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Mr. Curran's early success at the bar-His contest with Judge Robinson-His defence of

a Roman Catholic priest-His duet with Mr. St. Leger-Receives the dying benediction of the priest—Lord Avonmore's friendship-His character of Lord Avonmore-Monks of St. Patrick, and list of the original members-Anecdotes of Lord Avonmore--Mr. Curran's entrance into Parliament,

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Mr. Curran has been frequently alluded to as one of the many examples in the history of the bar, of the highest talents remaining for a long time unknown and unrewarded. This, however, was not the fact : so general was the reputation of his abilities, and so numerous his personal friends, that he became employed immediately, and to an extent that is very unusual with those, who, like him, have solely depended upon their own exertions and upon accidental support. *

The failure of Mr. Curran's first attempt at speaking has been mentioned : a more singular instance of that nervousness which so frequently accompanies the highest capacity, occurred to him upon

his debut in the courts. The first brief that he held was in the Court of Chancery; he had only to read a short sentence from his instructions, but he did it so precipitately and inaudibly, that the chancellor, Lord Lifford, requested of him to repeat the words, and to raise his voice : upon this his agitation became so extreme that he was unable to articulate a syllable; the brief dropped from his hands, and a friend who sat beside him was obliged to take it up and read the necessary passage.

* The fact of his early practice appears from his own fee-book, in which the receipts commence from the day after he was called to the bar. The first year produced eighty. two guineas, the second between one and two hundred, and so on, in a regularly increas. ing proportion.-C. † Lord Erskine, on his debut at the English bar, is said to have been equally nervous, until (to use his own words) "I thought I felt my hungry little ones pulling my gown, and that gave me courage to speak."-M.

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This diffidence, however, totally vanished whenever he had to repel what he conceived an unwarrantable attack. It was by giving proofs of the proud and indignant spirit with which he could chastise aggression, that he first distinguished himself at the

* of this his contest with Judge Robinson is recorded as a very early and memorable instance. Mr. Curran having observed in some case before that judge, “ That he had never met the law as laid down by his lordship, in any book in his library," " That may be, sir," said the judge, in an acrid, contemptuous tone; " but I suspect that your library is very small." His lordship, , who, like too many of that time, was a party zealot, was known to be the author of several anonymous political pamphlets, which were chiefly conspicuous for their despotic principles and excessive violence. The young barrister, roused by the sneer at his circumstances, replied that true it was that his library might be small, but he thanked heaven that, among his books, there were none of the wretched productions of the frantic pamphleteers of the day. “I find it more instructive, my lord, to study good works than to compose bad ones; my books may be few, but the title-pages give me the writers' names: my shelf is not disgraced by any of such rank absurdity that their very authors are ashamed to own them.”

He was here interrupted by the judge, who said, “Sir, you are forgetting the respect which you owe to the dignity of the judicial character.” “Dignity !” exclaimed Mr. Curran; “ my lord, upon that point I shall cite you a case from a book of some authority, with which you are perhaps not unacquainted. A poor

* His first occasion of displaying that high spirit which was afterwards so prominent in his character, was at the election of Tallagh, where he was engaged ag counsel, a few months after his admission to the bar. One of the candidates, presuming upon his own rank, and upon the young advocate's unostentatious appearance, indulged in some rude language towards him; but was instantly silenced by a burst of impetuous and eloquent invective, which it at that time required an insult to awaken.-O.

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Scotchman, * upon bis arrival in London, thinking himself insulted by a stranger, and imagining that he was the stronger man, resolved to resent the affront, and taking off his coat, delivered it to a bystander to hold; but having lost the battle, he turned to resume his garment, when he discovered that he had unfortunately lost that also, that the trustee of his habiliments had decamped during the affray. So, my lord, when the person who is invested with the dignity of the judgment-seat lays it aside, for a moment, to enter into a disgraceful personal contest, it is vain, when he has been worsted in the encounter, that he seeks to resume it-it is in vain that he endeavours to shelter himself from behind an authority which he has abandoned."

Judge Robinson-If you say another word, sir, I'll commit you.

Mr. Curran-Then, my lord, it will be the best thing you'll have committed this term.

The judge did not commit him; but he was understood to have solicited the bench to interfere, and make an example of the advocate by depriving him of his gown, and to have received so little encouragement, that he thought it most prudent to proceed no further in the affair.t

From this, and many other specimens of spirit and ability, Mr. Curran's reputation rapidly increased; but it was not till he had been four or five years at the bar that his powers as an advocate became fully known. His first opportunity of displaying them was in a cause at the Cork Assizes, in which a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Mr. Neale, brought an action against a nobleman of that county (Lord Doneraile), for an assault and battery,

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* Perhaps it is unnecessary to remind most readers, that the Scotchman alluded to is Strap, in Smollett's Roderic Random.-C. (Mr. O'Regan relates this reply to Judge Robinson as having been made, not by Curran, but by Mr. Hoare, his friend and cotemporary.-M.]

4 As a companion to this anecdote, let me mention that, once upon a time, when a gigantic and ignorant barrister who had been wounded by some of the shafts of Curran's wit, hall seriously threatened to put him in his pocket-Curran being of stunted stature and size—the quick retort was, “Do! and then you'll have more law in your pocket than you ever had in your head I"-M.

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The circumstances attending this case mark the melancholy condition of the times. They afford a single, but a very striking example of those scenes of local despotism and individual suffering, of which, at this degraded period, Ireland was daily the witness and the victim.

The nobleman in question had contracted an intimacy with a young woman, whose family resided in the parish of which the plaintiff in this action was the priest. This woman's brother having committed some offence against religion, for which the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese had directed that the censures of the church should be passed upon him, she solicited Lord Doneraile to interfere, and to exert his influence and authority for the remission of the offender's sentence. His lordship, without hesitation, undertook to interpose his authority. For this purpose he proceeded, accompanied by one of his relatives, to the house, or rather cabin, of the priest. As soon as he arrived there, disdaining to dismount from his horse, he called in a loud and imperious tone, upon the inhabitant to come forth. The latter happened at that moment to be in the act of prayer; but, hearing the voice, which it would have been perilous to disregard, he discontinued his devotions to attend upon the peer. The minister of religion appeared before him (an affecting spectacle, to a feeling mind, of infirmity and humility), bending under years, his head uncovered, and holding in his hand the book which was now his only source of hope and consolation. Iis lordship ordered him to take off the sentence lately passed upon his favourite's brother. The priest, struggling between his temporal fears and the solemn obligations of his church, could only reply, with respect and humbleness, that he would gladly comply with any injunction of his lordship, but that to do so in the present instance was beyond his power;

that he was only a parish priest, and, as such, had no authority to remit an ecclesiastical penalty imposed by his superior; that the Bishop alone could do it. To a second and more angry mandate, a similar answer was returned, upon which the nobleman, forgetting

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what he owed to his own dignity, the pity and forbearance due to age, and the reverence due to religion, raised his hand against the unoffending old man, who could only escape the blows directed against his person by tottering back into his habitation, and securing its door against his merciless assailant.

For this disgraceful outrage, to which the sufferer was exposed, because he would not violate the sanctity of his own character, and the ordinances of his church, for the gratification of a profligate woman, who chanced to be the mistress of a peer, he for some time despaired of obtaining redress. So great was the provincial power of this nobleman, and such the political degradation of the Roman Catholic clergy, that the injured priest found a difficulty in procuring an advocate to plead his cause. At length, several to whom he applied having (according to the general report) declined to be concerned for so unpopular a client,* Mr. Curran justly conceiving that it would be a stain upon his profession if such scenes of lawless violence were allowed to pass without investigation, took a step which many considered as most romantic and imprudent, and only calculated to baffle all his prospects upon his circuit; he tendered his services to the unfriended plaintiff

, and, the unexpected offer being gratefully accepted, laid the story of his unmerited wrongs before a jury of his country.

No printed report of this trial has been preserved, but all the accounts of it agree that the plaintiff's counsel acquitted himself with eminent ability. And it is only by adverting to the state of those times that we can appreciate the ability that could obtain success. This was not, as an ordinary case, between man and man, where each may be certain of an equitable hearing. The advocate had to address a class of men who were full of furious

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* In 1785, a Catholic nobleman (Lord Clancarty) brought an ejectment to recover his family estates that had been confiscated, but by a resolution of the Irish House of Commons, all barristers, solicitors, attorneys or proctors, that should be concerned for him, Were voted public enemies (O'Connor's History of the Irish Catholics, p. 218 :) and in Ireland the prejudices, which had dictated so iniquitous a measure, were not extinct in 1780.-C.

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