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Mr. Curran's origin–His parents —Early education-Originally intended for the Church
Enters Trinity College-His ardour for the classics-Letter to Mr. Stack-Anecdote of his Mother-Her Epitaph-While in College fixes on the Bar-Anecdote connected with the change of Profession-His character in College-Addicted to Metaphysics—Anecdote on the subject-Yerses to Apjohn.
Joux Philpot CURRAN was born on the 24th day of July, 1750, at Newmarket, an obscure town of the county of Cork, in Ireland.* In several accounts that have been published of his origin and advancement, it has, by a general consent, been asserted that the one was very low and the other unassisted ; that he was the sole architect of his own fortune, and the sole collector of the materials which were to raise it; and lovers of the marvellous implicitly believed and repeated the assertion. Let not, however, the admirers of what is rare, be offended at being told, that, no matter how much praise may be due to his personal merit (and the allowance unquestionably should not be scanty), a portion must still be given to the institutions of his country, and to those relatives and friends whose industry and protection placed him in a condition of sharing their advantages. It is of far more importance to the intellectual interests of men to diffuse a rational confidence in the
* Newmarket is eight miles distant from the dismantled castle of Kilcolman, where Spencer is said to have composed bis "Faery Queen."-M.
efficacy of instruction, than idly to excite their wonder, and perhaps their despair, by insinuating that there are persons who, by nature, are above it. It is not by hearing that the subject of the following pages was a heaven-taught, unaided genius, that others can be encouraged to emulate his mental excellencies, but by learning the real, and to him no less creditable fact, how he studied and struggled--what models he selected—what deficiencies he corrected—by what steps he ascended; to tell this is the duty of his biographer, and not to amaze his readers by uninstructive panegyric.
The lowness* of his origin has been much exaggerated. His father, James Curran, who has been represented as an unlettered peasant, was Seneschal of a manor court at Newmarket. It is confidently asserted, by those who knew him, that he possessed a mind and acquirements above his station; that he was familiar with the Greek and Roman classics, which he often cited in con
* When Mr. Curran had risen to eminence, many tables of his pedigree were sent him, all of them varying, and the most of them, he conceived, too flattering to be authentic. Among his papers is the latest of these, tendered to him while he was Master of the Rolls, and made out by a resident of his native place. In the paternal line it ascends no higher than his grandfather, who is stated to have been "a north-countryman, of the county Derry, from which, having met with disappointments, he came and settled in the county Cork :" it adds, that "his only son, Mr. Curran's father, was educated at a school in Newmarket, then kept by the Rev. Mr. Dallis, and afterwards by the Rev. Mr. Morduck, by whom he was considered the best Greek and Latin scholar in their school." In the maternal line, it presents a long list of ancestors, among whom are judges, bishops, and noblemen; but Mr. Curran has marked his incredulity or his indifference by indors. ing this paper with "Stemmata quid faciunt.” Some other pedigrees derived his descent from the English family of Curwen in Cumberland.--C. (O'Regan, who was Curran's contemporary, and long on the most intimate terms with him, says that the family was" of an English stock, transplanted from one of the northern counties, and encouraged to settle in that part of Ireland, under the protection of the highly respectable family of the Allworth's, who retain considerable landed estates there to the present time, acquired after the fall of the Desmonds." Phillips says, that the paternal ancestor of the Curran family came over to Ireland one of Cromwell's soldiers, “and the most ardent patriot she erer had owed his origin to her most merciless and cruel plunderer !"-M.]
+ The emoluments of the office were very small. The Aldworth estates at Newmarket (formerly belonging to the Irish family or clan of the McAuliffes) consisted of 32,000 acres. As Seneschal, James Curran had jurisdiction to the value of forty shillings, and thus was—& Judge !-M.
versation ; that he delighted in disputation, and excelled in it; and, among his other favorite subjects of discussion, it is still remembered, that, after his son's return from college, the old man was frequently to be found in ardent contention with him upon the metaphysical doctrines of Locke.*
His mother, whose maiden name was Philpot, belonged to a family well known and respected, and of which the descendants continue in the class of gentry. She was a woman of a strong original understanding, and of admitted superiority, in the circles where she moved. In her latter years, the celebrity of her son rendered her an object additional attention and scrutiny; and the favorers of the opinion that talent is hereditary, thought they could discover, in the bursts of irregular eloquence that escaped her, the first visible gushings of the stream, which, expanding as it descended, at length attained a force and grandeur that incited the admirer to explore its source. This persuasion Mr. Curran himself always fondly cherished—“The only inheritance," he used to say, " that I could boast of from my poor father, was the very scanty one of an unattractive face and person like his own; and if the world has ever attributed to me something more valuable than face or person, or than earthly wealth, it was that another and a dearer parent gave her child a portion from the treasure of her mind." He attributed much of his subsequent fortune to the early influence of such a mother; and to his latest hour would dwell with grateful recollection upon the wise counsel, upon the lessons of honourable ambition, and of sober, masculine piety,
* Phillips says, "old James Curran's education was pretty much in the ratio of his income.” Thomas Davis says that Curran's father had learned reading, writing, cyphering, and, it is said, some Greek and Latin.-M.
+ " She was of gentle blood, and what is more to our purpose, she had a deep, fresh, womanly, irregular mind; it was like the clear river (the Avendala] of her town, that came gushing and fashing and discoursing from the lonely mountains—from the outlaw's and the fairy's home down to the village. She had, under an exalted piety, a waste of passions and traditions lying grand and gloomy in her soul, and thence, a bright, human love of her son, came pouring out on him, and making him grow green at her feet."