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expectations ; and even the judgment of friendship will hardly be deemed erroneous in awarding him as many and as varied triumphs in debate, as any of his most gifted contemporaries. Sir Robert Peel is said to have declared, after listening to Lord Brougham's speech in 1836, in favour of the immediate abolition of negro apprenticeship, that “ he never knew before of what the English language was capable.” A critic no less eminent, Lord Plunket, when speaking of the comparative merits of celebrated speakers, said that “he had thought Curran had a greater choice of words than any man
he had ever listened to until he had heard Sheil."* No brilliancy or variety of diction, however, would probably have won such a tribute of praise from so severe a judge, had it been unsupported by a vigorous power of reasoning—the quality which, in its most transcendent degree, he himself possessed. Many were apt to think that the musical cadences and many-coloured forms of imagery, which at the instant gave so much delight, were incompatible with sober purpose and close argumentation. But those who analyze his best speeches will hardly fail to discern in them the marks of careful thought, and the presence of a well-considered aim.
Beneath the * Letter from Lord Oranmore, 8th December, 1853.
profuse decorations, glittering side-lights, and rapidly shifting scenes presented to the dazzled throng, there was always a firm and substantial scaffolding, fabricated for no temporary purpose, and fashioned with no ordi
The exuberance of his fancy sometimes tended, no doubt, to distract attention, where a less prodigal use of images and witticisms would have served rather to its concentration and direction. apt to be fascinated by a phrase, and he thought he might occasionally take so much of liberty with his reputation as to indulge in the utterance of a thought intrinsically just and fine, although not strictly capable of concatenation with the arguments preceding and following it. His appreciation of rhetoric rhythm was minute and intense almost to a fault. The happy expressions of others once heard by him were never forgotten; and when he had collected and arranged the materials of a speech, he would often spend hours ruminating over the forms of expressions, and changing and altering the position of the words in particular sentences before he had settled them to his liking. The day after he had delivered one of his most successful speeches in the House of Commons, he happened to
call on Mr. Macready, with whom he found their mutual friend, Mr. Wallis. Something was said about the triumph of the night before, and one passage in particular was referred to as fully accounting for the effect which seemed to have been produced on the occasion. “Ha, well—what do you conceive was the cause of its being so effective ?” One of his friends accounted for it by the novelty of the ideas and illustrations presented; the other said, on the contrary, he was convinced that the magic lay in the moral power exerted over men's minds by the justice and nobleness of the appeal to which it formed a climax. “Not a bit of it,” said Sheil; “ it was the prosody did it all; chop up the paragraph into other lengths, and give it with different cadences, and nobody would have thought anything of it.”
To say that his ambition as a statesman was as fully satisfied as his desire of oratoric fame, would be untrue. Lucrative office and titular distinction he did not care for. In the island grave, forgotten by all save him, were buried whatever hopes and vanities he had ever cherished, to which these could minister. Childless, and past the point “whence from the down-hill steep life seemed for him to be all limited," there were few honours or distinctions which for him
possessed any peculiar charm or enticement. But there was one-one which he had long looked forward to as his right, and the denial of which he regarded as a wrong. For a seat in the Cabinet he had refused to ask in 1846, and the circumstance of its not having been then offered him he doubtless ascribed less to any want of just appreciation on the part of Lord J. Russell, than to the weakness of his party, and the conflict of pretensions with which he was beset. Certain it is that he did not in any sense resent his exclusion at the time. He looked forward to the consolidation of the Liberal party in power, and naturally supposed that, though long deferred, his turn of recognition would come. But when four years had passed, and it came not, although during that interval others were admitted within the pale of administrative power, he felt that he was never likely to obtain the reward he had so richly earned, and it must not be concealed that with this conviction were associated feelings of bitterness and mortification. He well knew that had he belonged to the privileged class, or had he in early life been mean enough to have renounced what he himself once termed “the unprofitable errors of the Church of Rome,"* obstacles less insuperable would have
Speech in Catholic Association, 16th January, 1826.
been in his way; and that had he inherited a coronet or a fortune, either would have been generally recognised as a higher claim than genius, however indisputed, and fidelity to party, however consistent and sincere. His insight into character enabled him to discriminate between the dispositions of those with whom he had to deal, and he probably did justice to those who felt his exclusion to be undoubtedly a sacrifice to the prejudices of caste and of creed, although he certainly never knew precisely how the case stood, in which he was so deeply interested. But his sense of disappointment rarely betrayed itself even to those with whom he was most intimate, and his anxiety on account of his wife's health, during the spring of 1850, led him to wish for diplomatic employment abroad, for which he was ready to exchange the sinecure post in the Ministry, of which he had grown tired.
Towards the end of October, he received an intimation that the object of his wishes was about to be attained, and that he would shortly be named to a diplomatic appointment in Italy. The office of Minister at the Court of Tuscany had become vacant by the death of Sir George Hamilton; and although it was not certain that he would be named as his successor, he learned that he was to form a part of the