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   Chapter 49 HENRY GRATTAN.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 7027

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Great men," wrote Sydney Smith, sixty years ago in an article in The Edinburgh Review, "hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time. What Irishman does not feel proud that he lived in the days of Grattan? Who has not turned to him for comfort from the false friends and open enemies of Ireland? Who did not remember him in the days of its burnings, wastings, and murders?"

Grattan is, indeed, pre-eminently the Irish politician to whom other Irish politicians--however diverse their views or convictions--turn unanimously with the common sense of admiration and homage. Two characteristics--usually supposed in Ireland to be inherently antagonistic--met harmoniously in him. He was consistently loyal and he was consistently patriotic. From the beginning to the end of his career his patriotism never hindered him either from risking his popularity whenever he considered duty or the necessities of the case required him to do so; a resolution which more than once brought him into sharp collision with his countrymen, on one occasion even at some little risk to himself.

RIGHT HON. HENRY GRATTAN, M.P.

(From an engraving by Godby after Pope.)

In 1775 he entered Parliament--sixteen years, therefore, later than Flood--being brought in by his friend Lord Charlemont. The struggle with America was then beginning, and all Grattan's sympathies went with those colonists who were battling for their own independence. His eloquence from the moment it was first heard produced an extraordinary effect, and when the volunteer movement broke out he threw himself heartily into it, and availed himself of it to press in the Irish Parliament for those measures of free trade and self-government upon which his heart was set When the first of these measures was carried, he brought forward the famous Declaration of Rights, embodying the demand for independence, a demand which, in the first instance, he had to defend almost single-handed. Many of his best friends hung back, believing the time to be not yet ripe for such a proposal. Even Edmund Burke--the life-long and passionate friend of Ireland--cried out in alarm "Will no one speak to that madman? Will no one stop that madman Grattan?" The madman, however, went on undismayed. His words flew like wild-fire over the country. He was supported in his motion by eighteen counties, by addresses from the grand juries, and by resolutions from the volunteers. By 1782, the impulse had grown so strong that it could no longer be resisted. An address in favour of Grattan's Declaration of Rights was carried enthusiastically in April by the Irish Parliament, and so impressed was the Government by the determined attitude of the country that, by the 27th of May the Viceroy was empowered to announce the concurrence of the English legislature. The Declaratory Act of George I. was then repealed by the English Parliament. Bills were immediately afterwards passed by the Irish one embodying the Declaration of Rights, also a biennial Mutiny Act, and an Act validating the marriage of Dissenters, while, above all, Poynings' Act, which had so long fettered its free action, was once for all repealed.

This was the happiest moment of Grattan's life. The country, with a burst of spontaneous gratitude, voted him a grant of £100,000. This sum he declined, but in the end was persuaded, with some reluctance, to take half. A period of brief, but while it lasted unquestionable prosperity spread over the country. In Dublin, public buildings sp

rang up in all directions; a bright little society flourished and enjoyed itself; trade too prospered to a degree never hitherto known. Between England and Ireland, however, the commercial restrictions were still in force. The condition of the Irish Catholics, though latterly to some degree alleviated, was still one of all but unendurable oppression. Reform, too, was as far off as ever, and corruption had increased rather than diminished, owing to the greatly increased importance of the Parliament. In 1789 an unfortunate quarrel sprang up between the two legislatures over the appointment of a Regent, rendered necessary by the temporary insanity of George III., and this difference was afterwards used as an argument in favour of a legislative Union. In 1793 a measure of half-emancipation was granted, Roman Catholics being admitted to vote, though not to sit in Parliament, an anomalous distinction giving power to the ignorant, yet still keeping the fittest men out of public life. Upon the arrival of Lord Fitzwilliam as Viceroy in 1795, it was fervently believed that full emancipation was at last about to be granted, and Grattan brought in a Bill to that effect. These hopes, as will presently be seen, were destined to be bitterly disappointed. Lord Fitzwilliam was recalled, and from that moment Grattan was doomed to stand helplessly by and watch the destruction of that edifice which he had spent his whole life to erect and strengthen. The country grew more and more restless, and it was plain to all who could read the signs of the times that, unless discontent was in some way allayed, a rebellion was sure to break out. In 1798 this long foreseen calamity occurred, but before it did so, Grattan had retired heart-broken and despairing into private life.

He re-emerged to plead, vehemently but fruitlessly, against the Union which was passed the following spring. As will be seen, when we reach that period the fashion in which that act was carried made it difficult for an honourable man, however loyal--and no man, it must be repeated, was more steadily loyal than Henry Grattan--to give it his support. He believed too firmly that Ireland could work out its own destiny best by the aid of a separate Parliament, and to this opinion he throughout his life clung. In his own words, "The two countries from their size must stand together--united quoad nature--distinct quoad legislation."

In 1805 he became a member of the English Parliament, where unlike Flood, his eloquence had almost as much effect as in Ireland, and where he was regarded by all parties with the deepest respect and regard. His heart, however, remained firmly anchored to its old home, and all his recollections in his old age centred around these earlier struggles. He died in 1820, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. One more quotation from Sydney Smith sums up the man for us in a few words: "The highest attainments of human genius were within his reach, but he thought the noblest occupation of a man was to make other men happy and free, and in that straight line he kept for fifty years, without one side-look, one yielding thought, one motive in his heart which might not have laid open to the view of God or man." A generation which produced two such men as Henry Grattan and Edmund Burke might well be looked back to by any country in the world as the flower and crown of its national life. There have not been many greater or better in the whole chequered history of the human race.

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