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He continued to adhere to the habit of careful arrangement and verbal preparation of his speeches, and seldom was tempted by any unexpected opening in debate to deviate from his rule; but as he acquired confidence, and began to feel more at home in the House, he learned to interweave extempore replies and passing notices of previous speakers with the fabric of his argument. Many of these sudden interspersions, coming as they did naturally, and with obvious provocation, were peculiarly successful. He knew the additional hold which is thus to be acquired over the sympathies of an audience, and often sought to enlist them at the outset of a serious and elaborately-prepared address by a few sentences of
and almost conversational preface, having reference to what had gone immediately before in debate, but generally containing some lively repartee at the expense of an unguarded opponent, or playful repudiation of the untenable arguments put forward by some injudicious friend. In conversation with Lord Plunket, the subject of these interpolations
* Blackwood's Magazine, August, 1831. “Noctes Ambrosianæ," p. 411.
impromptu gave rise to more than one curious remark from that great master of the art. He cited in illustration one of Grattan's best replies, which could not possibly have been prepared. Sheil is represented by Moore,* who was present, as asking with some surprise “if Grattan could speak extempore ?” Moore must have strangely misapprehended the expression which, though cast in the form of interrogation, could not have been intended to imply any doubt of the fact alleged regarding Grattan. It had often indeed been said that some of those fine bursts of feeling and invective with which in Parliament and elsewhere Grattan was wont to startle his hearers, were the result of premeditation and not the offspring of passionate impulse. This was just the question upon which so keen an analyst would have wished to learn the opinion of one who had great opportunities of observing the practice, and listening to the familiar talk, of that remarkable man; or it is easy to imagine that the question was put in a way to draw from Lord Plunket an opinion upon a point equally subtle and unsettled-namely, whether Grattan was as effective in reply when wholly unprepared as the revised and re-written version of his
Diary, 6th April, 1832.
speeches given in print is calculated to lead one to suppose.* The rejoinder is not given by Moore; but Sheil was fond of recurring to the remarkable avowal of Lord Plunket, that he himself had never produced any great effect either in Parliament or at the bar, when he was not thoroughly and carefully prepared.
In July, 1831, he was admitted a member of Brookes' club, in which at the time there were but few of his country and persuasion. His unaffected and unassuming manner speedily rendered him a favourite. “He was," says one of his cotemporaries, “most desirous of learning the inmost social and political life of England. His appreciation and relish for good conversation were remarkable. He
Some years afterwards a curious illustration of what is above alluded to wus brought under Mr. Sheil's notice by the writer of these Memoirs. In the manuscript reports of the debates in the Irish House of Commons of 1782, the version given of the celebrated altercation between Flood and Grattan differs in many remarkable particulars from that in the published debates. The substance is indeed the same, but some harsh things are omitted in the latter, and not a few terse and trenchant expressions are likewise left out. What is still more interesting and striking is, that the logical arrangement of topics which marks the revised account, does not accurately correspond with that found in the manuscript, wherein the order is sometimes broken, palpably by the excitement and passion of the hour. Mr. Sheil was highly interested by this curious confirmation of the views he so strongly entertained regarding oratorical preparation.
was a sincere foe to mere conventionalities, and was above all disguises and false pretences of every kind. He was a good listener and an apt learner, rarely interposing, save with some keen and subtle observation, indicating quick perception and fine tact.”
The qualities here indicated contributed in no slight degree to the peculiar power which he possessed of rapidly collecting, condensing, and reproducing, in some new and characteristic form, the ideas imperfectly expressed by those with whom he was conversing, or partly expressed by one individual and partly by another. Floating and unconnected truths seemed to arrange themselves in his appropriative mind by some curious law of moral affinity or attraction; no remark, however passing or fragmentary, escaped him, as if the elements of thought derived from intercourse with other men had in his mind a peculiar tendency to crystallization there. It was this that called forth frequently the exclamation from the half-inarticulate talkers and cloudy thinkers whom he often encountered,—that what he had uttered in an antithesis or an epigram, was "just what they meant to say:"—the fact being that they had only caught a glimpse of the truth through a chink in the wall of their own dulness, and that but for some aid
like his, they never would have seen it clearly or known what it actually was like.
It must be admitted however, that the impressions which his conversation left on those who knew him well differed widely, as those regarding men of fluctuating temperament are apt to do. Perhaps the most general opinion is that which is expressed in a letter from one whose intimacy with him was early formed, and continued to the latest period: “Our intercourse was chiefly in the quiet social way, at the table of a mutual friend, at his own, or at mine, where the object was more enjoyment than any effort to shine. His lively tournure de phrase and joyous ringing laugh left little else on the mind than the recollection of a very agreeable evening; nor did we feel the want, nor expect the contribution of those gems of eloquence which perhaps he was then elaborating to challenge our admiration in a day or two after. Like Moore, and unlike Curran, no pearls were to be picked up at the table. At the Priory an editor might in a day gather as many as would spangle his leaders for a month. But Sheil and Moore were writers and had to husband resources which they might soon require for some public occasion. Sheil from the beginning was a public creature, and his ideas took an imme