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William CONYNGHAM PLUNKET, D.C.L., the subject of this sketch, like the present lord chancellor and lord chief justice of England, owes little to birth or fortune for his present elevated station. He is the son of a dissenting minister, and was born in 1765, in a small town in the county of Fermanagh, in the north of Ireland. The father died while Mr. Plunket was yet young, leaving his son no heritage but poverty. His name, however, was respected by his congregation, and his offspring found little difficulty in obtaining the rudiments of a literary and classical education. In due time Mr. Plunket quitted his native province, and, about the year 1780, he was entered an out-pensioner of Trinity College, Dublin. Here his progress was remarkably rapid, and, at a very early age, he obtained a scholarship.
Magee, the late archbishop of Dublin, was a fellow-student with Plunket at the University. He was born in the same province as the latter, and of still more lowly parents, his father being a strolling pedlar. An intimacy commenced between the parties, which soon ripened into friendship. They had both been distinguished in their academic career—they were both of humble fortunes—and the world was all before them where to choose.' Without difficulty or delay, these young men jointly determined on embracing the bar as a profession; and, with a view to this, Mr. Plunket made a journey to London, and entered his name on the Temple books. Magee, however, remained in his native land. and a vacancy having occurred, he was elected to a fellowship in the Dublin University, after a most distinguished competition, in which he was allowed to have been fairly victor, Notwithstanding his fellowship, Magee still hankered after the bar-and only took orders by the almost compulsory and inexorable entreaties of the provost (Hutchinson.)
Mr. Plunket was called to the Irish r about the year 1790. Though his fame at the university, and in the historical society, had preceded him, still, some years elapsed before he got into much practice; but he persevered, undismayed and unbroken in spirit. After a time his success became almost unequivocal, and he secured it by his diligence, his aptitude, his learning, and his talents.
Mr. Plunket first entered parliament, when the measure of the union between the two countries was in agitation, and he became a determined 2D. SERIES, NO. 46.-VOL. IV,
opposer of it.* His speech in reference to it is no less remarkable for its boldness than its eloquence. “Had I a son,” exclaimed the orator, " I would, like Hannibal, lead him to the altar, and make him swear eternal hostility to the enemies of his country. Can it be that this land, which has resisted open and covert oppression, shall fall a victim to such a green and limber twig as this ?” The reader must smile when he is told that 'the green and limber twig' was no other than the late Lord Castlereagh: but, as a proof of the evanescent fleeting nature of all political declarations, and the little regard they are entitled to, the Mr. Plunket of 1798 had become, in 1821, the fast friend, and political ally, of the same green and limber twig.'
It was during the viceroyship of Lord Hardwicke, and subsequently to the Irish union, that Mr. Plunket was made attorney-general for Ireland. In that capacity it became his duty to conduct the state prosecution against the highly gifted, but indiscreet and unfortunate, Robert Emmett. On this occasion he has been charged with unnecessary severity, and it would seem that the accused himself was under the impression, that Mr. Plunket displayed a zeal beyond the bounds of discretion.
During the administration of the Duke of Bedford, in 1806, Mr. Plunket was continued in his high office, but he resigned it in 1807, when the Duke of Richmond succeeded his grace of Bedford as viceroy. Untrammelled by the duties of office, Mr. Plunket now pursued his professional pursuits with zeal and industry, and in process of time became the most successful practitioner in the chancery of Ireland. But the time at length arrived, when the scene of Mr Plunket's exertions were to become more extended; for, shortly after this period, he was returned as a representative in parliament for the university of Dublin, in opposition to the right honourable George Knox, after a severe and protracted contest.
When Mr. Plunket entered the English House of Commons, the fame of Grattan was waxing old, and his mantle was destined to descend upon the shoulders of the member for the university of Dublin. Mr. Grattan had indeed long cherished the warmest esteem of the person, and highest admiration of the talents, of Mr. Plunket. The latter had become, at this time, a powerful advocate of Catholic emancipation, and, like Grattan, made it, in some sort, a question of his own-much to the advantage of his fame, though to the marring of his fortune, and as certainly to the promotion of the cause of civil and religious liberty.
It is due to the subject of this memoir to state, that a large credit is certainly to be placed to his account for the decided stand which he made for several years in favour of the Catholic claims ; his advocating of which, it cannot be denied, injured his fortune for the time, inasmuch as it stood in the
way of his becoming lord chancellor of Ireland at a much earlier period than he did. But independently of this, Mr. Plunket's career, during the government of Lord Wellesley, when he was again made attorney-general, is acknowledged by his own countrymen to have been above all praise. Though he did not kill the “snake” of Orangeism, he severely "scotched it,” and this was doing the state no small service.
It would be a pleasure to the present writer to trace the steps of Lord Plunkett in his labourious exertions to procure the removal of the Catholic disabilities' enactments, and to place upon record in these pages those effusions of glowing eloquence with which, from time to time, he has held the listening senate spell-bound, and at the end succeeded in carrying away all but their votes ! This, however, would have been out of place.
* His Lordship has subsequently, in the House of Peers, assigned his reasons for such opposition at that period.
Mr. Plunket retained his seat for the University of Dublin, to the entire satisfaction of his constitutents, and with the highest honour to himself, until May, 1827, when his talents and services were rewarded by his elevation to the peerage, and in the following month he was made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland, which post he continned to fill till he vacated it for the highest legal post in that part of the realm,--the Lord High Chancellorship of Ireland. In this exalted station Lord Plunket finds full scope for all that sagacity and legal learning, by means of which his elevation has been secured, and performs the functions of that responsible office, with distinguished honour. It would be impossible, within our limits, to detail the history of his now extended parliamentary career : perhaps we shall best succeed in conveying a just notion of his parliamentary character, by a brief analysis of his admirable speech on the Reform Bill. After an extended exordium, chiefly directed against the speech of the Duke of Wellington, and which will long be remembered as one of the most successful attacks ever listened to in the House of Lords, Lord Plunket addressed himself to the consideration of the great measure in the following manner.
This measure having been brought forward under the sanction of government, and under the sanction of his Majesty, as implied in his authorizing the government to propose it, and having passed through the House of Commons, certainly was entitled to be treated with a great degree of courtesy by their lordships. He did admit that their lordships were fully entitled to canvass the measure in all its parts, freely and fearlessly, in the exercise of their duty. But although their lordships were in the exercise of their undoubted privilege in the present circumstances, they were to recollect that they were sitting in judgment on the people of England, and on a subject peculiarly—and so far as any subject that could come before their lordships could be, exclusively-relating to the privileges of the other house of parliament. He, therefore, could not too anxiously implore their lordships to consider well, before they adopted the desperate experiment of rejecting this measure, what were the consequences which might result from that rejection. He was satisfied their lordships would think, that whatever might be the ultimate fate of the measure, it was entitled to receive the most respectful attention of that house. A good deal of sarcasm had been thrown out in that place against the people of England. He again said, that there had been some smart sarcasms and polished epigrams thrown out against the people of England; but the noble lord opposite had got up a great deal of pointed irony and polished epigram, though he had omitted to touch any real part of the subject-at the expense of the people of England. But be (Lord Plunket) would say, that the people, whose petitions had been sent up in such numbers to their lordships, and whose rights were involved in this question, were no light, giddy, and fantastic multitude-no rabble labouring under a temporary delusion, but a great nation, intelligent, moral, instructed, wealthy--a nation as much entitled to respect, and with as many claims to favourable consideration, as any nation in ancient or modern times. Therefore, when noble lords attacked this measure, and said that, if it was carried, it would give the people of England the means of overthrowing the throne and the church, and abolishing all our venerable institutions, he would ask those noble lords, if such were the effects to be apprehended from the measure if it were carried, what would be the effects if it were not carried ? But he affirmed that the charge was totally untrue. The people of England had no such objects. They were too sensible to indulge any such rash schemes.
But if our