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Irish branch is lineally traced, was Sir Thomas Flood, who bore several offices of honour and trust in England, under Henry VIII., and Elizabeth. His lineal descendant, Major Francis Flood, came to Ireland with his regiment, and bore an active part in the wars in both kingdoms, during the great rebellion. This gentleman married a Miss Warden, the heiress of a considerable estate in the county of Kilkenny. From this marriage, three families descended-settled respectively in Farmley, Floodhall, and Paulstown.
Of Major Flood's sons, the eldest, who was named Warden, from his mother's family name, was chief-justice of the king's bench, and father to Henry, of whom we are more particularly to speak. Henry Flood was born in 1732. By the death of his brother and sister he became an only child. It may be fairly presumed, that his early education was attended to with a care proportioned to his expectation, as the sole inheritor of large estates; though we must here add that his biographers advert to some informalities attending the union of his parents, such as on a subsequent occasion to lead to a verdict of illegitimacy.
He entered college when he had completed his sixteenth year. The conspicuous station held by his father placed him in the whirl of gaiety and dissipation, and he was at once diverted from the studies which led at that time to academic distinction. It was probably to move him from the attraction of influences which could not fail, in many important respects, to be detrimental at his tender age, that, three years after, his father removed him to Oxford, where he was placed under the care of Dr Markham, afterwards archbishop of York. Under the active personal influence of this worthy man and excellent scholar, he began to apply himself with diligence: much also was attributed to an influence often felt by those who, with the ambition and power of strong abilities, may happen to have neglected those acquirements which are always soon found to be essential to their successful use : the occasional opportunities of entering into the society of men of profound and extensive knowledge, and of listening to discussions in which something more than mere natural dexterity and untrained activity of intellect was wanting to enable him to bear part, effectually excited him to industrious and persevering study. ,
After two years' residence in Oxford, he graduated. His classical proficiency and his natural powers of language were in the same interval indicated by his poetic compositions, and by highly successful translations from the great masterpieces of Greek and Roman orators.
Having left Oxford, Mr Flood entered his name in the Temple, and some years were passed in assiduous devotion to legal studies. After which, having altogether spent seven years in England, he returned to stand for the county of Kilkenny during the administration of the duke of Bedford. He was elected, took his seat, and judiciously abstained from engaging prematurely in the debates. He justly felt that a full acquaintance with the usages of the house, and some practical acquaintance with the common details of parliamentary business, would be essential to the most favourable display of his abilities. The dissolution of parliament soon followed, and he was re-elected for the
same county. On this occasion, among other friends, we find lord Charlemont actively engaged in endeavours to secure bis return.
Mr Flood was first called up in the house, in 1761, by a motion of Mr William Gerard Hamilton, that the Portuguese, then at war with Spain, might be permitted to raise in Ireland six regiments of the Romish persuasion. The speech of Hamilton has been described as one of unequalled effect; among those who replied, Mr Flood was the most applauded: he spoke from the Opposition benches, and attacked the whole administration of the government with so much severity, as to call forth lively demonstrations of popular approbation and ministerial resentment.
In the same year he married lady Francis Maria Beresford, with whom he obtained a large fortune, and a high connexion. His father, chief-justice Flood, settled his estates upon him on the occasion, and a bequest from his uncle put him in actual possession of a considerable independence.
Under these circumstances, his mind seems to have undergone a transient change from the more ambitious desires of public life, to the tastes for rural and agricultural occupations. He retired with his wife to Farmley, where he cultivated his muse and his turnips, and formed an interesting centre for much of the talent and literature of the day. Among the many well-known names which frequently occur in the record of this period of his life, that of Henry Grattan, and Sir Hercules Langrishe, are to be distinguished. The marriage of Mr Grattan's sister to Mr Bushe of Kilfane, made him a frequent visitor in that part of the county of Kilkenny. Between him and Mr Flood, a close intimacy soon commenced: they entered together into the study of politics and oratory, in both of which, Mr Flood had already made the proficiency of an adept. They wrote and communicated their compositions to each other; they argued and often contended together in formal harangue. Private theatricals, which had long been fashionable in the most distinguished circles of society in Ireland, were introduced at Knocktopher, Kilfane, and Farmley; and the principal parts acted by persons whose names were soon to find the most conspicuous places in the history of their time. These theatricals form so very marked a feature of social life in that period, that we shall further on endeavour to trace them in their line and progress. Upon one of these occasions, Mr Flood acted Macbeth to Mr Grattan's Macduff.
On the new election which took place after the passing of the octennial bill, Mr Flood had an unhappy quarrel with Mr Agar, his colleague in the representation of Callan. It terminated according to the barbarous custom of the day, in a hostile meeting at Holyhead, in which Agar was slightly wounded. Agar who was the challenger, was vexed at having missed Mr Flood, and soon after challenged him to a second meeting. The following letter was written by an eyewitness of this fatal duel, and contains the fullest, as well as most authoritative statement we can offer:
Mr Bushe to Mr Grattan.
September, 1769. My dear Harry,- I must postpone everything to inform you, that on Friday last, a duel was fought between Harry Flood and Mr Agar, the elder, in Dunmore Park, near Kilkenny, in which Mr Agar was unfortunately killed. As Mr Flood was not the challenger, and as it was out of his power to avoid it, he has nothing to reproach himself with. The cause was a case of pistols belonging to Mr Agar, which one Keogh lost at Burn church, in the riot about ten months ago. I hear that the unfortunate gentleman had often asked Mr Flood about them, who always said he had them not, and was not accountable for them.” But on Friday, they produced a challenge, to my great surprise; for if there were any offence, it was as much an offence any day these ten months as it was on that day. They stood at about fourteen yards asunder. Before they fired, Mr Agar questioned Mr Flood about the pistols in a threatening and offensive manner. Mr Flood answered very deliberately, “You know I will not answer you while you ask me in that manner.” Mr G. Bushe, who was Mr Flood's friend, said something to Mr Agar to induce him to ask in another manner, and not to bring such an affair upon himself so needlessly,– but without effect. He laid down one pistol, and rested the other on his arm to take aim. Both Mr G. B., and Mr Roth, his own friend, called to him to fire fairly.-N.B., besides the unfairness of using a rest, it was particularly unfair at that time; for Mr A. had proposed they should stand alongside a quickset hedge, but Mr Roth declared there should be no levelling. Upon their calling out, he desisted, and took another posture, and fired first, and missed. He then took up his other pistol, and then said to Mr Flood, “Fire, fire you scoundrel!" Mr Flood thereupon presented his pistol, which he held all this time with the muzzle turned upwards, and shot Mr A. through the heart. Mr A.'s left breast was towards him, Mr A. being left-handed. He expired in a few minutes afterwards, without speaking anything articulate.*
On this unfortunate event it was necessary that Mr Flood should stand his trial before he could appear in public, and the delay by which this object was retarded has been attributed by some to the desire of the lord-lieutenant to keep him out of the way during some discussion in which his talents were feared. It was the object of Mr Flood to be tried by a special commission, instead of waiting for the spring assizes; and this is the fair history of the delay. But it would be inconsistent with our duty to omit here to notice distinctly, that this transaction is an instance of the exceeding laxity which then prevailed in the administration of justice in Ireland. The special commission which Mr Flood and his friends were so desirous to secure, was not precisely what is ordinarily understood by the term. And the reader who is made aware of the difficulties which were at first thrown in the way of such an arrangement, may not be aware that the object sought was a deviation from the regular course of justice, such as could not now be named without scandal to the high judicial integrity of modern times. It was no less than an arrangement to pack the bench, for the acquittal of a species of homicide licensed by public opinion in those barbarous days. A few extracts will sufficiently explain this. The first letter on the subject is one from lord Charles mont, in reply to one from Mr Flood; the following sentence will explain Mr Flood's request --" I spoke [to the chancellor] of your letters as very sensible and ingenious, but think that you a little mistook Blackstone. The writ de malo relates to a commission of gaol delivery, but that which you desire is a commission of oyer and terminer.” Through the whole of October this point was urged with indefatigable zeal, and the difficulties which interposed might illustrate the irregular nature of the proposal; but this point is fully ascertained by lord Charlemont's incidental repetition of the chancellor's words. Having begged of the chancellor to apply to the lordlieutenant, he goes on to repeat,—“I certainly will, and everything in my power shall be done; in the mean time, I would have you to know of Mr Flood whether he has any objection to the judges Henn and Smith, who, as the youngest judges, will probably be appointed. For if he has, I shall take care that others shall be sent in their place.” It is difficult to assume that the lord chancellor was ignorant of the infamous nature of the proceeding which is plainly enough intimated in this extract. But it is also evident that there occurred some seasonable interposition to prevent such a disgrace of the judicial office: whether the obstacle arose from the privy council, or, what is far more likely, from the judges themselves, this wretched treaty was interrupted when it appeared to have been settled to the satisfaction of all parties. A letter from lord Charlemont announced that the chancellor had not succeeded in discovering any precedent for the species of commission required, and that matters were quite at a stand. The event was, that Mr Flood was tried and acquitted at the regular spring assizes in Kilkenny.
* Life of II. Grattan, by his son,
At this period of his life, it is generally agreed that Mr Flood held the very first place as a public speaker. Our means of arriving at any very precise estimate of his style, are few and imperfect; the reports of the public debates were then but casual, and confined simply to the line of argument pursued by the speaker, with a few occasional expressions of more peculiar force. It was a time when the art of rhetorical eloquence had been recently introduced into this country, and was beginning to be cultivated in the Irish house by a few eminent speakers. Among these, Flood rapidly obtained the palm of unrivalled superiority, and it may readily be concluded that he was forcible, perspicuous, and argumentative. His command of language, as well as of the varied turns of style, and forms of rhetoric, seems, from the few specimens which are preserved, to have been copious and ready. An extract from a sketch attributed to Sir H. Langrishe, praises him in these terms:-" Indeed, upon whatever subject this champion of our liberty speaks, he does so with such knowledge, accuracy and perspicuity, that one would imagine that subject had been the particular and chief object of his inquiry. Does he make calculations ? - what mathematician more exact. Does he plead his country's cause?--what breast does not glow with patriotism; he seems nearly to approach that great original Demosthenes—whom he so well understands. He has all his fine brevity and perspicuity."*
* Cited in the Life of Flood, by W. Flood, Esq., 1838.
These praises, though rather too obviously partaking more of the warmth of the zealous friend than of critical discrimination, may perhaps be taken as an approximate description of the general merits of Mr Flood, and of the place which he held in the estimation of contemporary taste.
The latter end of lord Townshend's administration was harassed by numerous literary attacks, which may perhaps, without much inaccuracy be regarded as the precursors of a more serious and effective dispaly of opposition to the existing state of things. Among these may be distinguished a collection of satirical pieces, published under the name of “ Barateriana," of which the fundamental notion was taken from Don Quixote, and in which the lord-lieutenant was represented in the character of Sancho. This was the joint production of Langrishe, Grattan, and Mr Flood. Among these there are many letters which have been ascertained on the clearest evidence to have been the composition of Mr Flood: they are distinguished by their copious command of topics, and by the prompt ingenuity with which every topic is made available for the purpose of the writer. They do no discredit to the character of Mr Flood as an argumentative orator. But with these allowances, some criticism of a different character must be mixed : while these letters by their general ability, do high credit to their author, they clearly prove that Mr Flood was not, as some of his admirers have fancied, the author of the letters of Junius. A comparison between the two styles is facilitated and justified by the plain and undisguised imitation of Junius, which pervades the letters known to have come from the hand of Mr Flood; and as well marked an inferiority in the use of the same weapons and in the same way, as strongly leads to the conclusion that Mr Flood was not Junius. As we do not believe that such a notion now exists in any quarter, it is not necessary to notice it further. Indeed to any one who has attentively read the history of Mr Flood and his times, and the letters of Junius, it is scarcely necessary to observe, that there is in the latter a scope of sentiments and habitual associations, widely separated both in general character and particular detail, from the whole known habits and intercourse of Mr Flood. But we must not here pursue the subject.
In 1773, Mr Flood paid a visit to England, where he received the attentions due to his character and distinguished qualifications. On this occasion, it is said to have been principally his object to impress lord North with opinions favourable to the commerce of Ireland, and also upon the subject of a tax on absentees.
In 1775, when lord Harcourt held the office of chief governor in the Irish administration, Mr Flood was pressed to accept the vicetreasurership, one of the highest and most profitable offices under the crown in Ireland. To this, after some demur and considerable negotiation, he yielded his consent. The step was, as might be expected at the time, objected to among his political connexions, and afterwards severely stigmatized by his political adversaries. It would be vain to hope that conduct, which can, without any strain upon the ordinary and well-known principles of human action, be ascribed to the influence of either of two very opposite classes of motives, can now, with much certainty, be assigned to either. The case, as it may be stated, against Mr Flood, will be found in the strongest form in Mr