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But the talisman by which this influence can be exercised, was liable he well knew to be at any moment lost; and he anxiously desired to possess some permanent provision which would secure to him an honourable competence in failing health or declining years. And the senseless charge brought against him is this, that he preferred remaining in parliament with a right to hold a small and comparatively obscure office to gambling for the higher and uncertain prizes of the state, or sinking into silent and luxurious repose. The long struggle of his youth with niggard fortune, had left an indelible impress on his mind. “The high-born and opulent,” he would sometimes say, “are incapable of realizing the misery and humiliation to which a man of education and of feeling is exposed, when he has to gamble with his wits for the price of a dinner. But who that has passed through the ordeal can forget it? For myself I have never been able to get the chill of early poverty out of my bones."
He could not resist however the provocatives to mirth which the new and strange associations wherewith he was surrounded, daily presented ; and, as was his wont, he did not hesitate to fix the point of his joke upon himself, while he ascribed the humour to
another. When his appointment to Greenwich Hospital was attacked in the Opposition journals of the day, as being unsuitable, he insisted upon attributing to Mr. Fonblanque the ludicrous argument in its defence, “ that though not actually maimed, he was decidedly crippled by the gout, which was nearly as bad as any gun-shot wound, and might fairly be regarded as the next best qualification.”
Ministers and their antagonists in Parliament had alike grown weary of the fruitless conflict that had now for three years been maintained regarding legislative measures for Ireland. In the Commons a preponderance of opinion still prevailed in favour of assimilating corporate privileges in all parts of the kingdom, and of appropriating the surplus of Church revenues to secular objects. A greater preponderance of opinion in the Peers lay the other way. Unless some terms of compromise could be found, there seemed to be no chance of legislative progress, or of escape from the dilemma. The offers which had been thrown out by the Opposition leaders at the close of the preceding session, were construed by Lord Melbourne and his colleagues to signify their willingness to acquiesce in a Municipal Bill, provided the Tithe question were adjusted, without the condition an
nexed of “Appropriation.” The attainment of the former it was felt would be a great and immediate good, while the latter was at best but the assertion of a theoretic principle, the practical results of which no one could pretend were likely to become appreciable for some time. Ministers and their Irish supporters in Parliament concurred therefore, in desiring that the substantial benefit should be secured by the sacrifice of the shibboleth of their party. Some of the English Radicals indeed, demurred, and loud reproaches were cast by the Tories on their rivals for consenting to the terms they themselves had urged upon their acceptance. They even hoped to be able to bear away in triumph the flag which had thus been lowered; and on the 14th of May, Sir Thomas Acland moved that the resolutions of the 6th and 7th of April, 1835, pledging the House to “Appropriation,” should be rescinded. Lord John Russell at once declared that such a proceeding far exceeded the scope and tenour of the understanding to which he had been prepared to come, and that in a condition so humiliating he could never as a minister acquiesce. He avowed that in having been lured into proposing a bill for the settlement of tithes, without embodying the provision for which he had heretofore contended,
he had been outwitted; he would not upon that account swerve from the prudent, though somewhat painful course he deemed it his duty to take, but taught by experience, he should in future feel “that whenever his opponents made professions, he must consider those professions as snares; that whenever they made declarations, he should consider those declarations as stratagems, and intended to deceive.” The House rejected the proposition of Sir Thomas Acland, by 317 to 298; and the bill for the conversion of tithes into a rent charge, passed rapidly through both Houses.
But when the other portion of the compromise came to be considered, new difficulties and delays arose. The general right of Ireland to municipal selfgovernment was indeed no longer questioned; but Sir Robert Peel refused to assent to any lower franchise than that of a ten pound rated value, and in committee moved that such should be substituted for the five pound franchise named in the bill.
This was rejected by 286 to 266. But Lord Lyndhurst having induced the Lords to adopt the higher franchise, the Commons disagreed, and the bill was again lost.
Throughout these proceedings the name of Mr. Sheil frequently occurs. At first he was exceedingly
averse to the abandonment of the Appropriation clause, with which he felt himself to be one of those who were most identified in public estimation. But when reluctantly convinced of the futility of persevering in its reiteration in the then temper of the public mind in England, and of the policy of removing the sole pretext for the continued refusal of civic rights to the inhabitants of Irish towns, he entered cordially into the course agreed upon, and contributed by his personal exertions to prevent discord and divi. sion in the popular ranks.
Next session opened with a renewal of the struggle for Irish Municipal Reform. Rumours prevailed that among the Conservatives, several persons of independent judgment and station had begun to entertain misgivings as to the justice and expediency of the policy advocated by their chiefs, upon this and other questions affecting Ireland. Lord Eliot, Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Baring Wall, and several others no longer concealed their change of opinions, and voted for the unmutilated bill.
After he had held the Commissionership of Greenwich Hospital for nearly twelve months, an intimation was made to him from Sir Robert Peel, or rather perhaps from those who acted with the sanction of