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26 June, 2013
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.

"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."
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 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
G.P.

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