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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
17. Lord Plunket
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
Grattan, of whom I have already written, had in the first Lord
Plunket a successor and a compatriot very little his inferior in
the gift of oratory.
He was born in 1764, and was therefore some fourteen years
younger than Grattan, whom he survived by thirty-four years.
Like Grattan, he displayed a burning patriotism and, like him,
fiercely opposed the Act of Union.
Few orators have displayed greater powers of clear reason and
convincing logic than Plunket. It may be admitted that he seldom
rose to great heights of eloquence, but tradition credits his
delivery with a quality of dignity amounting almost to majesty. The
gift of oratory consists in how things are said as much as in what
things are said, and the voice, gesture, and manner of Plunket were
commanding and magnificent.
When Attorney-General in Ireland, in 1823, in a speech
prosecuting the leaders of the riot known as "the Bottle Riot,"
Plunket uttered the following fine tribute to the character of
William the Third:—
"Perhaps, my lords, there is not to be found in the annals of
history a character more truly great than that of William the
Third. Perhaps no person has ever appeared on the theatre of the
world who has conferred more essential or more lasting benefits on
mankind; on these countries, certainly none. When I look at the
abstract merits of his character, I contemplate him with admiration
and reverence. Lord of a petty principality—destitute of all
resources but those with which nature had endowed
him—regarded with jealousy and envy by those whose battles he
fought; thwarted in all his counsels; embarrassed in all his
movements; deserted in his most critical enterprises—he
continued to mould all those discordant materials, to govern all
these warring interests, and merely by the force of his genius, the
ascendancy of his integrity, and the immovable firmness and
constancy of his nature, to combine them into an indissoluble
alliance against the schemes of despotism and universal domination
of the most powerful monarch in Europe, seconded by the ablest
generals, at the head of the bravest and best disciplined armies in
the world, and wielding, without check or control, the unlimited
resources of his empire. He was not a consummate general; military
men will point out his errors; in that respect Fortune did not
favour him, save by throwing the lustre of adversity over all his
virtues. He sustained defeat after defeat, but always rose
adversa rerum immersabilis unda. Looking merely at his
shining qualities and achievements, I admire him as I do a Scipio,
a Regulus, a Fabius; a model of tranquil courage, undeviating
probity, and armed with a resoluteness and constancy in the cause
of truth and freedom, which rendered him superior to the accidents
that control the fate of ordinary men.
This is not so magnificent a panegyric as that of Grattan in his
written tribute to Chatham, but, enhanced by the gesture and voice
of the great orator, it was reputed to have left a deep impression
upon all who heard it.
"But this is not all—I feel that to him, under God, I am,
at this moment, indebted for the enjoyment of the rights which I
possess as a subject of these free countries; to him I owe the
blessings of civil and religious liberty, and I venerate his memory
with a fervour of devotion suited to his illustrious qualities and
to his godlike acts."
But few speeches, however eloquent, survive, while the printed
work of the writer may long endure; but to the orator is given what
the writer never experiences—the fierce enjoyment, amounting
almost to rapture, of holding an audience entranced under the spell
of the spoken cadences; and English, Antony, has a splendour all
its own when uttered by a master of its august music.
Your loving old