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endured from the minister of religion or the statesman, a popular audience is seldom docile or teachable by such admonition; and from a stranger, if not an intruder, it could have only served to exasperate and inflame hostility.
“Let no man believe that I have come here in order that I might enter the lists of religious controversy, and engage with any of you
in a scholastic disputation. In the year 1828, the real presence does not afford any appropriate subject for debate, and it is not by the shades of a mystery that the rights of a British citizen ought to be determined. I do not know whether there are many here by whom I am regarded as an idolator because I conscientiously adhere to the faith of your forefathers, and profess the doctrine in which I was born and bred; but if I am so accounted by you, you ought not to inflict a civil deprivation upon
the accident of the cradle. You ought not to punish me for that for which I am not in reality to blame. If you do, you will make the misfortune of the Catholic the fault of the Protestant, and by inflicting a wrong upon my religion cast a discredit upon your own. I am not the worse subject of my king and the worse citizen of my country because I concur in the belief of the great majority of the Christian world."
Avoiding for the most part any expression that could wound or affront the popular self-love, he addressed himself to its susceptibilities, and endeavoured to link the claims of his class with the most venerable and august associations :
“Of the charges against the religion of Ireland, the annals of England afford the confutation. The body of your common law was
given by the Catholic Alfred. He gave you your judges, your magistrates, your high sheriffs (you, sir, hold your office, and have called this great assembly, by virtue of his institutions), your courts of justice, your elective system, and the great bulwark of your liberties, the trial by jury. When Englishmen peruse the chronicles of their glory, their hearts beat high with exultation, their emotions are profoundly stirred, and their souls are ardently expanded. Where is the English boy who reads the story of his great island, whose pulse does not beat at the name of Runnemede, and whose nature is not deeply thrilled at the contemplation of that great incident, when the mitred Langton, with his uplifted crosier, confronted the tyrant whose sceptre shook in his trembling hand, and extorted what
have 80 justly called the Great, and what I trust in God you
will have cause to designate as your everlasting Charter? It was by a Catholic pontiff that the foundation-stone in the temple of liberty was laid; and it was at the altars of that religion which you are accustomed to consider as the handmaid of oppression, that the architects of the constitution knelt down. Who conferred upon the people the right of self-taxation, and fixed, if he did not create, the representation of the people! The Catholic Edward the First; while in the reign of Edward the Third, perfection was given to the representative system, parliaments were annually called, and the statute against constructive treason was enacted. . . . False, I repeat it, with all the vehemence of indignant asseveration, utterly false, is the charge habitually preferred against the religion which Englishmen have laden with penalties, and have marked with degradation. I can bear with any other charge but this—to any other charge I can listen with endurance : tell me that I prostrate myself before a sculptured marble; tell me that to a canvas glowing with the imagery of Heaven I bend
faith is my perdition; and as you traverse the churchyards in which your forefathers are buried, pronounce upon those who have lain there for many hundred years a fearful and appalling sentence; yes, call what I regard as the
truth, not only an error, but a sin to which mercy shall not be extended; all this I will bear, to all this I will submit-nay, at all this I will but smile-but do not tell me that I am in heart and creed a slave : that my countrymen cannot brook. ... I have heard it said that the Catholic religion was a persecuting religion. It was ; and so was every other religion that was ever invested with authority. How easily I could retort on you the charge of persecution--remind you that the early reformers, who set up a claim to liberty of conscience for themselves, did not indulge others in a similar luxury-tell you that Calvin, having obtained a theological masterdom in Geneva, offered up the screams of Servetus to the God of mercy and of love; that even your own Cranmer, who was himself a martyr, had first inflicted what he afterwards suffered, and that this father of your Church, whose hand was indeed a guilty one, had, even in the reign of Edward the Sixth, accelerated the progress of heretics to immortality, and sent them through fire to heaven. . . . What is Ireland as you have made her ? The great mass of her population are alienated and dissociated from the State—the influence of the constituted and legitimate authorities is gone; a strange, anomalous, and unexampled kind of government has sprung up, and exercises a despotic sway; while the class inferior in numbers, but accustomed to authority, and infuriated at its loss, are thrown into formidable reaction—the most ferocious passions rage from one extremity of the country to the other. . . . Is this state of things to be permitted to continue ? It is only requisite to present the question in order that all men should answer—something must be done. What is to be done? Are you to re-enact the Penal Code ? It is easy for some visionary in oppression to imagine these things. . . . You shrink from the extirpation of a whole people, -even suppose that, with an impunity as ignominious as it would be sanguinary, that horrible crime could be effected. Then you must needs ask, what is to be done? In answering that question you will not dismiss from your recollection that the greatest statesmen who have for the
last fifty years directed your councils, and conducted the business of this mighty empire, concurred in the opinion, that, without a concession of the Catholic claims, nothing could be done for Ireland. . . . Burke, the foe to revolution-Fox, the asserter of popular right-Pitt, the prop of the prerogative, concurred. With reference to this great question, their minds met in a deep confluence. See to what a conclusion you must arrive when you denounce the advocates of Emancipation. Your anathema will take in one-half of Westminster Abbey ; and is not the very
dust into which the tongues and hearts of Pitt, and Burke, and Fox hare mouldered, better than the living hearts and tongues of those who have survived them? If you were to try the question by the authorities of the dead, and by those voices which may be said to issue from the grave, how would you decide ? If, instead of counting votes in St. Stephen's, you were to count the tombs in the mausoleum beside it, how would the division of the great departed stand? There would be a majority of sepulchres inscribed with immortal names upon our side.”
On his return to town in the evening he called on Mr. C. Redding, to whom he recounted, with much animation and pleasantry, the incidents of the day. He seemed to be neither fatigued nor chagrined by the reception he had met with; and, after dinner, agreed to commit to writing, in the form of a narrative, his recollections and impressions of the scene in which he had taken part. His friend desired to have the paper in time for insertion as an article in the forthcoming number of the New Monthly Magazine, with which he was then editorially connected. He set about his task forth with, and finished it with
out laying down his pen. It forms one of the most amusing chapters in the cotemporary history of the period. The personal sketches of the chief performers are life-like and truthful; and regarding himself not a word is said that could lead the most suspicious to guess who was the author.*
On the 3rd November, a public dinner was given to Mr. Sheil, at the London Tavern; Mr. William Smith, M.P. for Norwich, presided. Four hundred persons joined in the compliment. Among others were Thomas Campbell and Mr. W. J. Fox, the present member for Oldham, who repudiated, in terms of great earnestness, the idea that the Dissenters regarded their own emancipation as a bribe to sever them in sympathy from those who had so long been their fellow-exiles from the home of the constitution, He observed that “this was a meeting for the dissemination of the principles of religious liberty, and he would say that one of the first of those principles was, that no man should be harmed in his person, his property, or his prospects, because of his belief in a long creed, or a short creed, or in no creed at all. This was one of his, and he felt convinced of their
Recollections of the late Right Hon. R. L. Sheil, by Mr. Cyrus Redding. New Monthly Magazine, July, 1851.