Page images

great act of his ministry-his first confession. He had scampered over the treatise on Penance the night before; and just at two o'clock he passed, with fear and trembling, to his confessional. He had said a short, tremulous prayer before the Blessed Sacrament; had cast a look of piteous appeal towards the Lady Altar, and with a thrill of fear and joy commingled, he slipped quietly past the row of penitents, and put on his surplice and stole. Then he reflected for a moment, and drew the slide. A voice from the dark recess, quavering with emotion, commenced the Confiteor in Irish. Luke started at the well-known words, and whispered Deo gratias. It was an ancient mariner, and the work was brief. But Luke recollected all the terrible things he had heard about dumb and statuesque confessors; and that poor Irishman got a longer lecture than he had heard for many a day.

"I must be a more outrageous sinner even than I thought," he said. "I never got such a ballyragging in my life before!"

Luke drew the slide at his left; and a voice, this time of a young girl, whispered hoarsely:

"I ain't goin' to confession, Feyther; but I 'eard as you wos from Hireland, and I kem to arsk assistance to tek me out of 'ell!"

[ocr errors]

"By all means, my child," said Luke, shivering, "if I can assist you in any way; but why do you say that you are not going to confession?"

"I ain't prepared, Feyther. I ain't been to confession since I left the convent school, five years are gone."

"And you 've been in London all this time?"

"Yaas, Feyther; I've been doin' bad altogether. It's 'ell, Feyther, and I want to git out o' 'ell!"

"Well, but how can I assist you?"

"Ev you gi' me my passage, Feyther, to Waterford, I'll beg the rest of the way to my huncle in the County Kilkenny. And so 'elp me God, Feyther-"

"Sh-h-h!" said Luke. A cold perspiration had broken out all over his body. It was the first time he was brought face to face with the dread embodiment of vice.

His next penitent was a tiny dot, with a calm, English face, and yellow ringlets running down almost to her feet. Her mother, dressed in black, took the child to the con

Here even

fessional door, bade her enter, and left her. the mother, in all other things inseparable from her child, must not accompany. The threshold of the confessional and the threshold of death are sacred to the soul and God. Unlike the Irish children, who jump up like jacks-in-thebox, and toss back the black hair from their eyes, and smile patronizingly on their friend, the confessor, as much as to say, "Of course you know me?" this child slowly and distinctly said the prayers, made her confession, and waited. Here Luke was in his element, and he lifted that soul up, up into the empyrean, by coaxing, gentle, burning words about our Lord, and His love, and all that was due to Him. The child passed out with the smile of an angel on her face. Wisha, yer reverence, how my heart warmed to you the moment I see you. Sure he 's from the ould counthry, I sez to meself. There's the red of Ireland in his cheeks, and the scint of the ould sod hanging around him. Wisha, thin, yer reverence, may I be bould to ask you what part of the ould land did ye come from?



Luke mentioned his natal place.

"I thought so. I knew ye weren't from the North or West. Wisha, now thin, yer reverence, I wondher did ye ever hear tell of a Mick Mulcahy, of Slievereene, in the County of Kerry, who wint North about thirty years ago?"

Luke regretted to say he had never heard of that distinguished rover.

"Because he was my third cousin by the mother's side, and I thought yer reverence might have hard of him-"

"I am hardly twenty-three yet," said Luke, gently, although he thought he was losing valuable time.

66 Wisha, God bless you; sure I ought to have seen it. I suppose I ought not to mintion it here, yer reverence, but this is an awful place. Betune furriners, and Frinchmen, and I-talians, and Jews, and haythens, who never hard the name of God or His Blessed Mother, 't is as much as we can do to save our poor sowls—"

"You ought to go back to Ireland,” said Luke.

"Ah! wisha, thin, 't is I'd fly in the mornin' across the say to that blessed and holy land; but sure, yer reverence, me little girl is married here, and I have to mind the childhre for her, whin she goes out to work, shoreing and washing to keep the bit in their mouths-'In the name av the

Father, and av the Son, and av the Holy Ghost. Amin-"

"Father," said a gentle voice, as Luke drew the other slide, "I am ever so grateful to you for your kindness to my little one. She's gone up to the Lady Altar; and I never saw her look half so happy before. You must have been very gentle with my dear child."

Luke's heart was swelling with all kinds of sweet emotions. Ah, yes! here, above all places, does the priest receive his reward. True, the glorious Mass has its own consolations, sweet and unutterable. So, too, has the Office, with its majestic poetry, lifting the soul above the vulgar trivialities of life, and introducing it to the company of the blessed. So, too, has the daily, hourly battle with vice the exhilaration of a noble conflict; but nowhere are human emotions stirred into such sweet and happy delight as when soul speaks to soul, and the bliss of forgiveness is almost merged in the ecstasy of emancipation, and the thrill of determination to be true to promise and grateful to God.



"It is curious," says Mr. Justin McCarthy in 'A History of Our Own Times,' "how little is now remembered of Sheil, whom so many wellqualified authorities declared to be a genuine orator." Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his novels, speaks of Sheil's eloquence in terms of the highest praise, and disparages Canning. It is but a short time since Mr. Gladstone selected Sheil as one of three remarkable illustrations of great success as a speaker achieved in spite of serious defects of voice and delivery; the other two examples being Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Newman. Mr. Gladstone described Sheil's voice as like nothing but the sound produced by "a tin kettle battered about from place to place," knocking first against one side and then against another. "In anybody else," Mr. Gladstone went on to say, "I would not, if it had been in my choice, like to have listened to that voice; but in him I would not have changed it, for it was part of a most remarkable whole, and nobody ever felt it painful while listening to it. He was a great orator, and an orator of much preparation, I believe, carried even to words, with a very vivid imagination and an enormous power of language and of strong feeling. There was a peculiar character, a sort of half wildness in his aspect and delivery; his whole figure, and his delivery and his voice and his matter were all in such perfect keeping with one another that they formed a great parliamentary picture; and although it is now thirty-five years since I heard Mr. Sheil, my recollection of him is just as vivid as if I had been listening to him to-day."

Richard Lalor Sheil was born Aug. 16, 1791, at Bellevue House, on the river Suir, a little below Waterford.

He received his early education from a French abbé. His father's wish was that he should study for the priesthood, and he was sent to the Jesuit College at Stonyhurst. He, however, decided on the bar as a profession, and in November, 1807, entered Trinity College, Dublin. Becoming a member of the College Historical Society, he took a prominent part in its debates. When only eighteen years of age he delivered his first speech in public at a meeting of the Catholic Association. He gained his degree of B.A. in 1811, and completed his studies for the bar at Lincoln's Inn. In 1813 he returned to Ireland and took a leading part in the work of the Catholic Association.

He now turned his attention to playwriting, and produced 'Adelaide, or The Emigrants,' 'The Apostate,' Bellamira,' Evadne Montoni,' 'The Fatal Dowry,' and 'The Huguenots.' Though they had every advantage, being produced at the best theaters with prominent actors and actresses in the casts, they never secured any abiding success. In the meantime he had married Miss O'Halloran, niece of the Master of the Rolls.

[ocr errors]


He realized for his dramatic writings a sum of about £2,000 ($10,000) and then in 1822 turned his attention to his profession once more, and set himself to work up the practice so long neglected. He continued to take an active part in the prevailing political agitation, and wrote a severe criticism on O'Connell, which drew forth a not very flattering retort; but all this was forgiven and forgotten when Sheil gave the laudatory portrait of the Agitator which appeared in the 'Sketches of the Irish Bar' he was then contributing to The New Monthly Magazine. In the same year (1822) Sheil sustained a great blow in the death of his wife, shortly after the birth of an only child. For some time after this calamity he continued to contribute to The New Monthly Magazine papers on the Irish bar, written in conjunction with W. H. Curran. The 'Sketches of the Irish Bar' were afterward collected and published. An accidental meeting of Mr. O'Connell with Mr. Sheil at the house of a common friend in 1822 led to the former antagonists becoming fast friends in the work of Catholic Emancipation. He hurried about from county to county, and the number and variety of his speeches almost equaled those of the great Agitator himself. To escape for a short time from the constant pressure and turmoil of public life he visited France in 1826. Here his friend, the Abbé Genoude, was so much struck with his description of the state of Ireland that he induced him to contribute to L'Etoile, a paper of which he was editor, a series of anonymous articles on the subject written in French.

In 1830 he received the silk gown, and the same year he adopted the name of Lalor, on the occasion of his second marriage, to the widow of Mr. Power of Gurteen, a lady who inherited large property in the County of Tipperary from her father, Mr. Lalor of Crenagh. Sheil now resolved to attempt to enter Parliament. After some disappointment and a defeat in contesting Louth, the Marquis of Anglesea offered him the seat for Milborne Port, which he accepted. His first speech in the House of Commons was made on the Reform Bill in March, 1831, and it produced a favorable impression.

At the next general election, in 1832, he was returned for the County of Tipperary, which he continued to represent in Parliament till 1841, when he became Member for Dungarvan. His wife's fortune rendering him entirely independent of his profession, he now retired from the bar and devoted himself exclusively to a political career. His speeches on 'Repeal of the Union,' in 1843, Turkish Treaties' in the same year, Orange Lodges' and the 'Church of Ireland' in 1839, the Corn Laws' in 1842, Vote by Ballot' in 1843, and Income Tax ' in 1845, were among his most important political utterances. In 1839 he was made Vice-President of the Board of Trade.


He opposed the movement for Repeal in 1840, but did so under the conviction that it could effect no good end, and that the House of Commons would not concede it. In 1841 he was appointed Judge Advocate-General, a more remunerative office than the one which he held in the Board of Trade.

With the beginning of the year 1844 the O'Connell trial came on. Sheil ably defended John O'Connell, son of the Liberator, and in his

« PreviousContinue »