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which, when alone or among intimates, he constantly owned his inability to escape. To disappointment was added the sense of ingratitude and injustice; and his child-like delight may therefore be conceived when a communication was made to him early in the year that Lord Anglesea was willing that he should be returned for Milborne Port, a borough in Dorsetshire, one of the seats for which belonged to the Marquis. Disgusted with the manner in which he had been defeated in Louth, and at the little concern which his exclusion from Parliament seemed to create beyond the circle of his personal friends, he readily embraced the offer. Arrangements for the purpose were easily made, and on the 25th of February a new writ was moved for in the room of Mr. G. S. Byng, who had been appointed Comptroller of the Household of the LordLieutenant of Ireland. In the course of the following week the ceremony
of his nomination and return was duly performed; and on the 8th of March he took the oaths and his seat as a member of the House of Com
The long day-dream of his youth and manhood was at length fulfilled. This was for him Catholic Emancipation.
Nor was it long before he mingled in the wordy fray. His maiden speech was delivered on the 21st
of March upon the second reading of the Reform Bill, As may be supposed it had been prepared with no little care. A few days previously he had gone over the topics on which he meant to dwell, in conversation with Mr. W. H. Curran and Mr. Wallis. The latter had long made the tone and temper of the House of Commons his peculiar study, and was no incompetent judge of what was likely to suit the taste of that assembly. He approved of the design and most of the details of the contemplated address, but deprecated the introduction of one passage, which Sheil imagined would have been well calculated for humorous effect: “ The Opposition say that those who sit for close boroughs upon our side are actuated by selfish motives; but as one of the members who happen to sit for boroughs that are to be disfranchised, I can repudiate the charge, for I feel like the apprentice depicted by Hogarth as busily engaged in sawing away the beam of the obnoxious sign on which he is astride.” To this his friend strongly objected. “Whatever you do, beware of setting the House laughing at you, or associating with yourself any ludicrous image: they are well enough disposed to do that without your inviting them; make them laugh at anybody else you like, but take care of raising a titter
or a jest at your own expense.” The advice thus given was not thrown away.
A debate of seven nights, on the motion for leave to introduce the measure, had deprived his subject of some of its freshness, but the interests at stake were so great and varied, that public attention rather increased in wakefulness as the memorable struggle went on; and within the House no little curiosity was felt to hear the first efforts of the man who, next to O'Connell, had for several years occupied the most prominent place in Irish affairs. He followed Sir R. Vyvyan, one of the members for Cornwall, who had moved the rejection of the bill.
“ The honourable baronet who had preceded him had passed in rapid transition from India to Athens and thence to Italy, in reference to this question, and had then proceeded to animadvert on the French revolution. He had taken a most discursive view. He had embraced Ireland, India, Venice, and the whole empire of France in his comprehensive disquisition. Was it not wonderful that he should not have said one word of Cornwall? He (Mr. Sheil) expected that the honourable baronet, having peculiar opportunities of knowing the advantages of the close borough system, would have illustrated them by some peculiarly felicitous inferences. He could only account for his entire omission of this almost personal topic by supposing that, placed at a great political elevation, from which an immense horizon was opened upon him, he did not see the petty objects beneath. . . . It was said that the country prospered, that the machine worked well; that England with that fiscal prodigy, a debt of 800,000,0001. on her
back, still stood erect and firm; that the expenditure of countless treasure, and the spendthrift prodigality of her life-blood, were not too large a price for freedom; that whatever might have befallen she might proudly contrast her condition with that of the continent, and survey the mighty labour of other nations who were tempest-tossed in revolutionary agitation, with a pleasurable consciousness of her own security. To all this he answered, that there existed within herself a settled and general discontent which was derived from causes of a permanent nature, and which instead of being the mere ebullition of transitory passion, flowed out of a deep and constant source. It was idle to say that it had not long existed because it had only recently appeared. The sudden force with which it had burst forth was a proof that the materials of eruption had been long accumulating. It was equally nugatory to say that the press had done all this. Would the press relinquish its natural vocation? And was it not much wiser, instead of wrangling against its influence, to consider those materials in the shape of abuses upon which it exerted its powerful operation ? Was the discontent well founded? That was the main question, almost the only one. Were all the evils of which the press and the people complained merely imaginary ? Had they no existence except in the distempered fancy of political hypochondriacs ? Or was there a gangrene that could be felt and touched, and that was visibly and palpably eating its way into the vitals of the State ? He would abstain from going over the beaten track in which so many had gone before him, and from expatiating upon the
abuses of the present representative system in detail. This single broad fact was, in his mind, sufficient to call forth the national repudiation of the House of Commons
s—a few great proprietors of boroughs were enabled to control the minister, and by their oligarchical coalition to dictate to their Sovereign, and to lord it over the people. That such a system should exist was a great calamity in itself; but the evil was heightened by many sordid accompaniments. Seats in Parliament were made the subject of
bargain and sale ; and an almost open mart, a common staple, a Parliamentary bazaar, was established for the vendition of the franchises of the people. A Sultana on her marriage had usually one province awarded to her for her necklace, another for her bracelets, and a third for her girdle: under the system of Parliamentary proprietorship, it would be no matter of surprise to see a lady of fashion receiving Old Sarum for pin-money and Gatton for her dower. The people thought it a perfect mockery to call this a national representation; and instead of seeing in members of Parliament mirrors of the public mind, they beheld in them pocket-glasses in which the images of a few great nominators were faithfully reflected. By these means the moral as well as the political interests of the country were affected. When lords transmuted their influence in Parliament into money, by what an easy process of imitative alchemy the humbler voter could convert his miserable suffrage into gold. How could we condemn bribery in the one when we gave it a countenance in the other? Was the grossness of the prostitution palliated by the largeness of its wages ? There were statutes indeed against it: so much the worse. Hypocrisy was superadded to corruption when the law occasionally immolated some incautious offender who committed a petty larceny of the people's rights, and whose guilt, upon the principles of Spartan morality, was not determined by the delinquency of the theft, but the folly of the detection. And was it to be wondered at that a nation who prized virtue as well as freedom should feel indignant, and even exasperated, at these misdoings ? Was it matter of surprise that there should exist through the empire but one feeling of reprobation at this flagitious traffic? But gross, nay monstrous, as these abuses were, there were men who found advantages in their existence, and whom these deformities in the constitution inspired with
Among his friends the éclat of this first speech in
• Hansard, 1831. Vol. iii., p. 646.