14 APRIL 1855, Page 15



RICHARD LeLoit SHE was a political adventurer, ,of the elm which Dryden described as

" haranguers of the throng, That sought to get preferment by the tongue." Sheil had not the independent fortune which dooms a man to idle- ness or worse, if he does not take a part in public affairs, as in this country public opinion almost expects of him. He was not at the head of any particular " interest," which requires representa- tion in Parliament, and considers it a sort of duty for its chiefs to be there,—as Alexander Baring Lord Ashburton, or many railway men. Though a lawyer, he did not make his way through law to polities, as was the case with Lyndhurst, Brougham, and in a smaller way numerous others. He had not, like Huskisson, a scien- tific knowledge of high polities and the faculty of applying them safely at the right time. Neither had he any abstract science upon a particular branch of politics or political economy, to speak with a species of authority, as Ricardo did, and as Jones Loyd Lord Over- stone might have done had not his tastes and habits rendered him averse to the violent and vulgar turmoil of the House of Commons and the still more violent and vulgar constituencies. He was perhaps a more honest, certainly a more scrupulous and re- spectable man, than O'Connell. Either prudence or timidity en- abled him generally to take a better practical view of a line of conduct than the great agitator; but Sheil wanted O'Connell's hearty naturalness, as well as a certain breadth of action and sin- gleness of object as regarded Ireland, which singleness, perhaps, gave him his tenacious hold upon his countrymen, and formed the redeeming point in a character full of vileness in many other re- spects.

Judged by facts, Shell himself was not remarkably straitlaced in his political ventures. He took the Catholic cause as a subject for himself quite as much as a matter of justice far Ireland. When the Vetoists were in the ascendant, he held by the veto of the Crown on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops. When O'Connell, in spite of Shell's opposition both by tongue and pen, had established agitation on a broad and nationally popular basis, Shell became an agitator. In the instance of the Catholic question, it may be said that he only changed with a change of circumstances; that a course of proceeding proper in 1813 was not applicable in 1823. The same excuse cannot be offered for his conduct on Re- peal. He knew not only the futility of the attempt, but the mis- chief, if it could by miracle have succeeded. Yet, after opposing Repeal when O'Connell started it, he fell into the ranks of the Repealers as soon as his hopes were dashed after the Reform Bill, and avowedly on questions of patronage and "patting on the back." He quitted them for ever when the "compact alliance "of Lichfield House revived his hopes. The places he obtained were rather payments for past service than posts to be filled for the sake of the duties to be discharged. There was no work in any of them. The office of Judge-Advocate, which he held for a short time, was the only place for which he had even the pretence of previous train- ing. The Mastership of the Mint was a sinecure. The Em- bassy to Florence was avowedly an excursion for his own health and that of his wife. The Commissionership of Green- wich Hospital was simply. a shameless and scandalous job ; for

which, however, the Minister of the day was much more blame- able than Sheil—he merely took what he was offered.

It is a maxim among practical opponents of the Malthusian doc- trine, that when God sends mouths he sends meat to fill them : whatever be the truth of the Providential adaptation in such case, there constantly appears great fitness of the man to his times,— as, to take glaring instances, Alexander, Luther, Henry the Eighth, Shakspere, Napoleon Bonaparte. Shell fell upon an age adapted to him. He was emphatically a rhetorician by nature, with some- thing of the play-actor superadded. In an age where speech was subordinate to earnest action, as in the French Revolution, or still more during the Great Rebellion in England, his pointed and spangled sentences would have been felt out of place. Equally so where the assembly was one of grave debate ; though Shell was not altogether without practical views of public questions. In his " native Parliament, his renowned invective would probably have insured his silence by the duello. But those good old times had passed away before Shell began to declaim at the Catholic Asso- ciation. There, his firework-flashing style, and his vehement temperament, treating as his speeches did of unquestioned wrongs, and addressed as they were to an impulsive and imaginative peo- ple, were well fitted to keep up the ball of agitation and ex- pectation. Shell has been called an " artist in words "; but he was more than that. He mostly had a " view "; he always had argu- ments, and often telling ones for his own side. He had some mat- ter, much imagery, and copiousness of fanny quite as much as of diction, or more. He wanted naturalness, variety, and repose. He had none of O'Connell's rollicking humour or deep feeling—his at- tempts at pathos were always artificial and mostly stilted. He had none of the great agitator's Irish sympathy ; and indeed he may be suspected of despising, in his heart of hearts, both Irishmen and " the people " everywhere. His classical self-culture, his literary taste, and his habit of laborious preparation, weeded his speeches of the wordy exuberance that mostly belongs to Milesian oratory. Still his speeches were essentially Irish in their spirit and man- • Memoirs of the Right Honourable Richard Lelor Shell. By W. Torreni M'Cullagh, Author of " The Industrial History of Free Nations, ka. In Ora volumes. Published by Hurst and Blacken.

ner : no one would mistake them for English or translated French, though some of his worst inflations might pass for American. In the House of Commons Shell was always deemed a singularity. His success was as much owing to circumstances as to oratory. The Melbourne Ministry may broadly be said to have done no- thing ; in fact, it was their principle to do nothing—they avowedly brought forward " measures for rejection." Shell helped to fill up with speech what would otherwise have been a vacuum. His denunciation, too, was useful when exas- peration on the side of the Liberals, springing from party disap- pointments, ran very high. Invective could not stop the " lines of eircumvallation' which Peel was drawing round them closer and closer ; but it gratified vengeance if it could not advance in- terests. Shell's most splendid success was the attack upon Lynd- hurst and his " alien speech ; the effect of which was enhanced by the ex-Chancellor's presence at the debate.

Invective, we think, was Shell's forte. It not only forms the pithy gems of his oratory, but the best speeches in his tragic- melodramas are in some form or other denunciations, or appeals grounded on denunciation. And of invective he was undoubtedly a master. It is not said that he studied Junius, but there can be little doubt of the fact. He wanted the native causticity of that great manufacturer of envenomed gall; but be had a stinging terseness and an epigrammatic point, though the last was too arti- ficial, and the whole too Irish. It was probably one of the few weapons he had ready for use. In an action for money. "had and received," where Shell was for the plaintiff, the defendant would seem to have smiled at Counsellor Sheil : "Happy gentleman !" exclaimed the advocate ; "if his own delinquencies afford him amusement, I congratulate him on the possession of an inex- haustible fund of mirth." At a time when it was very desirable that the Association oratory should be measured, a Mr. Adis made a speech, too strong, it might be, for safety, concluding with an offer of his head for the block : it was Shell's cue to damp the sedition, and he remarked—" The honourable gentleman has just tendered us an oblation of his head; he has accompanied his offer with abundant evidence of the value of the sacrifice."

It was invective, too, that led to Shell's success in life ; for highly successful he undoubtedly was, and without any of the sterling or useful qualities that advance a man in a public career. Perhaps none of the numerous students who year after year enrol themselves in the Inns of Court had worse prospects than Sheil, when, in 1811, he started for London to enter himself at Lin- coln's Inn, on an allowance of eighty guineas a year granted him by a maternal relation. His family does not appear to have had what is termed a connexion ; though at Shell's birth, in 1791, his father lived in a certain degree of style, and was pos- sessed of property. This he subsequently lost, just as his son, having been to a private school for French emigrants at Kensing- ton, and afterwards at Stonyhnrst, began his studies at Trinity, and wanted all the assistance his friends could give him for a suc- cessful start in life. In London he lived with an uncle. How he lived on his return to Dublin, in 1813, is not told ; but from va- rious allusions in after life, he would appear to have had a bitter struggle with poverty and privation. As we have said, he joined the loyal and respectable Catholics, who were in favour of " secu- rities." Had he been an older and a better lawyer, this course was not a bad one to obtain business ; but he did not rise at the bar till he had risen into distinction as an agitator, some dozen years later. The extreme pressure of his circumstances must have been felt between 1813 and 1817-'18, when he began to exhibit on the London stage. The _Apostate is reported to have brought him 7001., Bellanztra 4001., and Evadne 5001., though it ought to have produced the largest sum. He also contributed for some years to the New Monthly Magazine. A playwright, an Irish agitator, or even an Irish M.P., is not the stuff of which Whig right honour- ables and sinecurists are made. Sheil's sparkling invective was very useful as a friend, and might become very dangerous as a foe during the latter struggles of the Melbourne Ministry.

The peculiar characteristics of Sheil's oratory—his point, his glitter, his antithesis, and his fancy running beyond exuberance into wildness—were natural endowments; but they were culti- vated with extraordinary care and labour. He worked very hard, and indeed earned all he got. He prepared every speech by wholly or partially writing it, and, by dint of conning either in his mind or on paper, even learnt it by heart ; nor would he ever speak without preparation. Upwards of thirty years' incessant practice—he first spoke publicly in 1810—does not appear to have given facility or rather self-reliance. Here he is on O'Connell's ease in the "Monster" trials—the whole complete in his mind.

" For some weeks previous to the trial he had been labouring under an attack of gout. He sought to escape the pain and prostration incident to a Malady which peculiarly incapacitates its victims from continuous intellectual exertion, by resorting to the use of colchicum. But while he thus obtained liberation of his mind from the bondage of suffering, his physical frame re- mained for the most part a close prisoner, and his limbs were seldom released from their flannel swathings.. In this state he set about preparing his speech to evidence. Two days previous to that fixed for its delivery in the Court of Queen's Bench, an application was made to him by some of the gentlemen engaged in reporting the proceedings in the State trials for the London press respecting the best mode of obtaining a correct copy for the purpose they had in view. Owing to the then existing postal arrangements, they calcu- lated that it would be impossible to give the speech correctly yet so as to be in time for publication in the London morning papers of a particular day, if it were taken in short-hand as it was spoken, and transmitted after trans- cription at a late hour of the night. In a word, they were anxious to obtain Worehand a copy of what they supposed he had written. Great was their disappointment at being told that, though he had the speech in his head, nothing but a few memoranda existed on paper. Far greater was their sur-

prise when he undertook to speak it for them by anticipation. With his hands wrapped in flannel, be kept moving slowly up and down the room, re- peating with great rapidity, and occasionally with his wonted vehemence of intonation, passage after passage, and paragraph after paragraph; then, wearied with the strange and irksome effort, he would lay himself down upon a sofa, and after a short pause recommence his expostulation with the Jury, his allusions to the Bench, and his sarcastic apostrophes to the counsel for the Crown. On he went, with but brief interruptions, and few pauses to correct or alter, until the whole was finished and had been accurately noted down. Written out with care, it was sent to the printer ; and at the mo- ment when he rose to speak in court printed copies were in the hands of those who had faithfully rendered his ideas previously. As he proceeded, they were thus enabled to mark easily and rapidly any slight variations of phraseology ; but these for the most part were so few and trivial as to cause little delay in the correction of the proofs. In the main, the speech was re- peated in public verbatim as it had been previously spoken in private, the whole of the arrangement and nine-tenths of the language being identically the same."

During the height of the agitation on the Catholic question, when in the enthusiastic vigour of his early manhood, his method was similar ; and he would not, like many itinerant orators, econo- mize his labour by repeatino.e himself. "His continuous exertions at this period to reanimate the spirits of his party, entailed upon him no ordinary amount of labour. His distrust of ex- tempore speaking had become almost insurmountable ; and when within a limited space of time he undertook to address in succession a number of im- portant assemblies upon the same subject, he was not content to repeat him- self merely, but strove, and with success truly surprising, to vary not only the phrases but the topics of admonition and illustration. Far from affect- ing the power of improvisation, which he did not believe himself to possess, he would constantly stipulate for time to consider what he was to say before consenting to address any important meeting ; and he wholly disdained the shallow coxcombry which tries to conceal the pains necessary for elaborate and verbal preparation. It was his habit to write beforehand what he meant to say. He would also, when too much excited to sleep, audibly rehearse the harangue which he was about to deliver the following day. During his autumnal tour of agitation, a gentleman, who happened on one occasion to occupy a room adjoining his at a country inn, said to a mutual friend next morning, that 'he had overheard Shell oratorizing to the walls all night.' " Mr. Shell was twice married : once in very early life, to Miss O'Halloran, who soon died, leaving him a son. In 1830 he married Mrs. Power, a widow lady with a large income, in which, how- ever, she had only a life interest; and it was this uncertainty that rendered Shell anxious for a place. Mrs. Shell, however, outlived her husband. He died at the age of sixty, of an attack of gout, which, resisting all remedies, destroyed him in an hour. His health had been breaking for some time, perhaps from anxieties and over-exertion in earlier life, and from the death of his son in 1845. The proximate cause, however, was over-doses of colchi- cum, taken to alleviate the pains of gout, without regard to conse- quences, or in defiance of them. " The incessant recurrence of his old enemy the gout, and the habitual resort to the use of colchicum as an antidote to pain, had undermined slowly but irreparably his originally healthy constitution. When remonstrated with upon the subject of his use of this treacherous emollient, he was accus- tomed to laugh and say that longevity was too intricate a game for a hard toiling man to play, and that immunity from bodily suffering during the period when one's mind is supposed to be at its maturity was too great a blessing to be wagered against a few additional years of dotage.

• •

" ' Shortly before he left for Florence,' writes the friend whose earlier re- collections of him have been already noticed, ' we met in Pall Mall, and walked together nearly to his residence. I was then painfully struck (I had not seen him for ten or twelve months) with his altered appearance. He was feeble in gait, and had become rather unwieldy in bulk. From the me- lancholy and somewhat morose expression of his countenance, I concluded he was suffering from internal organic disease, or from suppressed gout.' "

The career of Shell is too peculiar for an example. It could only be repeated tinder the rare condition of equal singularity of personal qualities and social circumstances. Externally all looks successful, but it seems even success like his had its bitters. Shell longed for a seat in the Cabinet : and he had other annoyances.

"Early in September, [1841,] the Administration of Sir Robert Peel was definitively constituted. As in that which it succeeded, a majority of the Cabinet were Peers and sons of Peers • and in the subordinate offices this complexion was much more observable. 'Happening to sit beside one of the ex-Ministers at dinner, soon after the writs for the new officials had been moved, I observed,' said Shell, 'that Peel was filling up all his posts with Lords.' And he is quite right,' said Lord —; he understands what he has to deal with, and how his majority can alone be kept together.' The esoteric principle of both Whigs and Tories is in this respect the same. They tolerate a few plebeians as working colleagues; but they think and feel towards them rather as advocates whom they have retained than equals whom they are bound to recognize. This strong sense of a tendency to give undue preponderance in the Administration to persons of aristocratic lineage or connexions was not with him a temporary impression. He felt that in neither of the great parties in the State were personal ability, worth, or ser- vices, recognized as constituting, in men of moderate fortune or plebeian birth, any real claim to high office. In the professions, he used to say, although there is often a good deal of favouritism, the sons of the people can hardly complain that as between classes the systematic injustice prevails ; but in political life it is far otherwise ; the House of Commons is more in- tensely susceptible to aristocratic .prejudices than any assembly in the civil- ized world. Good taste prevents in general the open manifestation of these prejudices in a way noticeable by the 'gallery,' or that the public out of doors can ever be made thoroughly to understand. You cannot by any de- scription make a West Indian comprehend the sensation of frost until he has endured it; the sensation for him exists not, nor can he sympathize with those who feel its painful and benumbing influence. But the reality is there nevertheless. To this cause, more than to any mere spirit of clique or ne- potism, is to be ascribed the unfair preference usually shown in the foima- don of every Cabinet and in the distribution of the higher offices generally. The Whigs'are blamed for yielding to this insolent and exclusive spirit ; but they will never be cured by any amount of blame that may be cast upon them while the House of Commons remains what it is. When its composi- tion shall be changed, and the middle classes shall attain a practical equality in Parliament, then they will get a fair share of administrative power, but not till then.

"Akin to these feelings were others less easy perhaps of definition or ap- preciation, connected with the position which men who have won their own

way to distinction occupy in society. cannot,' he said, 'be suspected of

pique, for I have had enough and more than enough of social attention& paid to me. From the time I had become successful as a speaker in debate, I was courted and caressed by the owners of great houses, and sought for as a guest at their tables. Few men, I suppose, are altogether indifferent to these marks of consideration. I confess that I at least was not, and that the re- finement of such society bad for me no little charm. But I soon found that at first I bad been asked as a curiosity to be shown to unparliamentary friends who had heard of me or seen my name in the newspapers; and af- terwards, because I was supposed to have the power of being amusing.' The friend to whom this was said expressed his doubts of thejustice of his im- pressions, and gently rallied him on his somewhat morbid tendency to self- depreciation. But he grew excited as he continued to talk on the subject ; and, sometimes accompanying his illustrations of what he had seen and felt with boisterous but bitter laughter—sometimes with a hoarse and low into- nation, full of sudden emotion—he depicted the unreality of the outward show of regard that is paid in aristocratic circles generally to men of mere genius. 'So long as you are the town-talk as a painter, a writer, a speaker, or a soldier, you will have plenty of invitations to dinner ; and good breed- ing insures you an agreeable if not a flattering reception. But don't be duped ; there is no equality in all this. 'Tis not what they say to you, but what they say of you when you are gone, that is the test. No, no ; we are tolerated, that's all.' " Mr. M'Cullagh's work contains a great deal of matter, arranged in a readable way. The matter, however, is seldom biographical. That which relates to Shell's individual life scarcely occupies a tenth of the book ; the rest consists of the writings and the times of Sheil, not unfrequently of the times of anybody who lived dur- ing the last thirty or forty years. It is well to have a sketch of the old respectable and timid style of urging the Catholic claims, till O'Connell began his popular agitation, in 1823: still better to have the whole of Shell's clever and stinging letter in reply to O'Connell's absurd proposition in 1821, that the Catholics should cease to press their peculiar claims, and take up Parlia- mentary Reform instead. The proceedings of the Association, and matters connected with it—as the Clare Election—have been told already in many forms : still the outline was necessary to Sheil's life; and Mr. M'Cullagh's narrative indicates the true principles of popular agitation, which O'Connell's successors, perhaps the great agitator himself, failed to see. It was not the abstraction of a creed that excited the country, but the presence of heretic oppressors actually oppressing the masses, together with misery which Emancipation was expected to relieve, that gave the Asso- ciation its power. Mr. M'Cullagh's copious extracts from Shell's plays are not amiss ; for the higher celebrity of the dramatist as an orator overshadowed his stage productions, and perhaps justice has scarcely been done to him as a playwright. His characters wanted natural animation, and his themes essential variety— though their forms were different their elements were alike : but his best dramas were effective on the stage, although he fell too much into the trick of writing parts for particular actors. The Parliamentary history, from the time of the Reform Bill till Shell's withdrawal from Parliament, would have borne very considerable curtailment, as well as the extracts from Shell's speeches and his articles contributed to the New Monthly Magazine. These vo- lumes will form a useful help to the biography of Richard ',e'er Sheil, should any one hereafter be written; but a proper biography' must have a good deal more of the actual life than is found in Mr. M'Cullagh's eight hundred pages.