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SIR CHARLES RUSSELL’S GREAT SPEECH., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
SIR CHARLES RUSSELL’S GREAT SPEECH.
MR STEAD’S ACCOUNT OF THE SCENE IN COURT.
AN EFFECTIVE PERORATION
[From Ouk London Correspondent.]
London, April 20. As was generally anticipated, the kernel of Sir Charles Russell’s lengthy review of the Parnellites.’ case lay in his peroration, or rather in the last two hours of his speech. Tnis period he devoted to summing up the leading points of the defence, and, as a matter of fact, it is the only portion of the great barrister’s prodigious effort one really requires to read. Mr Stead, who was in Court aU day, wrote the account of the scene on Friday af ;ernoon, which I append. It is certainly tin most graphic I have read, though a trifle hysterical and overdone, like most of the editor of the ‘Pall Mali’s’ effusions on subjects about which he feels strongly. The Court was crowded, as usual, ladies predominating. ‘ The Times ’ bench was empty at first, but afterwards came in Simple Simon and Mr Soames. Mrs Glad_ atone, Lady Day, Lady Russell, and Countess Russell were among those who were present. Mr Childers and Mr Lulu Harcourt sat on opposite sides of the Court, Sir Charles Russell, who was to speak for two and a-half hours or so, began promptly to sum up his six days’ harangue by summarising the specific weighty and grievous charges. Mr Parnell came in almost immediately after ho had begun. Mr Davitt was of course in attendance. So was Mr Lewis. Mr Alfred Walter came in late. Sir Charles spoke without the least appearance of weariness, nor was his voice even husky. The summary of the charges shows that the real brief from which ‘ Parnellism and Crime ’ was written was the bogus document which Pigott imputed to Eugene Davis, but which he subsequently admitted he bad invented himself. Charged with the statements of this precious document, Mr Houston first saw Mr Stead, when he endeavored in vain to induce him to purchase the letters, and then afterwards succeeded in palming them off on ‘ The Times.’ All the statements made by ‘The Times’ are found in the pseudo Eugene Davis’s “confession,” and nowhere else. That “ confession ” is tho foundation and inspiration of the whole case. The letters were an afterthought, invented to bolster up the false confession. This, however, by the way. It is enough to state the charges as extracted and condensed by Sir Charles Russel) to anyone who has followed the evidence to overwhelm them with ridicule. The cruellest things in Sir Charles Russell’s speech are his quotations from the AttorneyGeneral's opening, which proved how completely he has committed himself body and soul to the most grotesque inventions of Pigott. Poor Sir Wretched did his best to look unconcerned as Sir Charles read out the monstrous assertions for which he had produced no proof, no scintilla of proof, not even a vestige of evidence tainted or otherwise, but as he has a conscience he must have been as acutely miserable as any man could be. If he were a man, and not merely a lawyer, he would probably have been unable to resist the impulse to spring to his feet and declare “I have sinned in that I have faliely accused innocent men !_” But being a 1 arrister who believes that it is the man who draws his instructions who will go to the fiery lake reserved for him “ who loveth and maketh a lie,” the Attorney ■ General sat still and made no sign. Sir Charles was very felicitous in lus scornful references to the beggarly scraps of isolated assertion sprinkled over a vast heterogeneous mass of extraneous matter, the gist of all which was that if their Lordships had been sitting in a criminal trial they had not any evidence fit to be submitted to the consideration of a jury, Point by point ho went over all the hideous libels emitted by the AttorneyGeneral, and contrasted what Sir Richard had stated with what he had even attempted to prove. In brief, it was not unlike the defence of a man who, having accused another of shooting his father and poisoning his wife, tried to justify his libel by leading evidence to prove that the man had occasionally sworn at his servants and kicked a cat downstairs. Occasionally a witty phrase lit up the argument, as, for instance, when he referred to Le Caron as the deus ex machind , or, perhaps, as diabolus ex machind, who, disgusted with the weak and •wretched manner in which the case of ‘ The Times’ was presented, came forward to save them by his evidence. On one occasion, and only one, he even drew a grisly, ghastly smile from Sir Richard Webster, He read the Attorney-General’s declaration that if the letters were forged a grosser libel had never been written. “I agree with the Attorney-General,” said Sir Charles impressively, turning round to the leader of the English Bar, “a grosser libel was never penned.” The Attorney-General squirmed, and a sepulchral smile flitted across his features. As Sir Charles went on it became more and more clear that the forged letters and the forged confessions were the warp and woof of the whole case. They were the rotten ground which had given way under the feet of the Attorney-General. Sir Charles left to the last the famous cheque to Byrne. He proved by correspondence, which Mr Asquith read, that Mr Parnell’s relations with Mr Byrne had been perfectly straightforward and aboveboard ; that the money sent Byrne was sent for definite and specific purpose. “ A plain, straightforward, and perfectly innocent transaction.” It was now twelve o’clock, and we were all beginning to gather ourselves for the peroration. It began almost immediately, and kept on in a stream of the loftiest eloquence for just half an hour. Sir Charles has seldom risen more completely to the height of a great opportunity. He spoke with sustained and intense feeling. Sir Charles began by referring once more to the contrast between the insignificantand utterly weak evidence which alone had been adduced in support of the indictment, so broad, so serious, making charges of the gravest kind. Where these charges had been specific, he claimed that in the case of the letters and of the cheque they had disproved them ; where they were general, what fragmentary proofs, from what tainted and unworthy sources they had been shown to come ! Passing on to consider ‘ Parnellism and Crime/ the original source of the libels with which he had to deal, he remarked that they had been written by a young gentleman, he was sorry to say an Irishman, whose considerable literary ability should have been much better employed than in defaming his countrymen and discrediting his country’s claims ; but although his had been the pen which had painted this grievous indictment, working all the scattered charges into a curious piece of literary mosaic, he was but the machine and the creature that was employed with a pen dipped in political gall to make charges broad and strong and blasting enough to ruin a political opponent. Then Sir Charles quoted with great feeling and immense effect four or five lines of poetry, the source of which did not appear. The instruction of the poet to the libeller to •‘ do all that art could think and pregnant spite devise,” to “ strike home, gash deep,” was very effective, and there was much pathos in the tone with which he rendered the closing line : “ A wound, though cured, yet leaves behind a scar.” That was the 'close of the first of half a dozen compact perorations that were crammed into the final peroration of all. Then Sir Charles began again, and summarised what he considered he had proved before the Court. The passage was a very close compendium of a statesmanlike diagnosis of the Irish situation, and presented the case for the formation of the Land League in a nutshell. It was a combination inevitable under the. circumstances after the failure of Parliament and the landlord class to provide protection. for the tillers of thesoil, by which they sought to shield themselves from a repetition of the nameless horrors of 1846 and 1847- • Again, he reminded their Lordships tnat : they were trying the history of ten years of ; revolution in Ireland, partly social and partly political, and at the same time, while; they were sitting in judgment there, the* tenants of Ireland were reaping■ by process In the Courts legally established tire* fruits of that revolution. Then he pbised tie Judges, expressing his confident
that they would without predisposition ox predilection, political or otherwise, deal with the case on the evidence before them, giving it the same impartial consideration that they would if their own country had not in any way been concerned in the issue. Then passing in rapid review the two great parties which between them divide the Irish people, he presented a vivid picture of the strange phenomenon unknown in any other country governed under constitutional in the civilised world —of a land in which the smaller party held all the executive power and authority, and in which “the Castle” audits tenants had no touch with the popular mind or the popular opinion. “ Grave words,” said Sir Charles, “ weightier than mine, but which I will adopt as my own, represent the existing condition of things in that country ” —and then Sir Charles read out the striking passage from Mr Chambeilain’s speech in which he inveighed against the system of “Castle government in Ireland as that by which an absurd and irritating anachronism was kept in existence by the bayonets of 30,000 soldiers, encamped in the midst of a country which was treated as Russia treated Poland. Sir Charles did not say from whom he was qnoting until he had finished the passage, although it was generally recognised. _He led up to it: “ This man is no excited orator ; he is a Privy Councillor of the Queen —it is Air Chamberlain I” Mr Justice Smith looked as if he had swallowed something the wrong way. The impassive countenance of the Lord President never moved. Mr Justice Day looked more steadfastly than ever at the speaker, whiie an almost audible smile went round the Court. “ Is it any wonder,” said Sir Charles, “that there should bo alienation from the law, that there should be no faith in an Administration which never tluir advice, and no sense of responsibility in those who have never been entrusted with power ? Nor was that all. In England the Executive stood apart from the ordinary administration of the law ; in Ireland it was the Executive which set the law in motion.^ Then came a very telling and dramatic passage :—“ If there be a gleam of returning health across the face of Ireland, I can only say Deo gratia*! If crime be lessened again, Deo gratia*!” But could that country be healthy which had twenty-five of its representatives in prison, not for offences regarded as crimes by men of moral sense, but for deeds which caused them to be regarded with sympathy by a large section of the English and as heroes and martyrs by the whole of the Irish race ? The best guarantee of peace and order was the hope which Mr Parnell had planted in the Irish breast that this anomalous and diseased state of tilings must come to an end. It was because they hud brought this consummation, devoutly to be wished, to be close at hand, that these men stand at your Lordships’ bar! Then Sir Charles drew a brilliant picture of the Irish peasant in 1879 and in 1889, eulogising the transformation of the serf into the free citizen, who, instead of regarding England with distrust—if not with hatetenders the hand of brotherly friendship to the English people, and buries for ever the dark and bitter memories of the past. We bad now got into very exalted regions, and everyone was wondering how he would manage to keep on any longer in this lofty strain, let alone to cap it with a climax. Sir Charles, however, did not fail. In a voice full of deep feeling he exclaimed : “I have spoken not merely as an advocate I have spoken for the laud of my birth,” The pause that followed filled the Court with silence, and then, crushing down that lump in the throat which at such moments chokes utterance, Sir Charles went on : “I feel profoundly that I have also spoken to, for, and in the best interests of England, of the country where years of my laborious life have been passed, and where I have received kindness, consideration, and regard, “which I would be glad to repay ” —a fine touch that, and admirably put in. I Then came a fine passage:—He said that the trial intended for a curse had proved a blessing. “ 1 said in my opening (said Sir Charles) that we represented the accused. That is so no longer. The positions are reversed. We are the accusers ; the accused (with a gesture of indignant scorn, pointing to ‘ The Times ’ bench, where sat Mr Waiter and Mr Macdonald) sit there ! ” That was fine, but finer still was the closing passage of all, when, with a voice tremulous with emotion, lie declared that the result of the trial would be to bring about a real reconciliation and a true union between two great peoples. It had dispelled, and dispelled for ever, a cloud, and a weighty cloud, which had bowed down a noble head and dimmed the glory of a mighty Empire. It was a struggle for him to get through without breaking down. There was half a sob as the eloquent counsel, who, as he said, stood pleading with passionate fervor for “ the land of my birth,” forced himself to proceed until the last word, and then, the long tension over, he sank down quivering into his seat, while the hot tears, forcing themselves to unaccustomed eyes, told how intense had been the strain now happily at an end. Round the great advocate gathered all the horsehair wigs, eager with congratulations. Sir Charles was silent. Then came a little pencil note from the Bench. It was from the President, who had flushed with emotion as Sir Charles Russell sat down. It was brief, but to the point: “ A great speech, worthy of a great occasion!” “What is it?” said the Attorney-General, picking up the note and reading it. “Of course; and so we all think,” raid he kindly, and turned away. Then the Court slowly dissolved, the sitting being adjourned till after Easter.
SIR CHARLES RUSSELL’S GREAT SPEECH., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
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