireland.

if I did not consider the honors you have heaped upon me with no sparing hand with becoming gratitude. But your letter arrived to me at a time when the closing of my long and last business in life, a business extremely complex, and full of difficulties and vexations of all sorts, occupied me in a manner which those who have not seen the interior as well as exterior of it cannot easily imagine. I confess that in the crisis of that rude conflict I neglected many things that well deserved my best attention, - none that deserved it better, or have caused me more regret in the neglect, than your letter. The instant that business was over, and the House had passed its judgment on the conduct of the managers, I lost no time to execute what for years I had resolved on: it was, to quit my public station, and to seek that tranquillity, in my very advanced age, to which, after a very tempestuous life, I thought myself entitled. But God has thought fit (and I unfeignedly acknowledge His justice) to dispose of things otherwise. So heavy a calamity has fallen upon me as to disable me for business and to disqualify me for repose. The existence I have I do not know that I can call life. Accordingly, I do not meddle with any one measure of government, though, for what reasons I know not, you seem to suppose me deeply in the secret of affairs. I only know, so far as your side of the water is concerned, that your present excellent Lord Lieutenant (the best man in every relation that I have ever been acquainted with) has perfectly pure intentions with regard to Ireland, and of course that he wishes cordially well to those who form the great mass of its inhabitants, and who, as they are well or ill managed, must form an important part of its

strength or weakness. If with regard to that great object he has carried over any ready-made system, I assure you it is perfectly unknown to me: I am very much retired from the world, and live in much ignorance. This, I hope, will form my humble apology, if I should err in the notions I entertain of the question which is soon to become the subject of your deliberations. At the same time accept it as an apology for my neglects.

You need make no apology for your attachment to the religious description you belong to. It proves (as in you it is sincere) your attachment to the great points in which the leading divisions are agreed, when the lesser, in which they differ, are so dear to you. I shall never call any religious opinions, which appear important to serious and pious minds, things of no consideration. Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference, which is, at least, half infidelity. As long as men hold charity and justice to be essential integral parts of religion, there can be little danger from a strong attachment to particular tenets in faith. This I am perfectly sure is your case; but I am not equally sure that either zeal for the tenets of faith, or the smallest degree of charity or justice, have much influenced the gentlemen who, under pretexts of zeal, have resisted the enfranchisement of their country. My dear son, who was a person of discernment, as well as clear and acute in his expressions, said, in a letter of his which I have seen, “that, in order to grace their cause, and to draw some respect to their persons, they pretend to be bigots.” But here, I take it, we have not much to do with the theological tenets on the one side of the question or the other. The point itself is prac

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