Peter Plymley's Letters and Selected Essays
Sydney Smith

Part 1 out of 3


Peter Plymley's Letters
Historical Apology For The Irish Catholics
Ireland and England
Moore's Captain Rock


Sydney Smith, of the same age as Walter Scott, was born at Woodford,
in Essex, in the year 1771, and he died of heart disease, aged
seventy-four, on the 22nd of February, 1845. His father was a
clever man of wandering habits who, when he settled in England,
reduced his means by buying, altering, spoiling, and then selling
about nineteen different places in England. His mother was of a
French family from Languedoc, that had been driven to England by the
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Sydney Smith's grandfather, upon
the mother's side, could speak no English, and he himself ascribed
some of his gaiety to the French blood in his veins.

He was one of four sons. His eldest brother Robert--known as Bobus-
-was sent to Eton, where he joined Canning, Frere, and John Smith,
in writing the Eton magazine, the Microcosm; and at Cambridge Bobus
afterwards was known as a fine Latin scholar. Sydney Smith went
first to a school at Southampton, and then to Winchester, where he
became captain of the school. Then he was sent for six months to
Normandy for a last polish to his French before he went on to New
College, Oxford. When he had obtained his fellowship there, his
father left him to his own resources. His eldest brother had been
trained for the bar, his two younger brothers were sent out to
India, and Sydney, against his own wish, yielded to the strong
desire of his father that he should take orders as a clergyman.
Accordingly, in 1794, he became curate of the small parish of
Netherhaven, in Wiltshire. Meat came to Netherhaven only once a
week in a butcher's cart from Salisbury, and the curate often dined
upon potatoes flavoured with ketchup.

The only educated neighbour was Mr. Hicks Beach, the squire, who at
first formally invited the curate to dinner on Sundays, and soon
found his wit, sense, and high culture so delightful, that the
acquaintance ripened into friendship. After two years in the
curacy, Sydney Smith gave it up and went abroad with the squire's
son. "When first I went into the Church," he wrote afterwards, "I
had a curacy in the middle of Salisbury Plain; the parish was
Netherhaven, near Amesbury. The squire of the parish, Mr. Beach,
took a fancy to me, and after I had served it two years, he engaged
me as tutor to his eldest son, and it was arranged that I and his
son should proceed to the University of Weimar in Saxony. We set
out, but before reaching our destination Germany was disturbed by
war, and, in stress of politics, we put into Edinburgh, where I
remained five years."

Young Michael Beach, who had little taste for study, lived with
Sydney Smith as his tutor, and found him a wise guide and pleasant
friend. When Michael went to the University, his brother William
was placed under the same good care. Sydney Smith, about the same
time, went to London to be married. His wife's rich brother
quarrelled with her for marrying a man who said that his only
fortune consisted in six small silver teaspoons. One day after
their happy marriage he ran in to his wife and threw them in her
lap, saying, "There, Kate, you lucky girl, I give you all my
fortune!" The lucky girl had a small fortune of her own which her
husband had strictly secured to herself and her children. Mr. Beach
recognised the value of Sydney Smith's influence over his son by a
wedding gift of 750 pounds. In 1802 a daughter was born, and in the
same year Sydney Smith joined Francis Jeffrey and other friends, who
then maintained credit for Edinburgh as the Modern Athens, in the
founding of The Edinburgh Review, to which the papers in this
volume, added to the Peter Plymley Letters, were contributed. The
Rev. Sydney Smith preached sometimes in the Episcopal Church at
Edinburgh, and presently had, in addition to William Beach, a son of
Mr. Gordon, of Ellon Castle, placed under his care, receiving 400
pounds a year for each of the young men.

In 1803 Sydney Smith left Edinburgh for London, where he wrote
busily in The Edinburgh Review, but remained poor for many years.
His wit brought friends, and the marriage of his eldest brother with
Lord Holland's aunt quickened the growth of a strong friendship with
Lord Holland. Through the good offices of Lord Holland, Sydney
Smith obtained, in 1806, aged thirty-five, the living of Foston-le-
Clay, in Yorkshire. In the next year appeared the first letter of
Peter Plymley to his brother Abraham on the subject of the Irish

These letters fell, we are told, like sparks on a heap of gunpowder.
All London, and soon all England, was alive to the sound reason
recommended by a lively wit. Sydney Smith lived to be recognised as
first among the social wits, and it was always the chief praise of
his wit that wisdom was the soul of it. Peter Plymley's letters,
and Sydney Smith's articles on the same subject in The Edinburgh
Review were the most powerful aids furnished by the pen to the
solution of the burning question of their time. Lord Murray called
the Plymley letters "after Pascal's letters the most instructive
piece of wisdom in the form of irony ever written." Worldly wealth
came later; but in wit, wisdom, and kindly helpful cheerfulness,
from youth to age, Sydney Smith's life was rich.

H. M.



Dear Abraham,--A worthier and better man than yourself does not
exist; but I have always told you, from the time of our boyhood,
that you were a bit of a goose. Your parochial affairs are governed
with exemplary order and regularity; you are as powerful in the
vestry as Mr. Perceval is in the House of Commons,--and, I must say,
with much more reason; nor do I know any church where the faces and
smock-frocks of the congregation are so clean, or their eyes so
uniformly directed to the preacher. There is another point, upon
which I will do you ample justice; and that is, that the eyes so
directed towards you are wide open; for the rustic has, in general,
good principles, though he cannot control his animal habits; and,
however loud he may snore, his face is perpetually turned towards
the fountain of orthodoxy.

Having done you this act of justice, I shall proceed, according to
our ancient intimacy and familiarity, to explain to you my opinions
about the Catholics, and to reply to yours.

In the first place, my sweet Abraham, the Pope is not landed--nor
are there any curates sent out after him--nor has he been hid at St.
Albans by the Dowager Lady Spencer--nor dined privately at Holland
House--nor been seen near Dropmore. If these fears exist (which I
do not believe), they exist only in the mind of the Chancellor of
the Exchequer; they emanate from his zeal for the Protestant
interest; and, though they reflect the highest honour upon the
delicate irritability of his faith, must certainly be considered as
more ambiguous proofs of the sanity and vigour of his understanding.
By this time, however, the best-informed clergy in the neighbourhood
of the metropolis are convinced that the rumour is without
foundation; and though the Pope is probably hovering about our coast
in a fishing-smack, it is most likely he will fall a prey to the
vigilance of our cruisers; and it is certain that he has not yet
polluted the Protestantism of our soil.

Exactly in the same manner, the story of the wooden gods seized at
Charing Cross, by an order from the Foreign Office, turns out to be
without the shadow of a foundation; instead of the angels and
archangels, mentioned by the informer, nothing was discovered but a
wooden image of Lord Mulgrave, going down to Chatham, as a head-
piece for the Spanker gun-vessel; it was an exact resemblance of his
Lordship in his military uniform; and THEREFORE as little like a god
as can well be imagined.

Having set your fears at rest, as to the extent of the conspiracy
formed against the Protestant religion, I will now come to the
argument itself.

You say these men interpret the scriptures in an unorthodox manner,
and that they eat their god.--Very likely. All this may seem very
important to you, who live fourteen miles from a market-town, and,
from long residence upon your living, are become a kind of holy
vegetable; and in a theological sense it is highly important. But I
want soldiers and sailors for the state; I want to make a greater
use than I now can do of a poor country full of men; I want to
render the military service popular among the Irish; to check the
power of France; to make every possible exertion for the safety of
Europe, which in twenty years' time will be nothing but a mass of
French slaves: and then you, and ten other such boobies as you,
call out--"For God's sake, do not think of raising cavalry and
infantry in Ireland! . . . They interpret the Epistle to Timothy in
a different manner from what we do! . . . They eat a bit of wafer
every Sunday, which they call their God!" . . . I wish to my soul
they would eat you, and such reasoners as you are. What! when Turk,
Jew, Heretic, Infidel, Catholic, Protestant, are all combined
against this country; when men of every religious persuasion, and no
religious persuasion; when the population of half the globe is up in
arms against us; are we to stand examining our generals and armies
as a bishop examines a candidate for holy orders; and to suffer no
one to bleed for England who does not agree with you about the
second of Timothy? You talk about the Catholics! If you and your
brotherhood have been able to persuade the country into a
continuation of this grossest of all absurdities, you have ten times
the power which the Catholic clergy ever had in their best days.
Louis XIV., when he revoked the Edict of Nantes, never thought of
preventing the Protestants from fighting his battles; and gained
accordingly some of his most splendid victories by the talents of
his Protestant generals. No power in Europe, but yourselves, has
ever thought for these hundred years past, of asking whether a
bayonet is Catholic, or Presbyterian or Lutheran; but whether it is
sharp and well-tempered. A bigot delights in public ridicule; for
he begins to think he is a martyr. I can promise you the full
enjoyment of this pleasure, from one extremity of Europe to the

I am as disgusted with the nonsense of the Roman Catholic religion
as you can be: and no man who talks such nonsense shall ever tithe
the product of the earth, nor meddle with the ecclesiastical
establishment in any shape; but what have I to do with the
speculative nonsense of his theology, when the object is to elect
the mayor of a county town, or to appoint a colonel of a marching
regiment? Will a man discharge the solemn impertinences of the one
office with less zeal, or shrink from the bloody boldness of the
other with greater timidity, because the blockhead thinks he can eat
angels in muffins and chew a spiritual nature in the crumpets which
he buys from the baker's shop? I am sorry there should be such
impious folly in the world, but I should be ten times a greater fool
than he is, if I refused, till he had made a solemn protestation
that the crumpet was spiritless and the muffin nothing but a human
muffin, to lead him out against the enemies of the state. Your
whole argument is wrong: the state has nothing whatever to do with
theological errors which do not violate the common rules of
morality, and militate against the fair power of the ruler: it
leaves all these errors to you, and to such as you. You have every
tenth porker in your parish for refuting them; and take care that
you are vigilant and logical in the task.

I love the Church as well as you do; but you totally mistake the
nature of an establishment, when you contend that it ought to be
connected with the military and civil career of every individual in
the state. It is quite right that there should be one clergyman to
every parish interpreting the Scriptures after a particular manner,
ruled by a regular hierarchy, and paid with a rich proportion of
haycocks and wheatsheafs. When I have laid this foundation for a
rational religion in the state--when I have placed ten thousand
well-educated men in different parts of the kingdom to preach it up,
and compelled everybody to pay them, whether they hear them or not--
I have taken such measures as I know must always procure an immense
majority in favour of the Established Church; but I can go no
further. I cannot set up a civil inquisition, and say to one, you
shall not be a butcher, because you are not orthodox; and prohibit
another from brewing, and a third from administering the law, and a
fourth from defending the country. If common justice did not
prohibit me from such a conduct, common sense would. The advantage
to be gained by quitting the heresy would make it shameful to
abandon it; and men who had once left the Church would continue in
such a state of alienation from a point of honour, and transmit that
spirit to their latest posterity. This is just the effect your
disqualifying laws have produced. They have fed Dr. Rees, and Dr.
Kippis; crowded the congregations of the Old Jewry to suffocation:
and enabled every sublapsarian, and superlapsarian, and semi-
pelagian clergyman, to build himself a neat brick chapel, and live
with some distant resemblance to the state of a gentleman.

You say the King's coronation oath will not allow him to consent to
any relaxation of the Catholic laws.--Why not relax the Catholic
laws as well as the laws against Protestant dissenters? If one is
contrary to his oath, the other must be so too; for the spirit of
the oath is, to defend the Church establishment, which the Quaker
and the Presbyterian differ from as much or more than the Catholic;
and yet his Majesty has repealed the Corporation and Test Act in
Ireland, and done more for the Catholics of both kingdoms than had
been done for them since the Reformation. In 1778 the ministers
said nothing about the royal conscience; in 1793 no conscience; in
1804 no conscience; the common feeling of humanity and justice then
seem to have had their fullest influence upon the advisers of the
Crown; but in 1807--a year, I suppose, eminently fruitful in moral
and religious scruples (as some years are fruitful in apples, some
in hops),--it is contended by the well-paid John Bowles, and by Mr.
Perceval (who tried to be well paid), that this is now perjury which
we had hitherto called policy and benevolence. Religious liberty
has never made such a stride as under the reign of his present
Majesty; nor is there any instance in the annals of our history,
where so many infamous and damnable laws have been repealed as those
against the Catholics which have been put an end to by him; and
then, at the close of this useful policy, his advisers discover that
the very measures of concession and indulgence, or (to use my own
language) the measures of justice, which he has been pursuing
through the whole of his reign, are contrary to the oath he takes at
its commencement! That oath binds his Majesty not to consent to any
measure contrary to the interest of the Established Church; but who
is to judge of the tendency of each particular measure? Not the
King alone: it can never be the intention of this law that the
King, who listens to the advice of his Parliament upon a read bill,
should reject it upon the most important of all measures. Whatever
be his own private judgment of the tendency of any ecclesiastical
bill, he complies most strictly with his oath, if he is guided in
that particular point by the advice of his Parliament, who may be
presumed to understand its tendency better than the King, or any
other individual. You say, if Parliament had been unanimous in
their opinion of the absolute necessity for Lord Howick's bill, and
the King had thought it pernicious, he would have been perjured if
he had not rejected it. I say, on the contrary, his Majesty would
have acted in the most conscientious manner, and have complied most
scrupulously with his oath, if he had sacrificed his own opinion to
the opinion of the great council of the nation; because the
probability was that such opinion was better than his own; and upon
the same principle, in common life, you give up your opinion to your
physician, your lawyer, and your builder.

You admit this bill did not compel the King to elect Catholic
officers, but only gave him the option of doing so if he pleased;
but you add, that the King was right in not trusting such dangerous
power to himself or his successors. Now you are either to suppose
that the King for the time being has a zeal for the Catholic
establishment, or that he has not. If he has not, where is the
danger of giving such an option? If you suppose that he may be
influenced by such an admiration of the Catholic religion, why did
his present Majesty, in the year 1804, consent to that bill which
empowered the Crown to station ten thousand Catholic soldiers in any
part of the kingdom, and place them absolutely at the disposal of
the Crown? If the King of England for the time being is a good
Protestant, there can be no danger in making the Catholic ELIGIBLE
to anything: if he is not, no power can possibly be so dangerous as
that conveyed by the bill last quoted; to which, in point of peril,
Lord Howick's bill is a mere joke. But the real fact is, one bill
opened a door to his Majesty's advisers for trick, jobbing, and
intrigue; the other did not.

Besides, what folly to talk to me of an oath, which, under all
possible circumstances, is to prevent the relaxation of the Catholic
laws! for such a solemn appeal to God sets all conditions and
contingencies at defiance. Suppose Bonaparte was to retrieve the
only very great blunder he has made, and were to succeed, after
repeated trials, in making an impression upon Ireland, do you think
we should hear any thing of the impediment of a coronation oath? or
would the spirit of this country tolerate for an hour such
ministers, and such unheard-of nonsense, if the most distant
prospect existed of conciliating the Catholics by every species even
of the most abject concession? And yet, if your argument is good
for anything, the coronation oath ought to reject, at such a moment,
every tendency to conciliation, and to bind Ireland for ever to the
crown of France.

I found in your letter the usual remarks about fire, fagot, and
bloody Mary. Are you aware, my dear Priest, that there were as many
persons put to death for religious opinions under the mild Elizabeth
as under the bloody Mary? The reign of the former was, to be sure,
ten times as long; but I only mention the fact, merely to show you
that something depends upon the age in which men live, as well as on
their religious opinions. Three hundred years ago men burnt and
hanged each other for these opinions. Time has softened Catholic as
well as Protestant: they both required it; though each perceives
only his own improvement, and is blind to that of the other. We are
all the creatures of circumstances. I know not a kinder and better
man than yourself; but you, if you had lived in those times, would
certainly have roasted your Catholic: and I promise you, if the
first exciter of this religious mob had been as powerful then as he
is now, you would soon have been elevated to the mitre. I do not go
the length of saying that the world has suffered as much from
Protestant as from Catholic persecution; far from it: but you
should remember the Catholics had all the power, when the idea first
started up in the world that there could be two modes of faith; and
that it was much more natural they should attempt to crush this
diversity of opinion by great and cruel efforts, than that the
Protestants should rage against those who differed from them, when
the very basis of their system was complete freedom in all spiritual

I cannot extend my letter any further at present, but you shall soon
hear from me again. You tell me I am a party man. I hope I shall
always be so, when I see my country in the hands of a pert London
joker and a second-rate lawyer. Of the first, no other good is
known than that he makes pretty Latin verses; the second seems to me
to have the head of a country parson and the tongue of an Old Bailey

If I could see good measures pursued, I care not a farthing who is
in power; but I have a passionate love for common justice, and for
common sense, and I abhor and despise every man who builds up his
political fortune upon their ruin.

God bless you, reverend Abraham, and defend you from the Pope, and
all of us from that administration who seek power by opposing a
measure which Burke, Pitt, and Fox all considered as absolutely
necessary to the existence of the country.


Dear Abraham,--The Catholic not respect an oath! why not? What upon
earth has kept him out of Parliament, or excluded him from all the
offices whence he is excluded, but his respect for oaths? There is
no law which prohibits a Catholic to sit in Parliament. There could
be no such law; because it is impossible to find out what passes in
the interior of any man's mind. Suppose it were in contemplation to
exclude all men from certain offices who contended for the legality
of taking tithes: the only mode of discovering that fervid love of
decimation which I know you to possess would be to tender you an
oath "against that damnable doctrine, that it is lawful for a
spiritual man to take, abstract, appropriate, subduct, or lead away
the tenth calf, sheep, lamb, ox, pigeon, duck," &c., &c., &c., and
every other animal that ever existed, which of course the lawyers
would take care to enumerate. Now this oath I am sure you would
rather die than take; and so the Catholic is excluded from
Parliament because he will not swear that he disbelieves the leading
doctrines of his religion! The Catholic asks you to abolish some
oaths which oppress him; your answer is that he does not respect
oaths. Then why subject him to the test of oaths? The oaths keep
him out of Parliament; why, then, he respects them. Turn which way
you will, either your laws are nugatory, or the Catholic is bound by
religious obligations as you are; but no eel in the well-sanded fist
of a cook-maid, upon the eve of being skinned, ever twisted and
writhed as an orthodox parson does when he is compelled by the gripe
of reason to admit anything in favour of a dissenter.

I will not dispute with you whether the Pope be or be not the
Scarlet Lady of Babylon. I hope it is not so; because I am afraid
it will induce His Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer to
introduce several severe bills against popery, if that is the case;
and though he will have the decency to appoint a previous committee
of inquiry as to the fact, the committee will be garbled, and the
report inflammatory. Leaving this to be settled as he pleases to
settle it, I wish to inform you, that, previously to the bill last
passed in favour of the Catholics, at the suggestion of Mr. Pitt,
and for his satisfaction, the opinions of six of the most celebrated
of the foreign Catholic universities were taken as to the right of
the Pope to interfere in the temporal concerns of any country. The
answer cannot possibly leave the shadow of a doubt, even in the mind
of Baron Maseres; and Dr. Rennel would be compelled to admit it, if
three Bishops lay dead at the very moment the question were put to
him. To this answer might be added also the solemn declaration and
signature of all the Catholics in Great Britain.

I should perfectly agree with you, if the Catholics admitted such a
dangerous dispensing power in the hands of the Pope; but they all
deny it, and laugh at it, and are ready to abjure it in the most
decided manner you can devise. They obey the Pope as the spiritual
head of their Church; but are you really so foolish as to be imposed
upon by mere names? What matters it the seven-thousandth part of a
farthing who is the spiritual head of any Church? Is not Mr.
Wilberforce at the head of the Church of Clapham? Is not Dr. Letsom
at the head of the Quaker Church? Is not the General Assembly at
the head of the Church of Scotland? How is the government disturbed
by these many-headed Churches? or in what way is the power of the
Crown augmented by this almost nominal dignity?

The King appoints a fast-day once a year, and he makes the bishops:
and if the government would take half the pains to keep the
Catholics out of the arms of France that it does to widen Temple
Bar, or improve Snow Hill, the King would get into his hands the
appointments of the titular Bishops of Ireland. Both Mr. C-'s
sisters enjoy pensions more than sufficient to place the two
greatest dignitaries of the Irish Catholic Church entirely at the
disposal of the Crown.

Everybody who knows Ireland knows perfectly well, that nothing would
be easier, with the expenditure of a little money, than to preserve
enough of the ostensible appointment in the hands of the Pope to
satisfy the scruples of the Catholics, while the real nomination
remained with the Crown. But, as I have before said, the moment the
very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to
common feeling, common prudence, and common sense, and to act with
the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots.

Whatever your opinion may be of the follies of the Roman Catholic
religion, remember they are the follies of four millions of human
beings, increasing rapidly in numbers, wealth, and intelligence,
who, if firmly united with this country, would set at defiance the
power of France, and if once wrested from their alliance with
England, would in three years render its existence as an independent
nation absolutely impossible. You speak of danger to the
Establishment: I request to know when the Establishment was ever so
much in danger as when Hoche was in Bantry Bay, and whether all the
books of Bossuet, or the arts of the Jesuits, were half so terrible?
Mr. Perceval and his parsons forget all this, in their horror lest
twelve or fourteen old women may be converted to holy water and
Catholic nonsense. They never see that, while they are saving these
venerable ladies from perdition, Ireland may be lost, England broken
down, and the Protestant Church, with all its deans, prebendaries,
Percevals, and Rennels, be swept into the vortex of oblivion.

Do not, I beseech you, ever mention to me again the name of Dr.
Duigenan. I have been in every corner of Ireland, and have studied
its present strength and condition with no common labour. Be
assured Ireland does not contain at this moment less than five
millions of people. There were returned in the year 1791 to the
hearth tax 701,000 houses, and there is no kind of question that
there were about 50,000 houses omitted in that return. Taking,
however, only the number returned for the tax, and allowing the
average of six to a house (a very small average for a potato-fed
people), this brings the population to 4,200,000 people in the year
1791: and it can be shown from the clearest evidence (and Mr.
Newenham in his book shows it), that Ireland for the last fifty
years has increased in its population at the rate of 50 or 60,000
per annum; which leaves the present population of Ireland at about
five millions, after every possible deduction for EXISTING
REBELLIONS, and all other sources of human destruction. Of this
population, two out of ten are Protestants; and the half of the
Protestant population are Dissenters, and as inimical to the Church
as the Catholics themselves. In this state of things thumbscrews
and whipping--admirable engines of policy as they must be considered
to be--will not ultimately avail. The Catholics will hang over you;
they will watch for the moment, and compel you hereafter to give
them ten times as much, against your will, as they would now be
contented with, if it were voluntarily surrendered. Remember what
happened in the American war, when Ireland compelled you to give her
everything she asked, and to renounce, in the most explicit manner,
your claim of Sovereignty over her. God Almighty grant the folly of
these present men may not bring on such another crisis of public

What are your dangers which threaten the Establishment?--Reduce this
declamation to a point, and let us understand what you mean. The
most ample allowance does not calculate that there would be more
than twenty members who were Roman Catholics in one house, and ten
in the other, if the Catholic emancipation were carried into effect.
Do you mean that these thirty members would bring in a bill to take
away the tithes from the Protestant, and to pay them to the Catholic
clergy? Do you mean that a Catholic general would march his army
into the House of Commons, and purge it of Mr. Perceval and Dr.
Duigenan? or, that the theological writers would become all of a
sudden more acute or more learned, if the present civil incapacities
were removed? Do you fear for your tithes, or your doctrines, or
your person, or the English Constitution? Every fear, taken
separately, is so glaringly absurd, that no man has the folly or the
boldness to state it. Every one conceals his ignorance, or his
baseness, in a stupid general panic, which, when called on, he is
utterly incapable of explaining. Whatever you think of the
Catholics, there they are--you cannot get rid of them; your
alternative is to give them a lawful place for stating their
grievances, or an unlawful one: if you do not admit them to the
House of Commons, they will hold their parliament in Potatoe Place,
Dublin, and be ten times as violent and inflammatory as they would
be in Westminster. Nothing would give me such an idea of security
as to see twenty or thirty Catholic gentlemen in Parliament, looked
upon by all the Catholics as the fair and proper organ of their
party. I should have thought it the height of good fortune that
such a wish existed on their part, and the very essence of madness
and ignorance to reject it. Can you murder the Catholics? Can you
neglect them? They are too numerous for both these expedients.
What remains to be done is obvious to every human being--but to that
man who, instead of being a Methodist preacher, is, for the curse of
us and our children, and for the ruin of Troy and the misery of good
old Priam and his sons, become a legislator and a politician.

A distinction, I perceive, is taken by one of the most feeble
noblemen in Great Britain, between persecution and the deprivation
of political power; whereas, there is no more distinction between
these two things than there is between him who makes the distinction
and a booby. If I strip off the relic-covered jacket of a Catholic,
and give him twenty stripes . . . I persecute; if I say, Everybody
in the town where you live shall be a candidate for lucrative and
honourable offices, but you, who are a Catholic . . . I do not
persecute! What barbarous nonsense is this! as if degradation was
not as great an evil as bodily pain or as severe poverty: as if I
could not be as great a tyrant by saying, You shall not enjoy--as by
saying, You shall suffer. The English, I believe, are as truly
religious as any nation in Europe; I know no greater blessing; but
it carries with it this evil in its train, that any villain who will
bawl out, "The Church is in danger!" may get a place and a good
pension; and that any administration who will do the same thing may
bring a set of men into power who, at a moment of stationary and
passive piety, would be hooted by the very boys in the streets. But
it is not all religion; it is, in great part, the narrow and
exclusive spirit which delights to keep the common blessings of sun
and air and freedom from other human beings. "Your religion has
always been degraded; you are in the dust, and I will take care you
never rise again. I should enjoy less the possession of an earthly
good by every additional person to whom it was extended." You may
not be aware of it yourself, most reverend Abraham, but you deny
their freedom to the Catholics upon the same principle that Sarah
your wife refuses to give the receipt for a ham or a gooseberry
dumpling: she values her receipts, not because they secure to her a
certain flavour, but because they remind her that her neighbours
want it:- a feeling laughable in a priestess, shameful in a priest;
venial when it withholds the blessings of a ham, tyrannical and
execrable when it narrows the boon of religious freedom.

You spend a great deal of ink about the character of the present
prime minister. Grant you all that you write--I say, I fear he will
ruin Ireland, and pursue a line of policy destructive to the true
interest of his country: and then you tell me, he is faithful to
Mrs. Perceval, and kind to the Master Percevals! These are,
undoubtedly, the first qualifications to be looked to in a time of
the most serious public danger; but somehow or another (if public
and private virtues must always be incompatible), I should prefer
that he destroyed the domestic happiness of Wood or Cockell, owed
for the veal of the preceding year, whipped his boys, and saved his

The late administration did not do right; they did not build their
measures upon the solid basis of facts. They should have caused
several Catholics to have been dissected after death by surgeons of
either religion; and the report to have been published with
accompanying plates. If the viscera, and other organs of life, had
been found to be the same as in Protestant bodies; if the provisions
of nerves, arteries, cerebrum, and cerebellum, had been the same as
we are provided with, or as the Dissenters are now known to possess;
then, indeed, they might have met Mr. Perceval upon a proud
eminence, and convinced the country at large of the strong
probability that the Catholics are really human creatures, endowed
with the feelings of men, and entitled to all their rights. But
instead of this wise and prudent measure, Lord Howick, with his
usual precipitation, brings forward a bill in their favour, without
offering the slightest proof to the country that they were anything
more than horses and oxen. The person who shows the lama at the
corner of Piccadilly has the precaution to write up--ALLOWED BY SIR
JOSEPH BANKS TO BE A REAL QUADRUPED, so his Lordship might have
. . I could write you twenty letters upon this subject; but I am
tired, and so I suppose are you. Our friendship is now of forty
years' standing; you know me to be a truly religious man; but I
shudder to see religion treated like a cockade, or a pint of beer,
and made the instrument of a party. I love the king, but I love the
people as well as the king; and if I am sorry to see his old age
molested, I am much more sorry to see four millions of Catholics
baffled in their just expectations. If I love Lord Grenville, and
Lord Howick, it is because they love their country; if I abhor . . .
it is because I know there is but one man among them who is not
laughing at the enormous folly and credulity of the country, and
that he is an ignorant and mischievous bigot. As for the light and
frivolous jester, of whom it is your misfortune to think so highly,
learn, my dear Abraham, that this political Killigrew, just before
the breaking-up of the last administration, was in actual treaty
with them for a place; and if they had survived twenty-four hours
longer, he would have been now declaiming against the cry of No
Popery! instead of inflaming it. With this practical comment on the
baseness of human nature, I bid you adieu!


All that I have so often told you, Mr. Abraham Plymley, is now come
to pass. The Scythians, in whom you and the neighbouring country
gentleman placed such confidence, are smitten hip and thigh; their
Beningsen put to open shame; their magazines of train oil
intercepted, and we are waking from our disgraceful drunkenness to
all the horrors of Mr. Perceval and Mr Canning . . . We shall now
see if a nation is to be saved by school-boy jokes and doggrel
rhymes, by affronting petulance, and by the tones and gesticulations
of Mr. Pitt. But these are not all the auxiliaries on which we have
to depend; to these his colleague will add the strictest attention
to the smaller parts of ecclesiastical government, to hassocks, to
psalters, and to surplices; in the last agonies of England, he will
bring in a bill to regulate Easter-offerings: and he will adjust
the stipends of curates, when the flag of France is unfurled on the
hills of Kent. Whatever can be done by very mistaken notions of the
piety of a Christian, and by a very wretched imitation of the
eloquence of Mr. Pitt, will be done by these two gentlemen. After
all, if they both really were what they both either wish to be, or
wish to be thought; if the one were an enlightened Christian who
drew from the Gospel the toleration, the charity, and the sweetness
which it contains; and if the other really possessed any portion of
the great understanding of his Nisus who guarded him from the
weapons of the Whigs, I should still doubt if they could save us.
But I am sure we are not to be saved by religious hatred, and by
religious trifling; by any psalmody, however sweet; or by any
persecution, however sharp; I am certain the sounds of Mr. Pitt's
voice, and the measure of his tones, and the movement of his arms,
will do nothing for us; when these tones and movements, and voice
brings us always declamation without sense or knowledge, and
ridicule without good humour or conciliation. Oh, Mr. Plymley, this
never will do. Mrs. Abraham Plymley, my sister, will be led away
captive by an amorous Gaul; and Joel Plymley your firstborn, will be
a French drummer.

Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be a proverb which applies to
enemies as well as friends. Because the French army was no longer
seen from the cliffs of Dover; because the sound of cannon was no
longer heard by the debauched London bathers on the Sussex coast;
because the Morning Post no longer fixed the invasion sometimes for
Monday, sometimes for Tuesday, sometimes (positively for the last
time of invading) on Saturday; because all these causes of terror
were suspended, you conceived the power of Bonaparte to be at an
end, and were setting off for Paris with Lord Hawkesbury the
conqueror. This is precisely the method in which the English have
acted during the whole of the revolutionary war. If Austria or
Prussia armed, doctors of divinity immediately printed those
passages out of Habakkuk, in which the destruction of the Usurper by
General Mack, and the Duke of Brunswick, are so clearly predicted.
If Bonaparte halted, there was a mutiny or a dysentery. If any one
of his generals were eaten up by the light troops of Russia, and
picked (as their manner is) to the bone, the sanguine spirit of this
country displayed itself in all its glory. What scenes of infamy
did the Society for the Suppression of Vice lay open to our
astonished eyes! tradesmen's daughters dancing, pots of beer carried
out between the first and second lesson, and dark and distant
rumours of indecent prints. Clouds of Mr. Canning's cousins arrived
by the waggon; all the contractors left their cards with Mr. Rose;
and every plunderer of the public crawled out of his hole, like
slugs, and grubs, and worms after a shower of rain.

If my voice could have been heard at the late changes, I should have
said, "Gently, patience, stop a little; the time is not yet come;
the mud of Poland will harden, and the bowels of the French
grenadiers will recover their tone. When honesty, good sense, and
liberality have extricated you out of your present embarrassment,
then dismiss them as a matter of course; but you cannot spare them
just now; don't be in too great a hurry, or there will be no monarch
to flatter, and no country to pillage; only submit for a little time
to be respected abroad, overlook the painful absence of the tax-
gatherer for a few years, bear up nobly under the increase of
freedom and of liberal policy for a little time, and I promise you,
at the expiration of that period, you shall be plundered, insulted,
disgraced, and restrained to your heart's content. Do not imagine I
have any intention of putting servility and canting hypocrisy
permanently out of place, or of filling up with courage and sense
those offices which naturally devolve upon decorous imbecility and
flexible cunning: give us only a little time to keep off the
hussars of France, and then the jobbers and jesters shall return to
their birthright, and public virtue be called by its own name of
fanaticism." Such is the advice I would have offered to my
infatuated countrymen: but it rained very hard in November, Brother
Abraham, and the bowels of our enemies were loosened, and we put our
trust in white fluxes and wet mud; and there is nothing now to
oppose to the conqueror of the world but a small table wit, and the
sallow Surveyor of the Meltings.

You ask me, if I think it possible for this country to survive the
recent misfortunes of Europe?--I answer you, without the slightest
degree of hesitation: that if Bonaparte lives, and a great deal is
not immediately done for the conciliation of the Catholics, it does
seem to me absolutely impossible but that we must perish; and take
this with you, that we shall perish without exciting the slightest
feeling of present or future compassion, but fall amidst the
hootings and revilings of Europe, as a nation of blockheads,
Methodists, and old women. If there were any great scenery, any
heroic feelings, any blaze of ancient virtue, any exalted death, any
termination of England that would be ever remembered, ever honoured
in that western world, where liberty is now retiring, conquest would
be more tolerable, and ruin more sweet; but it is doubly miserable
to become slaves abroad, because we would be tyrants at home; to
persecute, when we are contending against persecution; and to
perish, because we have raised up worse enemies within, from our own
bigotry, than we are exposed to without, from the unprincipled
ambition of France. It is indeed a most silly and affecting
spectacle to rage at such a moment against our own kindred and our
own blood; to tell them they cannot be honourable in war, because
they are conscientious in religion; to stipulate (at the very moment
when we should buy their hearts and swords at any price) that they
must hold up the right hand in prayer, and not the left; and adore
one common God, by turning to the east rather than to the west.

What is it the Catholics ask of you? Do not exclude us from the
honours and emoluments of the state because we worship God in one
way, and you worship Him in another. In a period of the deepest
peace, and the fattest prosperity, this would be a fair request; it
should be granted, if Lord Hawkesbury had reached Paris, if Mr.
Canning's interpreter had threatened the Senate in an opening
speech, or Mr. Perceval explained to them the improvements he meant
to introduce into the Catholic religion; but to deny the Irish this
justice now, in the present state of Europe, and in the summer
months, just as the season for destroying kingdoms is coming on, is
(beloved Abraham), whatever you may think of it, little short of
positive insanity.

Here is a frigate attacked by a corsair of immense strength and
size, rigging cut, masts in danger of coming by the board, four foot
water in the hold, men dropping off very fast; in this dreadful
situation how do you think the Captain acts (whose name shall be
Perceval)? He calls all hands upon deck; talks to them of King,
country, glory, sweethearts, gin, French prison, wooden shoes, Old
England, and hearts of oak; they give three cheers, rush to their
guns, and, after a tremendous conflict, succeed in beating off the
enemy. Not a syllable of all this; this is not the manner in which
the honourable Commander goes to work: the first thing he does is
to secure twenty or thirty of his prime sailors who happen to be
Catholics, to clap them in irons, and set over them a guard of as
many Protestants; having taken this admirable method of defending
himself against his infidel opponents, he goes upon deck, reminds
the sailors in a very bitter harangue, that they are of different
religions; exhorts the Episcopal gunner not to trust to the
Presbyterian quartermaster; issues positive orders that the
Catholics should be fired at upon the first appearance of
discontent; rushes through blood and brains, examining his men in
the Catechism and thirty-nine Articles, and positively forbids every
one to sponge or ram who has not taken the Sacrament according to
the Church of England. Was it right to take out a captain made of
excellent British stuff, and to put in such a man as this? Is not
he more like a parson, or a talking lawyer, than a thorough-bred
seaman? And built as she is of heart of oak, and admirably manned,
is it possible, with such a captain, to save this ship from going to
the bottom?

You have an argument, I perceive, in common with many others,
against the Catholics, that their demands complied with would only
lead to further exactions, and that it is better to resist them now,
before anything is conceded, than hereafter, when it is found that
all concessions are in vain. I wish the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, who uses this reasoning to exclude others from their just
rights, had tried its efficacy, not by his understanding, but by
(what are full of much better things) his pockets. Suppose the
person to whom he applied for the meltings had withstood every plea
of wife and fourteen children, no business, and good character, and
refused him this paltry little office because he might hereafter
attempt to get hold of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster for
life? would not Mr. Perceval have contended eagerly against the
injustice of refusing moderate requests, because immoderate ones may
hereafter be made? Would he not have said, and said truly, Leave
such exorbitant attempts as these to the general indignation of the
Commons, who will take care to defeat them when they do occur; but
do not refuse me the Irons and the Meltings now, because I may
totally lose sight of all moderation hereafter? Leave hereafter to
the spirit and the wisdom of hereafter; and do not be niggardly now
from the apprehension that men as wise as you should be profuse in
times to come.

You forget, Brother Abraham, that is a vast art, where quarrels
cannot be avoided, to turn public opinion in your favour and to the
prejudice of your enemy; a vast privilege to feel that you are in
the right, and to make him feel that he is in the wrong: a
privilege which makes you more than a man, and your antagonist less;
and often secures victory by convincing him who contends that he
must submit to injustice if he submits to defeat. Open every rank
in the army and the navy to the Catholic; let him purchase at the
same price as the Protestant (if either Catholic or Protestant can
purchase such refined pleasures) the privilege of hearing Lord
Castlereagh speak for three hours; keep his clergy from starving,
soften some of the most odious powers of the tithing-man, and you
will for ever lay this formidable question to rest. But if I am
wrong, and you must quarrel at last, quarrel upon just rather than
unjust grounds; divide the Catholic and unite the Protestant; be
just, and your own exertions will be more formidable and their
exertions less formidable; be just, and you will take away from
their party all the best and wisest understandings of both
persuasions, and knit them firmly to your own cause. "Thrice is he
armed who has his quarrel just;" and ten times as much may he be
taxed. In the beginning of any war, however destitute of common
sense, every mob will roar, and every Lord of the Bedchamber
address; but if you are engaged in a war that is to last for years,
and to require important sacrifices, take care to make the justice
of your case so clear and so obvious that it cannot be mistaken by
the most illiterate country gentleman who rides the earth. Nothing,
in fact, can be so grossly absurd as the argument which says I will
deny justice to you now, because I suspect future injustice from
you. At this rate, you may lock a man up in your stable, and refuse
to let him out, because you suspect that he has an intention, at
some future period, of robbing your hen-roost. You may horsewhip
him at Lady Day, because you believe he will affront you at
Midsummer. You may commit a greater evil, to guard against a less
which is merely contingent, and may never happen. You may do what
you have done a century ago in Ireland, make the Catholics worse
than Helots, because you suspected that they might hereafter aspire
to be more than fellow citizens; rendering their sufferings certain
from your jealousy, while yours were only doubtful from their
ambition; an ambition sure to be excited by the very measures which
were taken to prevent it.

The physical strength of the Catholics will not be greater because
you give them a share of political power. You may by these means
turn rebels into friends; but I do not see how you make rebels more
formidable. If they taste of the honey of lawful power, they will
love the hive from whence they procure it; if they will struggle
with us like men in the same state for civil influence, we are safe.
All that I dread is the physical strength of four millions of men
combined with an invading French army. If you are to quarrel at
last with this enormous population, still put it off as long as you
can; you must gain, and cannot lose, by the delay. The state of
Europe cannot be worse; the conviction which the Catholics entertain
of your tyranny and injustice cannot be more alarming, nor the
opinions of your own people more divided. Time, which produces such
effect upon brass and marble, may inspire one Minister with modesty
and another with compassion; every circumstance may be better; some
certainly will be so, none can be worse; and after all the evil may
never happen.

You have got hold, I perceive, of all the vulgar English stories
respecting the hereditary transmission of forfeited property, and
seriously believe that every Catholic beggar wears the terriers of
his father's land next his skin, and is only waiting for better
times to cut the throat of the Protestant possessor, and get drunk
in the hall of his ancestors. There is one irresistible answer to
this mistake, and that is, that the forfeited lands are purchased
indiscriminately by Catholic and Protestant, and that the Catholic
purchaser never objects to such a title. Now the land so purchased
by a Catholic is either his own family estate, or it is not. If it
is, you suppose him so desirous of coming into possession that he
resorts to the double method of rebellion and purchase; if it is not
his own family estate of which he becomes the purchaser, you suppose
him first to purchase, then to rebel, in order to defeat the
purchase. These things may happen in Ireland, but it is totally
impossible they can happen anywhere else. In fact, what land can
any man of any sect purchase in Ireland, but forfeited property? In
all other oppressed countries which I have ever heard of, the
rapacity of the conqueror was bounded by the territorial limits in
which the objects of his avarice were contained; but Ireland has
been actually confiscated twice over, as a cat is twice killed by a
wicked parish boy.

I admit there is a vast luxury in selecting a particular set of
Christians, and in worrying them as a boy worries a puppy dog; it is
an amusement in which all the young English are brought up from
their earliest days. I like the idea of saying to men who use a
different hassock from me, that till they change their hassock they
shall never be Colonels, Aldermen, or Parliament-men. While I am
gratifying my personal insolence respecting religious forms, I
fondle myself into an idea that I am religious, and that I am doing
my duty in the most exemplary, as I certainly am in the most easy,
way. But then, my good Abraham, this sport, admirable as it is, is
become, with respect to the Catholics, a little dangerous; and if we
are not extremely careful in taking the amusement, we shall tumble
into the holy water and be drowned. As it seems necessary to your
idea of an established church to have somebody to worry and torment,
suppose we were to select for this purpose William Wilberforce,
Esq., and the patent Christians of Clapham. We shall by this
expedient enjoy the same opportunity for cruelty and injustice,
without being exposed to the same risks: we will compel them to
abjure vital clergymen by a public test, to deny that the said
William Wilberforce has any power of working miracles, touching for
barrenness or any other infirmity, or that he is endowed with any
preternatural gift whatever. We will swear them to the doctrine of
good works, compel them to preach common sense, and to hear it; to
frequent Bishops, Deans, and other High Churchmen; and to appear,
once in the quarter at the least, at some melodrame, opera,
pantomime, or other light scenical representation; in short, we will
gratify the love of insolence and power; we will enjoy the old
orthodox sport of witnessing the impotent anger of men compelled to
submit to civil degradation, or to sacrifice their notions of truth
to ours. And all this we may do without the slightest risk, because
their numbers are, as yet, not very considerable. Cruelty and
injustice must, of course, exist; but why connect them with danger?
Why torture a bulldog when you can get a frog or a rabbit? I am
sure my proposal will meet with the most universal approbation. Do
not be apprehensive of any opposition from ministers. If it is a
case of hatred, we are sure that one man will defend it by the
Gospel: if it abridges human freedom, we know that another will
find precedents for it in the Revolution.

In the name of Heaven, what are we to gain by suffering Ireland to
be rode by that faction which now predominates over it? Why are we
to endanger our own Church and State, not for 500,000 Episcopalians,
but for ten or twelve great Orange families, who have been sucking
the blood of that country for these hundred years last past? and the
folly of the Orangemen in playing this game themselves, is almost as
absurd as ours in playing it for them. They ought to have the sense
to see that their business now is to keep quietly the lands and
beeves of which the fathers of the Catholics were robbed in days of
yore; they must give to their descendants the sop of political
power: by contending with them for names, they will lose realities,
and be compelled to beg their potatoes in a foreign land, abhorred
equally by the English, who have witnessed their oppression, and by
the Catholic Irish, who have smarted under them.


Then comes Mr. Isaac Hawkins Brown (the gentleman who danced so
badly at the Court of Naples), and asks if it is not an anomaly to
educate men in another religion than your own. It certainly is our
duty to get rid of error, and, above all, of religious error; but
this is not to be done per saltum, or the measure will miscarry,
like the Queen. It may be very easy to dance away the royal embryo
of a great kingdom; but Mr. Hawkins Brown must look before he leaps,
when his object is to crush an opposite sect in religion; false
steps aid the one effect as much as they are fatal to the other: it
will require not only the lapse of Mr. Hawkins Brown, but the lapse
of centuries, before the absurdities of the Catholic religion are
laughed at as much as they deserve to be; but surely, in the
meantime, the Catholic religion is better than none; four millions
of Catholics are better than four millions of wild beasts; two
hundred priests educated by our own government are better than the
same number educated by the man who means to destroy us.

The whole sum now appropriated by Government to the religious
education of four millions of Christians is 13,000 pounds; a sum
about one hundred times as large being appropriated in the same
country to about one-eighth part of this number of Protestants.
When it was proposed to raise this grant from 8,000 pounds to 13,000
pounds, its present amount, this sum was objected to by that most
indulgent of Christians, Mr. Spencer Perceval, as enormous; he
himself having secured for his own eating and drinking, and the
eating and drinking of the Master and Miss Percevals, the
reversionary sum of 21,000 pounds a year of the public money, and
having just failed in a desperate and rapacious attempt to secure to
himself for life the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster: and the
best of it is, that this minister, after abusing his predecessors
for their impious bounty to the Catholics, has found himself
compelled, from the apprehension of immediate danger, to grant the
sum in question, thus dissolving his pearl in vinegar, and
destroying all the value of the gift by the virulence and reluctance
with which it was granted.

I hear from some persons in Parliament, and from others in the
sixpenny societies for debate, a great deal about unalterable laws
passed at the Revolution. When I hear any man talk of an
unalterable law, the only effect it produces upon me is to convince
me that he is an unalterable fool. A law passed when there was
Germany, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Holland, Portugal, and Turkey; when
there was a disputed succession; when four or five hundred acres
were won and lost after ten years' hard fighting; when armies were
commanded by the sons of kings, and campaigns passed in an
interchange of civil letters and ripe fruit; and for these laws,
when the whole state of the world is completely changed, we are now,
according to my Lord Hawkesbury, to hold ourselves ready to perish.
It is no mean misfortune, in times like these, to be forced to say
anything about such men as Lord Hawkesbury, and to be reminded that
we are governed by them, but as I am driven to it, I must take the
liberty of observing that the wisdom and liberality of my Lord
Hawkesbury are of that complexion which always shrinks from the
present exercise of these virtues by praising the splendid examples
of them in ages past. If he had lived at such periods, he would
have opposed the Revolution by praising the Reformation, and the
Reformation by speaking handsomely of the Crusades. He gratifies
his natural antipathy to great and courageous measures by playing
off the wisdom and courage which have ceased to influence human
affairs against that wisdom and courage which living men would
employ for present happiness. Besides, it happens unfortunately for
the Warden of the Cinque Ports, that to the principal incapacities
under which the Irish suffer, they were subjected after that great
and glorious revolution, to which we are indebted for so many
blessings, and his Lordship for the termination of so many periods.
The Catholics were not excluded from the Irish House of Commons, or
military commands, before the 3rd and 4th of William and Mary, and
the 1st and 2nd of Queen Anne.

If the great mass of the people, environed as they are on every side
with Jenkinsons, Percevals, Melvilles, and other perils, were to
pray for divine illumination and aid, what more could Providence in
its mercy do than send them the example of Scotland? For what a
length of years was it attempted to compel the Scotch to change
their religion: horse, foot, artillery, and armed Prebendaries,
were sent out after the Presbyterian parsons and their
congregations. The Percevals of those days called for blood: this
call is never made in vain, and blood was shed; but, to the
astonishment and horror of the Percevals of those days, they could
not introduce the book of Common Prayer, nor prevent that
metaphysical people from going to heaven their true way, instead of
our true way. With a little oatmeal for food, and a little sulphur
for friction, allaying cutaneous irritation with the one hand, and
holding his Calvinistical creed in the other, Sawney ran away to his
flinty hills, sung his psalm out of tune his own way, and listened
to his sermon of two hours long, amid the rough and imposing
melancholy of the tallest thistles. But Sawney brought up his
unbreeched offspring in a cordial hatred of his oppressors; and
Scotland was as much a part of the weakness of England then as
Ireland is at this moment. The true and the only remedy was
applied; the Scotch were suffered to worship God after their own
tiresome manner, without pain, penalty, or privation. No lightning
descended from heaven: the country was not ruined; the world is not
yet come to an end; the dignitaries who foretold all these
consequences are utterly forgotten, and Scotland has ever since been
an increasing source of strength to Great Britain. In the six
hundredth year of our empire over Ireland we are making laws to
transport a man if he is found out of his house after eight o'clock
at night. That this is necessary I know too well; but tell me why
it is necessary. It is not necessary in Greece, where the Turks are

Are you aware that there is at this moment a universal clamour
throughout the whole of Ireland against the Union? It is now one
month since I returned from that country; I have never seen so
extraordinary, so alarming, and so rapid a change in the sentiments
of any people. Those who disliked the Union before are quite
furious against it now; those who doubted doubt no more; those who
were friendly to it have exchanged that friendship for the most
rooted aversion; in the midst of all this (which is by far the most
alarming symptom), there is the strongest disposition on the part of
the northern Dissenters to unite with the Catholics, irritated by
the faithless injustice with which they have been treated. If this
combination does take place (mark what I say to you), you will have
meetings all over Ireland for the cry of No Union; that cry will
spread like wild-fire, and blaze over every opposition; and if this
be the case, there is no use in mincing the matter; Ireland is gone,
and the death-blow of England is struck; and this event may happen
INSTANTLY--before Mr. Canning and Mr. Hookham Frere have turned Lord
Howick's last speech into doggerel rhymne; before "the near and dear
relations" have received another quarter of their pension, or Mr.
Perceval conducted the Curates' Salary Bill safely to a third
reading. If the mind of the English people, cursed as they now are
with that madness of religious dissension which has been breathed
into them for the purposes of private ambition, can be alarmed by
any remembrances, and warned by any events, they should never forget
how nearly Ireland was lost to this country during the American war;
that it was saved merely by the jealousy of the Protestant Irish
towards the Catholics, then a much more insignificant and powerless
body than they now are. The Catholic and the Dissenter have since
combined together against you. Last war, the winds, those ancient
and unsubsidised allies of England; the winds, upon which English
ministers depend as much for saving kingdoms as washerwomen do for
drying clothes; the winds stood your friends: the French could only
get into Ireland in small numbers, and the rebels were defeated.
Since then, all the remaining kingdoms of Europe have been
destroyed; and the Irish see that their national independence is
gone, without having received any single one of those advantages
which they were taught to expect from the sacrifice. All good
things were to flow from the Union; they have none of them gained
anything. Every man's pride is wounded by it; no man's interest is
promoted. In the seventh year of that union four million Catholics,
lured by all kinds of promises to yield up the separate dignity and
sovereignty of their country, are forced to squabble with such a man
as Mr. Spencer Perceval for five thousand pounds with which to
educate their children in their own mode of worship, he, the same
Mr. Spencer, having secured to his own Protestant self a
reversionary portion of the public money amounting to four times
that sum. A senior Proctor of the University of Oxford, the head of
a house, or the examining chaplain to a bishop, may believe these
things can last; but every man of the world, whose understanding has
been exercised in the business of life, must see (and see with a
breaking heart) that they will soon come to a fearful termination.

Our conduct to Ireland during the whole of this war has been that of
a man who subscribes to hospitals, weeps at charity sermons, carries
out broth and blankets to beggars, and then comes home and beats his
wife and children. We had compassion for the victims of all other
oppression and injustice except our own. If Switzerland was
threatened, away went a Treasury Clerk with a hundred thousand
pounds for Switzerland; large bags of money were kept constantly
under sailing orders; upon the slightest demonstration towards
Naples, down went Sir William Hamilton upon his knees, and begged
for the love of St. Januarius they would help us off with a little
money; all the arts of Machiavel were resorted to to persuade Europe
to borrow; troops were sent off in all directions to save the
Catholic and Protestant world; the Pope himself was guarded by a
regiment of English dragoons; if the Grand Lama had been at hand, he
would have had another; every Catholic clergyman who had the good
fortune to be neither English nor Irish was immediately provided
with lodging, soap, crucifix, missal, chapel-beads, relics, and holy
water; if Turks had landed, Turks would have received an order from
the Treasury for coffee, opium, korans, and seraglios. In the midst
of all this fury of saving and defending this crusade for conscience
and Christianity, there was a universal agreement among all
descriptions of people to continue every species of internal
persecution, to deny at home every just right that had been denied
before, to pummel poor Dr. Abraham Rees and his Dissenters, and to
treat the unhappy Catholics of Ireland as if their tongues were
mute, their heels cloven, their nature brutal, and designedly
subjected by Providence to their Orange masters.

How would my admirable brother, the Rev. Abraham Plymley, like to be
marched to a Catholic chapel, to be sprinkled with the sanctified
contents of a pump, to hear a number of false quantities in the
Latin tongue, and to see a number of persons occupied in making
right angles upon the breast and forehead? And if all this would
give you so much pain, what right have you to march Catholic
soldiers to a place of worship, where there is no aspersion, no
rectangular gestures, and where they understand every word they
hear, having first, in order to get him to enlist, made a solemn
promise to the contrary? Can you wonder, after this, that the
Catholic priest stops the recruiting in Ireland, as he is now doing
to a most alarming degree?

The late question concerning military rank did not individually
affect the lowest persons of the Catholic persuasion; but do you
imagine they do not sympathise with the honour and disgrace of their
superiors? Do you think that satisfaction and dissatisfaction do
not travel down from Lord Fingal to the most potato-less Catholic in
Ireland, and that the glory or shame of the sect is not felt by many
more than these conditions personally and corporeally affect? Do
you suppose that the detection of Sir Henry Mildmay, and the
disappointment of Mr. Perceval IN THE MATTER of the Duchy of
Lancaster, did not affect every dabbler in public property? Depend
upon it these things were felt through all the gradations of small
plunderers, down to him who filches a pound of tobacco from the
King's warehouses; while, on the contrary, the acquittal of any
noble and official thief would not fail to diffuse the most heart-
felt satisfaction over the larcenous and burglarious world.
Observe, I do not say because the lower Catholics are affected by
what concerns their superiors, that they are not affected by what
concerns themselves. There is no disguising the horrid truth, THERE
and heart-rending price which must be paid for national
preservation. I feel how little existence will be worth having, if
any alteration, however slight, is made in the property of Irish
rectors; I am conscious how much such changes must affect the daily
and hourly comforts of every Englishman; I shall feel too happy if
they leave Europe untouched, and are not ultimately fatal to the
destinies of America; but I am madly bent upon keeping foreign
enemies out of the British empire, and my limited understanding
presents me with no other means of effecting my object.

You talk of waiting till another reign before any alteration is
made; a proposal full of good sense and good nature, if the measure
in question were to pull down St. James's Palace, or to alter Kew
Gardens. Will Bonaparte agree to put off his intrigues, and his
invasion of Ireland? If so, I will overlook the question of
justice, and finding the danger suspended, agree to the delay. I
sincerely hope this reign may last many years, yet the delay of a
single session of Parliament may be fatal; but if another year
elapse without some serious concession made to the Catholics, I
believe, before God, that all future pledges and concessions will be
made in vain. I do not think that peace will do you any good under
such circumstances. If Bonaparte give you a respite, it will only
be to get ready the gallows on which he means to hang you. The
Catholic and the Dissenter can unite in peace as well as war. If
they do, the gallows is ready, and your executioner, in spite of the
most solemn promises, will turn you off the next hour.

With every disposition to please (where to please within fair and
rational limits is a high duty), it is impossible for public men to
be long silent about the Catholics; pressing evils are not got rid
of, because they are not talked of. A man may command his family to
say nothing more about the stone and surgical operations; but the
ponderous malice still lies upon the nerve, and gets so big, that
the patient breaks his own law of silence, clamours for the knife,
and expires under its late operation. Believe me, you talk folly
when you talk of suppressing the Catholic question. I wish to God
the case admitted of such a remedy; bad as it is, it does not admit
of it. If the wants of the Catholics are not heard in the manly
tones of Lord Grenville, or the servile drawl of Lord Castlereagh,
they will be heard ere long in the madness of mobs, and the
conflicts of armed men.

I observe it is now universally the fashion to speak of the first
personage in the state as the great obstacle to the measure. In the
first place, I am not bound to believe such rumours because I hear
them; and in the next place, I object to such language, as
unconstitutional. Whoever retains his situation in the ministry
while the incapacities of the Catholics remain, is the advocate for
those incapacities; and to him, and to him only, am I to look for
responsibility. But waive this question of the Catholics, and put a
general case: --How is a minister of this country to act when the
conscientious scruples of his Sovereign prevent the execution of a
measure deemed by him absolutely necessary to the safety of the
country? His conduct is quite clear--he should resign. But what is
his successor to do?--Resign. But is the King to be left without
ministers, and is he in this manner to be compelled to act against
his own conscience? Before I answer this, pray tell me in my turn
what better defence is there against the machinations of a wicked,
or the errors of a weak Monarch, than the impossibility of finding a
minister who will lend himself to vice and folly? Every English
Monarch, in such a predicament, would sacrifice his opinions and
views to such a clear expression of the public will; and it is one
method in which the Constitution aims at bringing about such a
sacrifice. You may say, if you please, the ruler of a state is
forced to give up his object when the natural love of place and
power will tempt no one to assist him in its attainment; this may be
force; but it is force without injury, and therefore without blame.
I am not to be beat out of these obvious reasonings, and ancient
constitutional provisions, by the term conscience. There is no
fantasy, however wild, that a man may not persuade himself that he
cherishes from motives of conscience; eternal war against impious
France, or rebellious America, or Catholic Spain, may in times to
come be scruples of conscience. One English Monarch may, from
scruples of conscience, wish to abolish every trait of religious
persecution; another Monarch may deem it his absolute and
indispensable duty to make a slight provision for Dissenters out of
the revenues of the Church of England. So that you see, Brother
Abraham, there are cases where it would be the duty of the best and
most loyal subjects to oppose the conscientious scruples of their
Sovereign, still taking care that their actions were constitutional
and their modes respectful. Then you come upon me with personal
questions, and say that no such dangers are to be apprehended now
under our present gracious Sovereign, of whose good qualities we
must be all so well convinced. All these sorts of discussions I beg
leave to decline. What I have said upon constitutional topics, I
mean of course for general, not for particular application. I agree
with you in all the good you have said of the powers that be, and I
avail myself of the opportunity of pointing out general dangers to
the Constitution, at a moment when we are so completely exempted
from their present influence. I cannot finish this letter without
expressing my surprise and pleasure at your abuse of the servile
addresses poured in upon the throne, nor can I conceive a greater
disgust to a Monarch, with a true English heart, than to see such a
question as that of Catholic Emancipation argued, not with a
reference to its justice or importance, but universally considered
to be of no further consequence than as it affects his own private
feelings. That these sentiments should be mine is not wonderful;
but how they came to be yours does, I confess, fill me with
surprise. Are you moved by the arrival of the Irish Brigade at
Antwerp, and the amorous violence which awaits Mrs. Plymley?


Dear Abraham,--I never met a parson in my life who did not consider
the Corporation and Test Acts as the great bulwarks of the Church;
and yet it is now just sixty-four years since bills of indemnity to
destroy their penal effects, or, in other words, to repeal them,
have been passed annually as a matter of course.

Heu vatum ignar mentes.

These bulwarks, without which no clergyman thinks he could sleep
with his accustomed soundness, have actually not been in existence
since any man now living has taken holy orders. Every year the
Indemnity Act pardons past breaches of these two laws, and prevents
any fresh actions of informers from coming to a conclusion before
the period for the next indemnity bill arrives; so that these
penalties, by which alone the Church remains in existence, have not
had one moment's operation for sixty-four years. You will say the
legislature, during the whole of this period, has reserved to itself
the discretion of suspending or not suspending. But had not the
legislature the right of re-enacting, if it was necessary? And now
when you have kept the rod over these people (with the most
scandalous abuse of all principle) for sixty-four years, and not
found it necessary to strike once, is not that the best of all
reasons why the rod should be laid aside? You talk to me of a very
valuable hedge running across your fields which you would not part
with on any account. I go down, expecting to find a limit
impervious to cattle, and highly useful for the preservation of
property; but, to my utter astonishment, I find that the hedge was
cut down half a century ago, and that every year the shoots are
clipped the moment they appear above ground: it appears, upon
further inquiry, that the hedge never ought to have existed at all;
that it originated in the malice of antiquated quarrels, and was cut
down because it subjected you to vast inconvenience, and broke up
your intercourse with a country absolutely necessary to your
existence. If the remains of this hedge serve only to keep up an
irritation in your neighbours, and to remind them of the feuds of
former times, good nature and good sense teach you that you ought to
grub it up, and cast it into the oven. This is the exact state of
these two laws; and yet it is made a great argument against
concession to the Catholics, that it involves their repeal; which is
to say, Do not make me relinquish a folly that will lead to my ruin;
because, if you do, I must give up other follies ten times greater
than this.

I confess, with all our bulwarks and hedges, it mortifies me to the
quick to contrast with our matchless stupidity and inimitable folly
the conduct of Bonaparte upon the subject of religious persecution.
At the moment when we are tearing the crucifixes from the necks of
the Catholics, and washing pious mud from the foreheads of the
Hindoos; at that moment this man is assembling the very Jews at
Paris, and endeavouring to give them stability and importance. I
shall never be reconciled to mending shoes in America; but I see it
must be my lot, and I will then take a dreadful revenge upon Mr.
Perceval, if I catch him preaching within ten miles of me. I cannot
for the soul of me conceive whence this man has gained his notions
of Christianity: he has the most evangelical charity for errors in
arithmetic, and the most inveterate malice against errors in
conscience. While he rages against those whom in the true spirit of
the Gospel he ought to indulge, he forgets the only instance of
severity which that Gospel contains, and leaves the jobbers,
contractors, and money-changers at their seats, without a single

You cannot imagine, you say, that England will ever be ruined and
conquered; and for no other reason that I can find, but because it
seems so very odd it should be ruined and conquered. Alas! so
reasoned, in their time, the Austrian, Russian, and Prussian
Plymleys. But the English are brave: so were all these nations.
You might get together a hundred thousand men individually brave;
but without generals capable of commanding such a machine, it would
be as useless as a first-rate man-of-war manned by Oxford clergymen
or Parisian shopkeepers. I do not say this to the disparagement of
English officers: they have had no means of acquiring experience;
but I do say it to create alarm; for we do not appear to me to be
half alarmed enough, or to entertain that sense of our danger which
leads to the most obvious means of self-defence. As for the spirit
of the peasantry in making a gallant defence behind hedge-rows, and
through plate-racks and hen-coops, highly as I think of their
bravery, I do not know any nation in Europe so likely to be struck
with the panic as the English; and this from their total
unacquaintance with the science of war. Old wheat and beans blazing
for twenty miles round; cart mares shot; sows of Lord Somerville's
breed running wild over the country; the minister of the parish
wounded sorely in his hinder parts; Mrs. Plymley in fits. All these
scenes of war an Austrian or a Russian has seen three or four times
over: but it is now three centuries since an English pig has fallen
in a fair battle upon English ground, or a farm-house been rifled,
or a clergyman's wife been subjected to any other proposals of love
than the connubial endearments of her sleek and orthodox mate. The
old edition of Plutarch's Lives, which lies in the corner of your
parlour window, has contributed to work you up to the most romantic
expectations of our Roman behaviour. You are persuaded that Lord
Amherst will defend Kew Bridge like Cocles; that some maid of honour
will break away from her captivity, and swim over the Thames; that
the Duke of York will burn his capitulating hand; and little Mr.
Sturges Bourne give forty years' purchase for Moulsham Hall, while
the French are encamped upon it. I hope we shall witness all this,
if the French do come; but in the meantime I am so enchanted with
the ordinary English behaviour of these invaluable persons, that I
earnestly pray no opportunity may be given them for Roman valour,
and for those very un-Roman pensions which they would all, of
course, take especial care to claim in consequence. But whatever
was our conduct, if every ploughman was as great a hero as he who
was called from his oxen to save Rome from her enemies, I should
still say, that at such a crisis you want the affections of all your
subjects in both islands: there is no spirit which you must
alienate, no art you must avert, every man must feel he has a
country, and that there is an urgent and pressing cause why he
should expose himself to death.

The effects of penal laws in matters of religion are never confined
to those limits in which the legislature intended they should be
placed: it is not only that I am excluded from certain offices and
dignities because I am a Catholic, but the exclusion carries with it
a certain stigma, which degrades me in the eyes of the monopolising
sect, and the very name of my religion becomes odious. These
effects are so very striking in England, that I solemnly believe
blue and red baboons to be more popular here than Catholics and
Presbyterians; they are more understood, and there is a greater
disposition to do something for them. When a country squire hears
of an ape, his first feeling is to give it nuts and apples; when he
hears of a Dissenter, his immediate impulse is to commit it to the
county gaol, to shave its head, to alter its customary food, and to
have it privately whipped. This is no caricature, but an accurate
picture of national feelings, as they degrade and endanger us at
this very moment. The Irish Catholic gentleman would bear his legal
disabilities with greater temper, if these were all he had to bear--
if they did not enable every Protestant cheese-monger and tide-
waiter to treat him with contempt. He is branded on the forehead
with a red-hot iron, and treated like a spiritual felon, because in
the highest of all considerations he is led by the noblest of all
guides, his own disinterested conscience.

Why are nonsense and cruelty a bit the better because they are
enacted? If Providence, which gives wine and oil, had blessed us
with that tolerant spirit which makes the countenance more pleasant
and the heart more glad than these can do; if our Statute Book had
never been defiled with such infamous laws, the sepulchral Spencer
Perceval would have been hauled through the dirtiest horse-pond in
Hampstead, had he ventured to propose them. But now persecution is
good, because it exists; every law which originated in ignorance and
malice, and gratifies the passions from whence it sprang, we call
the wisdom of our ancestors: when such laws are repealed, they will
be cruelty and madness; till they are repealed, they are policy and

I was somewhat amused with the imputation brought against the
Catholics by the University of Oxford, that they are enemies to
liberty. I immediately turned to my "History of England," and
marked as an historical error that passage in which it is recorded
that, in the reign of Queen Anne, the famous degree of the
University of Oxford respecting passive obedience, was ordered by
the House of Lords to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman,
as contrary to the liberty of the subject and the law of the land.
Nevertheless, I wish, whatever be the modesty of those who impute,
that the imputation was a little more true, the Catholic cause would
not be quite so desperate with the present. Administration. I
fear, however, that the hatred to liberty in these poor devoted
wretches may ere long appear more doubtful than it is at present to
the Vice-Chancellor and his Clergy, inflamed as they doubtless are
with classical examples of republican virtue, and panting, as they
always have been, to reduce the power of the Crown within narrower
and safer limits. What mistaken zeal to attempt to connect one
religion with freedom and another with slavery! Who laid the
foundations of English liberty? What was the mixed religion of
Switzerland? What has the Protestant religion done for liberty in
Denmark, in Sweden, throughout the north of Germany, and in Prussia?
The purest religion in the world, in my humble opinion, is the
religion of the Church of England: for its preservation (so far as
it is exercised without intruding upon the liberties of others) I am
ready at this moment to venture my present life, and but through
that religion I have no hopes of any other; yet I am not forced to
be silly because I am pious; nor will I ever join in eulogiums on my
faith which every man of common reading and common sense can so
easily refute.

You have either done too much for the Catholics, worthy Abraham, or
too little; if you had intended to refuse them political power, you
should have refused them civil rights. After you had enabled them
to acquire property, after you had conceded to them all that you did
concede in '78 and '93, the rest is wholly out of your power: you
may choose whether you will give the rest in an honourable or a
disgraceful mode, but it is utterly out of your power to withhold

In the last year, land to the amount of EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND
POUNDS was purchased by the Catholics in Ireland. Do you think it
possible to be-Perceval, and be-Canning, and be-Castlereagh, such a
body of men as this out of their common rights, and their common
sense? Mr. George Canning may laugh and joke at the idea of
Protestant bailiffs ravishing Catholic ladies, under the 9th clause
of the Sunset Bill; but if some better remedy be not applied to the
distractions of Ireland than the jocularity of Mr. Canning, they
will soon put an end to his pension, and to the pension of those
"near and dear relatives," for whose eating, drinking, washing, and
clothing, every man in the United Kingdoms now pays his two-pence or
three-pence a year. You may call these observations coarse, if you
please; but I have no idea that the Sophias and Carolines of any man
breathing are to eat national veal, to drink public tea, to wear
Treasury ribands, and then that we are to be told that it is coarse
to animadvert upon this pitiful and eleemosynary splendour. If this
is right, why not mention it? If it is wrong, why should not he who
enjoys the ease of supporting his sisters in this manner bear the
shame of it? Everybody seems hitherto to have spared a man who
never spares anybody.

As for the enormous wax candles, and superstitious mummeries, and
painted jackets of the Catholic priests, I fear them not. Tell me
that the world will return again under the influence of the
smallpox; that Lord Castlereagh will hereafter oppose the power of
the Court; that Lord Howick and Mr. Grattan will do each of them a
mean and dishonourable action; that anybody who has heard Lord
Redesdale speak once will knowingly and willingly hear him again;
that Lord Eldon has assented to the fact of two and two making four,
without shedding tears, or expressing the smallest doubt or scruple;
tell me any other thing absurd or incredible, but, for the love of
common sense, let me hear no more of the danger to be apprehended
from the general diffusion of Popery. It is too absurd to be
reasoned upon; every man feels it is nonsense when he hears it
stated, and so does every man while he is stating it.

I cannot imagine why the friends to the Church Establishment should
enter in such a horror of seeing the doors of Parliament flung open
to the Catholics, and view so passively the enjoyment of that right
by the Presbyterians and by every other species of Dissenter. In
their tenets, in their Church Government, in the nature of their
endowments, the Dissenters are infinitely more distant from the
Church of England than the Catholics are; yet the Dissenters have
never been excluded from Parliament. There are 45 members in one
House, and 16 in the other, who always are Dissenters. There is no
law which would prevent every member of the Lords and Commons from
being Dissenters. The Catholics could not bring into Parliament
half the number of the Scotch members; and yet one exclusion is of
such immense importance, because it has taken place; and the other
no human being thinks of, because no one is accustomed to it. I
have often thought, if the WISDOM OF OUR ANCESTORS had excluded all
persons with red hair from the House of Commons, of the throes and
convulsions it would occasion to restore them to their natural
rights. What mobs and riots would it produce! To what infinite
abuse and obloquy would the capillary patriot be exposed; what
wormwood would distil from Mr. Perceval, what froth would drop from
Mr. Canning; how (I will not say MY, but OUR Lord Hawkesbury, for he
belongs to us all)--how our Lord Hawkesbury would work away about
the hair of King William and Lord Somers, and the authors of the
great and glorious Revolution; how Lord Eldon would appeal to the
Deity and his own virtues, and to the hair of his children: some
would say that red-haired men were superstitious; some would prove
they were atheists; they would be petitioned against as the friends
of slavery, and the advocates for revolt; in short, such a corruptor
of the heart and understanding is the spirit of persecution, that
these unfortunate people (conspired against by their fellow-subjects
of every complexion), if they did not emigrate to countries where
hair of another colour was persecuted, would be driven to the
falsehood of perukes, or the hypocrisy of the Tricosian fluid.

As for the dangers of the Church (in spite of the staggering events
which have lately taken place), I have not yet entirely lost my
confidence in the power of common sense, and I believe the Church to
be in no danger at all; but if it is, that danger is not from the
Catholics, but from the Methodists, and from that patent
Christianity which has been for some time manufacturing at Clapham,
to the prejudice of the old and admirable article prepared by the
Church. I would counsel my lords the Bishops to keep their eyes
upon that holy village, and its vicinity; they will find there a
zeal in making converts far superior to anything which exists among
the Catholics; a contempt for the great mass of English clergy, much
more rooted and profound; and a regular fund to purchase livings for
those groaning and garrulous gentlemen whom they denominate (by a
standing sarcasm against the regular Church) Gospel preachers and
vital clergymen. I am too firm a believer in the general propriety
and respectability of the English clergy, to believe they have much
to fear either from old nonsense or from new; but if the Church must
be supposed to be in danger, I prefer that nonsense which is grown
half venerable from time, the force of which I have already tried
and baffled, which at least has some excuse in the dark and ignorant
ages in which it originated. The religious enthusiasm manufactured
by living men before my own eyes disgusts my understanding as much,
influences my imagination not at all, and excites my apprehensions
much more.

I may have seemed to you to treat the situation of public affairs
with some degree of levity; but I feel it deeply, and with nightly
and daily anguish; because I know Ireland; I have known it all my
life; I love it, and I foresee the crisis to which it will soon be
exposed. Who can doubt but that Ireland will experience ultimately
from France a treatment to which the conduct they have experienced
from England is the love of a parent, or a brother? Who can doubt
but that five years after he has got hold of the country, Ireland
will be tossed away by Bonaparte as a present to some one of his
ruffian generals, who will knock the head of Mr. Keogh against the
head of Cardinal Troy, shoot twenty of the most noisy blockheads of
the Roman persuasion, wash his pug-dogs in holy water, and
confiscate the salt butter of the Milesian republic to the last tub?
But what matters this? or who is wise enough in Ireland to heed it?
or when had common sense much influence with my poor dear Irish?
Mr. Perceval does not know the Irish; but I know them, and I know
that at every rash and mad hazard they will break the Union, revenge
their wounded pride and their insulted religion, and fling
themselves into the open arms of France, sure of dying in the
embrace. And now, what means have you of guarding against this
coming evil, upon which the future happiness or misery of every
Englishman depends? Have you a single ally in the whole world? Is
there a vulnerable point in the French empire where the astonishing
resources of that people can be attracted and employed? Have you a
ministry wise enough to comprehend the danger, manly enough to
believe unpleasant intelligence, honest enough to state their
apprehensions at the peril of their places? Is there anywhere the
slightest disposition to join any measure of love, or conciliation,
or hope, with that dreadful bill which the distractions of Ireland
have rendered necessary? At the very moment that the last Monarchy
in Europe has fallen, are we not governed by a man of pleasantry,
and a man of theology? In the six hundredth year of our empire over
Ireland, have we any memorial of ancient kindness to refer to? any
people, any zeal, any country on which we can depend? Have we any
hope, but in the winds of heaven and the tides of the sea? any
prayer to prefer to the Irish, but that they should forget and
forgive their oppressors, who, in the very moment that they are
calling upon them for their exertions, solemnly assure them that the
oppression shall still remain?

Abraham, farewell! If I have tired you, remember how often you have
tired me and others. I do not think we really differ in politics so
much as you suppose; or at least, if we do, that difference is in
the means, and not in the end. We both love the Constitution,
respect the King, and abhor the French. But though you love the
Constitution, you would perpetuate the abuses which have been
engrafted upon it; though you respect the King, you would confirm
his scruples against the Catholics; though you abhor the French, you
would open to them the conquest of Ireland. My method of respecting
my sovereign is by protecting his honour, his empire, and his
lasting happiness; I evince my love of the Constitution by making it
the guardian of all men's rights and the source of their freedom;
and I prove my abhorrence of the French, by uniting against them the
disciples of every church in the only remaining nation in Europe.
As for the men of whom I have been compelled in this age of
mediocrity to say so much, they cannot of themselves be worth a
moment's consideration, to you, to me, or to anybody. In a year
after their death they will be forgotten as completely as if they
had never been; and are now of no further importance than as they
are the mere vehicles of carrying into effect the common-place and
mischievous prejudices of the times in which they live.


Dear Abraham,--What amuses me the most is to hear of the INDULGENCES
which the Catholics have received, and their exorbitance in not
being satisfied with those indulgences: now if you complain to me
that a man is obtrusive and shameless in his requests, and that it
is impossible to bring him to reason, I must first of all hear the
whole of your conduct towards him; for you may have taken from him
so much in the first instance that, in spite of a long series of
restitution, a vast latitude for petition may still remain behind.

There is a village, no matter where, in which the inhabitants, on
one day in the year, sit down to a dinner prepared at the common
expense: by an extra-ordinary piece of tyranny, which Lord
Hawkesbury would call the wisdom of the village ancestors, the
inhabitants of three of the streets, about a hundred years ago,
seized upon the inhabitants of the fourth street, bound them hand
and foot, laid them upon their backs, and compelled them to look on
while the rest were stuffing themselves with beef and beer; the next
year the inhabitants of the persecuted street, though they
contributed an equal quota of the expense, were treated precisely in
the same manner. The tyranny grew into a custom; and, as the manner
of our nature is, it was considered as the most sacred of all duties
to keep these poor fellows without their annual dinner. The village
was so tenacious of this practice, that nothing could induce them to
resign it; every enemy to it was looked upon as a disbeliever in
Divine Providence, and any nefarious churchwarden who wished to
succeed in his election had nothing to do but to represent his
antagonist as an abolitionist, in order to frustrate his ambition,
endanger his life, and throw the village into a state of the most
dreadful commotion. By degrees, however, the obnoxious street grew
to be so well peopled, and its inhabitants so firmly united, that
their oppressors, more afraid of injustice, were more disposed to be
just. At the next dinner they are unbound, the year after allowed
to sit upright, then a bit of bread and a glass of water; till at
last, after a long series of concessions, they are emboldened to
ask, in pretty plain terms, that they may be allowed to sit down at
the bottom of the table, and to fill their bellies as well as the
rest. Forthwith a general cry of shame and scandal: "Ten years
ago, were you not laid upon your backs? Don't you remember what a
great thing you thought it to get a piece of bread? How thankful
you were for cheese parings? Have you forgotten that memorable era,
when the lord of the manor interfered to obtain for you a slice of
the public pudding? And now, with an audacity only equalled by your
ingratitude, you have the impudence to ask for knives and forks, and
to request, in terms too plain to be mistaken, that you may sit down
to table with the rest, and be indulged even with beef and beer:
there are not more than half a dozen dishes which we have reserved
for ourselves; the rest has been thrown open to you in the utmost
profusion; you have potatoes, and carrots, suet dumplings, sops in
the pan, and delicious toast and water in incredible quantities.
Beef, mutton, lamb, pork, and veal are ours; and if you were not the
most restless and dissatisfied of human beings, you would never
think of aspiring to enjoy them."

Is not this, my dainty Abraham, the very nonsense and the very
insult which is talked to and practised upon the Catholics? You are
surprised that men who have tasted of partial justice should ask for
perfect justice; that he who has been robbed of coat and cloak will
not be contented with the restitution of one of his garments. He
would be a very lazy blockhead if he were content, and I (who,
though an inhabitant of the village, have preserved, thank God, some
sense of justice) most earnestly counsel these half-fed claimants to
persevere in their just demands, till they are admitted to a more
complete share of a dinner for which they pay as much as the others;
and if they see a little attenuated lawyer squabbling at the head of
their opponents, let them desire him to empty his pockets, and to
pull out all the pieces of duck, fowl, and pudding which he has
filched from the public feast, to carry home to his wife and

You parade a great deal upon the vast concessions made by this
country to the Irish before the Union. I deny that any voluntary
concession was ever made by England to Ireland. What did Ireland
ever ask that was granted? What did she ever demand that was not
refused? How did she get her Mutiny Bill--a limited Parliament--a
repeal of Poyning's Law--a constitution? Not by the concessions of
England, but by her fears. When Ireland asked for all these things
upon her knees, her petitions were rejected with Percevalism and
contempt; when she demanded them with the voice of 60,000 armed men,
they were granted with every mark of consternation and dismay. Ask
of Lord Auckland the fatal consequences of trifling with such a
people as the Irish. He himself was the organ of these refusals.
As secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, the insolence and the tyranny
of this country passed through his hands. Ask him if he remembers
the consequences. Ask him if he has forgotten that memorable
evening when he came down booted and mantled to the House of
Commons, when he told the House he was about to set off for Ireland
that night, and declared before God, if he did not carry with him a
compliance with all their demands, Ireland was for ever lost to this
country. The present generation have forgotten this; but I have not
forgotten it; and I know, hasty and undignified as the submission of
England then was, that Lord Auckland was right, that the delay of a
single day might very probably have separated the two peoples for
ever. The terms submission and fear are galling terms when applied
from the lesser nation to the greater; but it is the plain
historical truth, it is the natural consequence of injustice, it is
the predicament in which every country places itself which leaves
such a mass of hatred and discontent by its side. No empire is
powerful enough to endure it; it would exhaust the strength of
China, and sink it with all its mandarins and tea-kettles to the
bottom of the deep. By refusing them justice now when you are
strong enough to refuse them anything more than justice, you will
act over again, with the Catholics, the same scene of mean and
precipitate submission which disgraced you before America, and
before the volunteers of Ireland. We shall live to hear the
Hampstead Protestant pronouncing such extravagant panegyrics upon
holy water, and paying such fulsome compliments to the thumbs and
offals of departed saints, that parties will change sentiments, and
Lord Henry Petty and Sam Whitbread take a spell at No Popery. The
wisdom of Mr. Fox was alike employed in teaching his country justice
when Ireland was weak, and dignity when Ireland was strong. We are
fast pacing round the same miserable circle of ruin and imbecility.
Alas! where is our guide?

You say that Ireland is a millstone about our necks; that it would
be better for us if Ireland were sunk at the bottom of the sea; that
the Irish are a nation of irreclaimable savages and barbarians. How
often have I heard these sentiments fall from the plump and
thoughtless squire, and from the thriving English shopkeeper, who
has never felt the rod of an Orange master upon his back. Ireland a
millstone about your neck! Why is it not a stone of Ajax in your
hand? I agree with you most cordially that, governed as Ireland now
is, it would be a vast accession of strength if the waves of the sea
were to rise and engulf her to-morrow. At this moment, opposed as
we are to all the world, the annihilation of one of the most fertile
islands on the face of the globe, containing five millions of human
creatures, would be one of the most solid advantages which could
happen to this country. I doubt very much, in spite of all the just
abuse which has been lavished upon Bonaparte, whether there is any
one of his conquered countries the blotting out of which would be as
beneficial to him as the destruction of Ireland would be to us: of
countries I speak differing in language from the French, little
habituated to their intercourse, and inflamed with all the
resentments of a recently-conquered people. Why will you attribute
the turbulence of our people to any cause but the right--to any
cause but your own scandalous oppression? If you tie your horse up
to a gate, and beat him cruelly, is he vicious because he kicks you?
If you have plagued and worried a mastiff dog for years, is he mad
because he flies at you whenever he sees you? Hatred is an active,
troublesome passion. Depend upon it, whole nations have always some
reason for their hatred. Before you refer the turbulence of the
Irish to incurable defects in their character, tell me if you have
treated them as friends and equals? Have you protected their
commerce? Have you respected their religion? Have you been as
anxious for their freedom as your own? Nothing of all this. What
then? Why you have confiscated the territorial surface of the
country twice over: you have massacred and exported her
inhabitants: you have deprived four-fifths of them of every civil
privilege: you have at every period made her commerce and
manufactures slavishly subordinate to your own: and yet the hatred
which the Irish bear to you is the result of an original turbulence
of character, and of a primitive, obdurate wildness, utterly
incapable of civilisation. The embroidered inanities and the sixth-
form effusions of Mr. Canning are really not powerful enough to make
me believe this; nor is there any authority on earth (always
excepting the Dean of Christ Church) which could make it credible to
me. I am sick of Mr. Canning. There is not a "ha'porth of bread to
all this sugar and sack." I love not the cretaceous and incredible
countenance of his colleague. The only opinion in which I agree
with these two gentlemen is that which they entertain of each other.
I am sure that the insolence of Mr. Pitt, and the unbalanced
accounts of Melville, were far better than the perils of this new

Nonne fuit satius, ristes Amaryllidis iras
Atque superba pati fastidia? nonne Menalcan?
Quamvis ille niger?

In the midst of the most profound peace, the secret articles of the
Treaty of Tilsit, in which the destruction of Ireland is resolved
upon, induce you to rob the Danes of their fleet. After the
expedition sailed comes the Treaty of Tilsit, containing no article,
public or private, alluding to Ireland. The state of the world, you
tell me, justified us in doing this. Just God! do we think only of
the state of the world when there is an opportunity for robbery, for
murder, and for plunder; and do we forget the state of the world
when we are called upon to be wise, and good, and just? Does the
state of the world never remind us that we have four millions of
subjects whose injuries we ought to atone for, and whose affections
we ought to conciliate? Does the state of the world never warn us
to lay aside our infernal bigotry, and to arm every man who
acknowledges a God, and can grasp a sword? Did it never occur to
this administration that they might virtuously get hold of a force
ten times greater than the force of the Danish fleet? Was there no
other way of protecting Ireland but by bringing eternal shame upon
Great Britain, and by making the earth a den of robbers? See what
the men whom you have supplanted would have done. They would have
rendered the invasion of Ireland impossible, by restoring to the
Catholics their long-lost rights: they would have acted in such a
manner that the French would neither have wished for invasion nor
dared to attempt it: they would have increased the permanent
strength of the country while they preserved its reputation
unsullied. Nothing of this kind your friends have done, because
they are solemnly pledged to do nothing of this kind; because, to
tolerate all religions, and to equalise civil rights to all sects,
is to oppose some of the worst passions of our nature--to plunder
and to oppress is to gratify them all. They wanted the huzzas of
mobs, and they have for ever blasted the fame of England to obtain
them. Were the fleets of Holland, France, and Spain destroyed by
larceny? You resisted the power of 150 sail of the line by sheer
courage, and violated every principle of morals from the dread of
fifteen hulks, while the expedition itself cost you three times more
than the value of the larcenous matter brought away. The French
trample on the laws of God and man, not for old cordage, but for
kingdoms, and always take care to be well paid for their crimes. We
contrive, under the present administration, to unite moral with
intellectual deficiency, and to grow weaker and worse by the same
action. If they had any evidence of the intended hostility of the
Danes, why was it not produced? Why have the nations of Europe been
allowed to feel an indignation against this country beyond the reach
of all subsequent information? Are these times, do you imagine,
when we can trifle with a year of universal hatred, dally with the
curses of Europe, and then regain a lost character at pleasure, by
the parliamentary perspirations of the Foreign Secretary, or the
solemn asseverations of the pecuniary Rose? Believe me, Abraham, it
is not under such ministers as these that the dexterity of honest
Englishmen will ever equal the dexterity of French knaves; it is not
in their presence that the serpent of Moses will ever swallow up the
serpents of the magician.

Lord Hawkesbury says that nothing is to be granted to the Catholics
from fear. What! not even justice? Why not? There are four
millions of disaffected people within twenty miles of your own
coast. I fairly confess that the dread which I have of their
physical power is with me a very strong motive for listening to
their claims. To talk of not acting from fear, is mere
parliamentary cant. From what motive but fear, I should be glad to
know, have all the improvements in our constitution proceeded? I
question if any justice has ever been done to large masses of
mankind from any other motive. By what other motives can the
plunderers of the Baltic suppose nations to be governed in their
intercourse WITH EACH OTHER? If I say, Give this people what they
ask because it is just, do you think I should get ten people to
listen to me? Would not the lesser of the two Jenkinsons be the
first to treat me with contempt? The only true way to make the mass
of mankind see the beauty of justice is by showing to them, in
pretty plain terms, the consequences of injustice. If any body of
French troops land in Ireland, the whole population of that country
will rise against you to a man, and you could not possibly survive
such an event three years. Such, from the bottom of my soul, do I
believe to be the present state of that country; and so far does it
appear to me to be impolitic and unstatesman-like to concede
anything to such a danger, that if the Catholics, in addition to
their present just demands, were to petition for the perpetual
removal of the said Lord Hawkesbury from his Majesty's councils, I
think, whatever might be the effect upon the destinies of Europe,
and however it might retard our own individual destruction, that the
prayer of the petition should be instantly complied with. Canning's
crocodile tears should not move me; the hoops of the maids of honour
should not hide him. I would tear him from the banisters of the
back stairs, and plunge him in the fishy fumes of the dirtiest of
all his Cinque Ports.


Dear Abraham,--In the correspondence which is passing between us,
you are perpetually alluding to the Foreign Secretary; and in answer
to the dangers of Ireland, which I am pressing upon your notice, you
have nothing to urge but the confidence which you repose in the
discretion and sound sense of this gentleman. I can only say, that
I have listened to him long and often with the greatest attention; I
have used every exertion in my power to take a fair measure of him,
and it appears to me impossible to hear him upon any arduous topic
without perceiving that he is eminently deficient in those solid and
serious qualities upon which, and upon which alone, the confidence
of a great country can properly repose. He sweats and labours, and
works for sense, and Mr. Ellis seems always to think it is coming,
but it does not come; the machine can't draw up what is not to be
found in the spring; Providence has made him a light, jesting,
paragraph-writing man, and that he will remain to his dying day.
When he is jocular he is strong, when he is serious he is like
Samson in a wig; any ordinary person is a match for him: a song, an
ironical letter, a burlesque ode, an attack in the newspaper upon
Nicoll's eye, a smart speech of twenty minutes, full of gross
misrepresentations and clever turns, excellent language, a spirited
manner, lucky quotation, success in provoking dull men, some half
information picked up in Pall Mall in the morning; these are your
friend's natural weapons; all these things he can do: here I allow
him to be truly great; nay, I will be just, and go still further, if
he would confine himself to these things, and consider the facete
and the playful to be the basis of his character, he would, for that
species of man, be universally regarded as a person of a very good
understanding; call him a legislator, a reasoner, and the conductor
of the affairs of a great nation, and it seems to me as absurd as if
a butterfly were to teach bees to make honey. That he is an
extraordinary writer of small poetry, and a diner out of the highest
lustre, I do most readily admit. After George Selwyn, and perhaps
Tickell, there has been no such man for this half-century. The
Foreign Secretary is a gentleman, a respectable as well as a highly
agreeable man in private life; but you may as well feed me with
decayed potatoes as console me for the miseries of Ireland by the
resources of his SENSE and his DISCRETION. It is only the public
situation which this gentleman holds which entitles me or induces me
to say so much about him. He is a fly in amber, nobody cares about
the fly; the only question is, How the devil did it get there ? Nor
do I attack him for the love of glory, but from the love of utility,
as a burgomaster hunts a rat in a Dutch dyke, for fear it should
flood a province.

The friends of the Catholic question are, I observe, extremely
embarrassed in arguing when they come to the loyalty of the Irish
Catholics. As for me, I shall go straight forward to my object, and
state what I have no manner of doubt, from an intimate knowledge of
Ireland, to be the plain truth. Of the great Roman Catholic
proprietors, and of the Catholic prelates, there may be a few, and
but a few, who would follow the fortunes of England at all events:
there is another set of men who, thoroughly detesting this country,
have too much property and too much character to lose, not to wait
for some very favourable event before they show themselves; but the
great mass of Catholic population, upon the slightest appearance of
a French force in that country, would rise upon you to a man. It is
the most mistaken policy to conceal the plain truth. There is no
loyalty among the Catholics: they detest you as their worst
oppressors, and they will continue to detest you till you remove the
cause of their hatred. It is in your power in six months' time to
produce a total revolution of opinions among this people; and in
some future letter I will show you that this is clearly the case.
At present, see what a dreadful in state Ireland is in. The common
toast among the low Irish is, the feast of the PASSOVER. Some
allusion to Bonaparte, in a play lately acted at Dublin, produced
thunders of applause from the pit and the galleries; and a
politician should not be inattentive to the public feelings
expressed in theatres. Mr. Perceval thinks he has disarmed the
Irish: he has no more disarmed the Irish than he has resigned a
shilling of his own public emoluments. An Irish peasant fills the
barrel of his gun full of tow dipped in oil, butters up the lock,
buries it in a bog, and allows the Orange bloodhound to ransack his
cottage at pleasure. Be just and kind to the Irish, and you will
indeed disarm them; rescue them from the degraded servitude in which
they are held by a handful of their own countrymen, and you will add
four millions of brave and affectionate men to your strength.
Nightly visits, Protestant inspectors, licenses to possess a pistol,
or a knife and fork, the odious vigour of the EVANGELICAL Perceval--
acts of Parliament, drawn up by some English attorney, to save you
from the hatred of four millions of people--the guarding yourselves
from universal disaffection by a police; a confidence in the little
cunning of Bow Street, when you might rest your security upon the
eternal basis of the best feelings: this is the meanness and
madness to which nations are reduced when they lose sight of the
first elements of justice, without which a country can be no more
secure than it can be healthy without air. I sicken at such policy
and such men. The fact is, the Ministers know nothing about the
present state of Ireland; Mr. Perceval sees a few clergymen, Lord
Castlereagh a few general officers, who take care, of course, to
report what is pleasant rather than what is true. As for the joyous
and lepid consul, he jokes upon neutral flags and frauds, jokes upon
Irish rebels, jokes upon northern and western and southern foes, and
gives himself no trouble upon any subject; nor is the mediocrity of
the idolatrous deputy of the slightest use. Dissolved in grins, he
reads no memorials upon the state of Ireland, listens to no reports,
asks no questions, and is the

"BOURN from whom no traveller returns."

The danger of an immediate insurrection is now, I BELIEVE, blown
over. You have so strong an army in Ireland, and the Irish are
become so much more cunning from the last insurrection, that you may
perhaps be tolerably secure just at present from that evil: but are
you secure from the efforts which the French may make to throw a
body of troops into Ireland? and do you consider that event to be
difficult and improbable? From Brest Harbour to Cape St. Vincent,
you have above three thousand miles of hostile sea coast, and twelve
or fourteen harbours quite capable of containing a sufficient force
for the powerful invasion of Ireland. The nearest of these harbours
is not two days' sail from the southern coast of Ireland, with a
fair leading wind; and the furthest not ten. Five ships of the
line, for so very short a passage, might carry five or six thousand
troops with cannon and ammunition; and Ireland presents to their
attack a southern coast of more than 500 miles, abounding in deep
bays, admirable harbours, and disaffected inhabitants. Your
blockading ships may be forced to come home for provisions and
repairs, or they may be blown off in a gale of wind and compelled to


Back to Full Books