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Lord to name the persons he had alluded to. This he said he was ready to do if called on by members individually. Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Finn successively demanded if the imputation included them, and upon being answered that it did not, Mr. Sheil inquired whether he was one of those who were accused ? Lord Althorp replied the honourable gentleman is one." The sensation which followed this announcement may be readily conceived.
After a momentary pause, Mr. Sheil rose, and placing his arms across his breast, said with a slow and firm voice, “Having heard the statement which the noble Lord has just made to the House, I beg on the other hand to declare in the face of my country, and if I may do so without irreverence, in the presence of God, that if any individual has said to the noble Lord or to others, that I gave any approbation of the Coercion Bill in private, he has belied me by a gross and scandalous calumny; but as the noble Lord has put the statement on his own responsibility, I shall say no more.” A long and desultory discussion ensued, in the course of which the Speaker was called upon to interpose, in the name and with the authority of the House, to prevent any hostile proceedings taking place between Lord Althorp and
Mr. Sheil, in consequence of what had occurred; and as neither when called upon would give any assurance sufficient to satisfy such an apprehension, both were committed to the custody of the Sergeantat-Arms. After a short time, Mr. Stanley announced that he was authorized by his noble colleague to say that he submitted to the determination of the House, and that he pledged himself neither to send nor accept any hostile message. On the part of Mr. Sheil, Mr. Hume made a similar statement, and thus ended the strange and memorable scene.
It was clear, however, that the matter had gone too far to rest there. From the language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was doubtful how many of the members of the House were involved in the imputation; and one had been distinctly named. After some consultation, it was resolved by the Irish members that a committee of privileges should be moved for, with a view to the thorough investigation of the affair in all its bearings ; and Mr. O'Connell undertook to bring forward this motion on the 10th of February
While the accusation hung over him, the sufferings of Mr. Sheil were intense. His temperament, at all times too susceptible to the impressions of the hour, sunk
under the imputation of dishonour thus publicly cast upon him ; while his imagination conjured up with fearful vividness the whole train of consequences that must ensue from any partial failure of disproof or any qualification in the tone or tenour of the verdict of his judges. He had himself demanded investigation; he had selected the tribunal by whose sentence he would be content to abide. However high his confidence in his own rectitude, and in the public character of the men by whom that tribunal might be constituted, it was impossible for one so sensitive and so ambitious not to shudder at the thought, that between conflicting testimonies they might waver; and that in their wavering he must irretrievably be lost. Let those who have never been exposed to the affliction of an unjust charge, or to the trial of being day after day held up to the suspicion of the world, persuade themselves if they please, that in such a position their equanimity would not be disturbed. It must be a shallow soil in which, under such circumstances, honourable pain and manly grief would not rapidly take root and grow, like the gourd in the night, to overshadowing maturity. Mean pursuits and habits of thought may make men callous to ridicule or condemnation, as great advantages of social or political
station may sometimes render them insolently regardless of opinion; but the bitterness of the thoughts that crowded upon Sheil's passionate and not wholly unfeminine mind, was alleviated neither by the belief that in any case powerful partisans or connexions would be found to sustain him, nor by the reflections from which inferior natures derive their consolation, under the apprehension of being driven out of public life. For him political disgrace was ruin-ruin of all for which he had lived and striven from boyhood until now.
His habitual unreserve rendered it impossible for him to conceal the emotions by which he was agitated, however imprudent at such a moment their betrayal might be; and an incident occurred which, as detailed by one whom he ever after valued as his talents, accomplishments, and generous qualities deserved, may sufficiently illustrate the condition of his feelings, and the reckless candour with which he indulged in their avowal.
Mr. Fonblanque, with whom he had long been intimate, happened to enter the Athenæum Club, and hastily crossed the hall without perceiving that Sheil was standing alone near the fire. Hearing his name sharply called, he turned round, and encountered a look of mingled reproach and despondency too pain
fully explained by the exclamation—"Are you also going to cut me ?”
“Good God!” replied his friend, “how could you suppose me capable of slighting or neglecting you ? What can have induced you to conceive such an idea?”
“Because I fancy that every man I meet is anxious to avoid me; and I knew not whether you might not be disposed to go with the rest.”
Shocked by the ill-suppressed agitation of his tone and manner, Mr. Fonblanque drew him aside, and earnestly endeavoured to persuade him that he exaggerated greatly whatever symptoms of coldness or alienation he might have casually encountered. He expostulated with him on the imprudence of betraying anxieties which would be too readily ascribed, however wrongfully, to self-conviction; and tried to rally the sense of pride and moral courage which seemed to have been suddenly paralyzed within him. His utmost efforts for a considerable time were wholly fruitless, and he gladly availed himself of some excuse to seek for Mr. Charles Buller, with whom he almost immediately returned to their desponding friend. Hours passed away in animated discussion of all the various phases which the pending inquiry might assume, and the thousand possible and impos