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It is now * forty years since Robert Emmet pronounced that memorable speech, wberein he said—“I have but few words more to say-I am going to my cold and silent grave-my lamp of life is nearly extinguished - I have parted with every thing that was dear to me in this life, for my country's cause ; with the idol of my soul, the object of my affections : my race is run, the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom!
“I have but one request to make, at my departure from this world—it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph ; for as no man, who knows my motives, dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice nor ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace! Let my memory be left in oblivion, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character ; when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done."
With this solemn appeal, at his departure from this world, for “the charity of its silence,”—till other times, and other men, could vindicate his motives, and do justice to his charac
ter,-a man must be truly insensible, and unfeeling, and inconsiderate in his conduct, who could think of approaching this subject without the fullest sense of the solemnity of the injunction.
Robert Emmet, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, was born in Dublin, in the year 1778.* He was sent, at an early age, to Oswald school, in Dopping's Court, off Goldenlane, near Bride-street, a rather celebrated school, at that day, for mathematics. Subsequently he was placed at the well known school of Samuel White, of Grafton-street, and was afterwards under the care of the Rev. Mr. Lewis, of Camdenstreet. He entered Trinity College, the 7th of October, 1793, at the age of fifteen years, according to the entry in the college book of admission. His tutor was the Rev. Mr. Graves ; his college course, like that of his brothers, was brilliant. He obtained several prizes, and went through his studies with great eclat. He showed, in early life, great aptitude for the exact sciences, and his predilection for mathematics and chemistry, continued daring his life. He was in the habit of making chemical experiments in his father's house, and, on one occasion, nearly fell a victim to his ardour in his favourite pursuit. Mr. Patten, the brother-in-law of T. A. Emmet, had been staying at his father's, and, on the occasion referred to, had assisted Robert in his experiments. After Mr. Patten had retired, the former applied himself to the solution of a very difficult problem in Friend's Algebra. A habit which he never relinquished, when deeply engaged in thought, that of biting his nails, was the cause of an accident which proved nearly fatal to him, on the occasion in question. He was seized with most violent inward pains, these pains were the effects of poison; he had been manipulating corrosive sublimate; and had, unconsciously, on putting his fingers to his mouth, taken, internally, some portion of the poison. Though fully aware of the cause of his sufferings, and of the danger he was in, he abstained from disturbing his father, but proceeded to his library, and took down a volume of an Encyclopædia, which was in the room. Having referred to the ticle “poisons,” he found that chalk was recommended as a prophylactic in cases of poisoning
* In 1771 Dr. Emmet commenced practice in Moles worth-street, Dublin. In 1779 he removed to 110, Stephen's-green, the site of the house now numbered 120.
from corrosive sublimate. He then called to mind that Mr. Patten had been using chalk with a turning lathe in the coachhouse ; he went out, broke open the coach-house door, and succeeded in finding the chalk which he made use of, and then set to work again at the puzzling question, which had before baffled his endeavours to solve. In the morning, when he presented himself at the breakfast table, his countenance, to use the language of my informant, (who was present,) “looked as small and as yellow as an orange.” He acknowledged to this gentleman that he had suffered all night excruciating tortures, and yet he employed his mind in the solution of that question, which the author of the work acknowledged was one of extraordinary difficulty, and he succeeded in his efforts.
Robert Emmet's connection with the Historical and Debating Societies of Trinity College is well known.* I have conversed with many persons who had heard him speak in those societies, some of them of very decided Tory politics, and I
* The first Historical Society was formed in 1770, by some members of Trinity College, Dublin, who, observing the deficiencies of the academic system, and the total neglect of every useful branch of belles lettres in the under-graduate course, devised this means of encouraging a taste for History and Elocution; every allusion to contemporary events or persons being prohibited. The
Society flourished for about twenty-two years. The names of some of the greatest men that Ire land can boast of, are to be found on the roll of its members. Temple Emmet, Bushe, Plunket, T. W. Tone, who filled the situation of Auditor; and so early as 1786, had already “obtained three medals from the Historical Society.” The old Society having lost several of its ablest members, and amongst others, its pride and ornament, Temple Emmet, gradually declined. In 1792, it was revived under a new name, " The Junior Historical Society, The Society in 1794, encountered the hostility of the Board of Fellows of Trinity College. Several of its members, amongst whom were Tone, Corbet, Robert Emmet, James M’Cabe, &c., were suspected by the Board of entertaining republican principles, and of making the Historical Society & theatre for the discussion of modern politics. An order for the exclusion of Extern Members was the beginning of the war, which was carried on with much vehemence for a length of time between the College Board and the Society, and enlisted in the quarrel the wit, eloquence, learning, and satirical propensities of both parties. The issue of a contest with the heads of an institution in which Lord Clare exerted authority might have been easily foreseen. The Historical Society got the character of a Jacobin club, its members were placed under the ban of the Lord Chancellor, and it finally broke down.Madden's United Irishmen.
never heard but one opinion expressed, of the transcendent oratorical powers he displayed there.
The Rev. Dr. Macartney, Vicar of Belfast, informed me that he had known Robert Emmet; he was present in the early part of 1798, at a debate of the Historical Society, got up expressly for the debut of Robert Emmet. The question was“ Is a complete freedom of discussion essential to the well being of a good and virtuous government." By the rules of the Society, Dr. Macartney states, all allusion to modern politics was forbidden. Robert Emmet, in this his maiden speech, adroitly kept within the terms of the rule ; he showed the necessity and advantage of this liberty of discussion to all communities : and the encouragement it deserved from a good government. He then proceeded to pourtray the evil effects of the despotism and tyranny of the governments of antiquity, and most eloquently depicted those of the governments of Greece and Rome. He was replied to by the present Judge Lefroy,* and his argument was rebutted at considerable length. Robert Emmet delivered a speech in reply, evidently unpremeditated, and showed extraordinary ability in his answer to the objections started by his opponent. He said, in conclusion, “If a government were vicious enough to put down the freedom of discussion, it would be the duty of the people to deliberate on the errors of their rulers, to consider well the wrongs they inflicted, and what the right course would be for their subjects to take, and having done so, it then would be their duty to draw practical conclusions."
The substance of the passage referred to, by Dr. Macartney, he said was conveyed in the above words, but to attempt to give an idea of the eloquence, or animation of the speaker, was impossible.
Mr. Moore, in his Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, speaks of his young friend, and fellow student, in the following terms:
“Were I to number, indeed, the men among all I have ever known, who appeared to me to combine in the greatest degree pure moral worth, with intellectual power, I should, among the highest of the few, place Robert Emmet. Wholly free from the follies and frailties of youth, -though how capable he was
* The same who sentenced John Mitchel to transportation in 1848.