Page images
PDF
EPUB

Observing in the course of his parochial duties, the deplorable, I had almost said the organized ige norance of the Irish peasantry__an ignorance whence all their crimes, and most of their sufferings originate ; observing also, that there was no publicly established literary institution to relieve them, save only to the charter-shools, which tendered learning to the shivering child, as a bounty upon apostacy to the faith of his fathers; he determined if possible to give them the lore of this world, without offering as a mortgage upon the inheritance of the next. He framed the prospectus of a school, for the education of five hundred children, and went to the metropolis to obtain subscriptions for the purpose.

I need not descant upon the great general advantage, or to this country the peculiarly patriotic consequences, which the success of such a plan must have produced. No

have all personally considered-no doubt, you have all personally experienced, that of all the blessings which it has pleased Providence to allow us to cultivate, there is not one which breathes a purer fragrance, or bears a heavenlier aspect than education. It is a companion which no misfortunes can depress, no clime destroy, no enemy alienate, no despotism enslave; at home a friend, abroad an introduction, in solitude a solace, in society an ornament, it chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once a grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave! a reasoning savage, vacillating between the dignity of an intelligence derived from God, and the de

doubt, you

gradation of passions participated with brutes; and in the accident of their alternate ascendancy shuddering at the terrors of an hereafter, or embracing the horrid hope of annihilation. What is this wondrous world of his residence?

A mighty maze, and all without a plan ;

a dark and desolate and dreary cavern, without wealth, or ornament or order. But light up within it the torch of knowledge, and how wondrous the transition! The seasons change, the atmosphere breathes, the landscape lives, earth unfolds its fruits, ocean rolls in its magnificence, the heavens display their constellated canopy, and the grand animated spectacle of nature rises revealed before him, its varieties regulated, and its mysteries resolved! The phenomena which bewilder, the prejudices which debase, the superstitions which enslave, vanish before education. Like the holy symbol which blazed upon the cloud before the hesitating Constantine, if man follow but its

precepts, purely, it will not only lead him to the victories of this world, but open the very portals of Omnipotence for his admission. over the monumental map of ancient grandeur, once, studded with the stars of empire, and the splendours of philosophy. What erected the little state of Athens into a powerful commonwealth, placing in her hand the sceptre of legislation, and wreathing round her brow the imperishable chaplet of literary fame: what extended Rome, the haunt of a banditti, into universal empire; what

Cast your eye

[ocr errors]

animated Sparta with that high unbending, adamantine courage, which conquered nature herself, and has fixed her in the sight of future ages, a model of public virtue, and a proverb of national independence? What but those wise public institutions which strengthened their minds with early application, informed their infancy with the principles of action, and sent them into the world, too vigilant to be deceived by its calms, and too vigorous to be shaken by its whirlwinds ? But surely, if there be a people in the world, to whom the blessings of education are peculiarly applicable, it is the Irish people. Lively, ardent, intelligent, and sensitive; nearly all their acts spring from impulse, and no matter how that impulse be given, it is immediately adopted, and the adoption and the execution are identified. It is this principle, if principle it can be called, which renders Ireland, alternately, the poorest and the proudest country in the world; now chaining her in the very abyss of crime, now lifting her to the very pinnacle of glory; which in the poor, proscribed, peasant Catholic, crowds the gaol and feeds the gibbet; which in the more fortunate, because more educated Protestant, leads victory a captive at her car, and holds echo mute at her eloquence ; making a national monopoly of fame, and, as it were, attempting to naturalize the achievements of the universe. In order that this libel may want no possible aggravation, the defendant published it when my client was absent on this work of

раtriotism; he published it when he was absent; he

[ocr errors]

Can you

published it when he was absent on a work of virtue ; and he published it on all the authority of his local knowledge, when that very local knowledge must have told him, that it was destitute of the shadow of a foundation. imagine more odious complication of all that is deliberate in malignity, and all that is depraved in crime? I promised, Gentlemen, that I would not harrow your hearts, by exposing all that agonizes mine, in the contemplation of individual suffering. There is, however, one subject connected with this trial, public in its nature, and universal in its interest, which imperiously calls for an exemplary verdict; I mean the liberty of the press-a theme which I approach with mingled sensations of awe, and agony, and admiration. Considering all that we too fatally have seen-all that, perhaps, too fearfully we may have cause to apprehend, I feel myself cling to that residuary safeguard, with an affection no temptations can seduce, with a suspicion no anodyne can lull, with a fortitude that peril but infuriates. In the direful retrospect of experimental despotism, and the hideous prospect of its possible re-animation, I clasp it with the desperation of a widowed female, who, in the desolation of her house, and the destruction of her household, hurries the last of her offspring through the flames, at once the relic of her joy, the depository of her wealth, and the remembrancer of her happiness. It is the duty of us all to guard strictly this inestimable privilegea privilege which can never be destroyed, saye by

the licentiousness of those who wilfully abuse it. No, IT IS NOT IN THE ARROGANCE OF POWER; NO, IT IS NOT IN THE ARTIFICES OF LAW; NO, IT IS NOT IN THE FATUITY OF PRINCES; NO, IT IS NOT IN THE VENALITY OF PARLIAMENTS, TO CRUSH THIS MIGHTY, THIS MAJESTIC PRIVILEGE: REVILED, IT WILL REMONSTRATE; MURDERED, IT WILL REVIVE; BURIED, 'IT WILL RE-ASCEND; THE VERY ATTEMPT AT ITS OPPRESSION WILL PROVE THE TRUTH OF ITS IMMORTALITY, AND THE ATOM THAT PRESUMED TO SPURN, WILL FADE AWAY BEFORE THE TRUMPET OF ITS RETRIBUTION! Man holds it on the same principle that he does his soul; the powers

of this world cannot prevail against it; it can only perish through its own depravity. What then shall be his fate, through whose instrumentality it is sacrificed ? Nay more, what shall be his fate, who, intrusted with the guardianship of its security, becomes the traitorous accessory to its ruin? Nay more, what shall be his fate, by whom its

powers

delegated for the public good, are converted into the calamities of private virtue ; against whom, industry denounced, merit undermined, morals calumniated, piety aspersed, all through the means confided for their protection, cry aloud for vengeance? What shall be his fate? Oh, I would hold such a monster, so protected, so sanctified, and so sinning, as I would some demon, who, going forth consecrated, in the name of the Deity, the book of life on his lips, and the dagger of death beneath his robe, awaits the sigh of piety, as the signal of plunder, and unveins the heart's blood of confiding adoration! Should not such a case as this require some palliation ? Is

« PreviousContinue »