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Controversy With John Wesley

Irish Humour Home

Wesley published in January, 1786, what he called, A Letter containing
the Civil Principles of Roman Catholics; also, a Defence of the
Protestant Association. In these letters he maintained that Papists
ought not to be tolerated by any government--Protestant, Mohometan, or
Pagan. In support of this doctrine, he says--

Again, those who acknowledge the spiritual power of the Pope, can give
no security of their allegiance to any government; but all Roman
Catholics acknowledge this: therefore they can give no security for
their allegiance.

In support of this line of argument, he treated his readers to this bit
of lively information:--

But it might be objected, 'nothing dangerous to English liberty is to
be apprehended from them.' I am not so certain of that. Some time since
a Romish priest came to one I know, and after talking with her largely,
broke out, 'You are no heretic; you have the experience of a real
Christian.' 'And would you,' she asked, 'burn me alive?' He said, 'God
forbid! unless it were for the good of the Church.'

In noticing which Father O'Leary humorously replies--

A priest then said to a woman, whom Mr. Wesley knows, 'I see you are
no heretic; you have the experience of a real Christian.' 'And would you
burn me?' says she. 'God forbid!' replied the priest, 'except for the
good of the Church!' Now, this priest must be descended from some of
those who attempted to blow up a river with gunpowder, in order to drown
a city. Or he must have taken her for a witch, whereas, by his own
confession, she 'was no heretic.' A gentleman whom I know declared to
me, upon his honor, that he heard Mr. Wesley repeat, in a sermon
preached by him in the city of Cork, the following words: 'A little bird
cried out in Hebrew, O Eternity! Eternity! who can tell the length of
Eternity?' I am, then, of opinion that a little Hebrew bird gave Mr.
Wesley the important information about the priest and the woman. One
story is as interesting as the other, and both are equally alarming to
the Protestant interest.

Alluding to the statute of Henry VI, which bound every Englishman of
the Pale to shave his upper lip, or clip his whiskers, to distinguish
himself from an Irishman, he says: It had tended more to their mutual
interest, and the glory of that monarch's reign, not to go to the nicety
of splitting a hair, but encourage the growth of their fleeces, and
inspire them with such mutual love for each other as to induce them to
kiss one another's beards, as brothers salute each other at
Constantinople, after a few days' absence. I am likewise of opinion that
Mr. Wesley, who prefaces his letter with 'the interest of the Protestant
religion,' would reflect more honor on his ministry in promoting the
happiness of the people, by preaching love and union, than in widening
the breach, and increasing their calamities by division. The English and
Irish were, at that time, of the same religion, but, divided in their
affections, were miserable. Though divided in speculative opinions, if
united in sentiment, we would be happy. The English settlers breathed
the vital air in England before they inhaled the soft breezes of our
temperate climate. The present generation can say, 'Our fathers and
grandfathers have been born, bred, and buried here. We are Irishmen, as
the descendants of the Normans who have been born in England are

Thus, born in an island in which the ancients might have placed their
Hesperian gardens and golden apples, the temperature of the climate, and
the quality of the soil inimical to poisonous insects, have cleansed our
veins from the sour and acid blood of the Scythians and Saxons. We begin
to open our eyes, and to learn wisdom from the experience of ages. We
are tender-hearted; we are good-natured; we have feelings. We shed tears
on the urns of the dead; deplore the loss of hecatombs of victims
slaughtered on gloomy altars of religious bigotry; cry on seeing the
ruins of cities over which fanaticism has displayed the funeral torch;
and sincerely pity the blind zeal of our Scotch and English neighbors,
whose constant character is to pity none, for erecting the banners of
persecution at a time when the Inquisition is abolished in Spain and
Milan, and the Protestant gentry are caressed at Rome, and live
unmolested in the luxuriant plains of France and Italy.

The statute of Henry VI is now grown obsolete. The razor of calamity
has shaved our lower and upper lips, and given us smooth faces. Our land
is uncultivated; our country a desert; our natives are forced into the
service of foreign kings, storming towns, and in the very heat of
slaughter tempering Irish courage with Irish mercy. All our misfortunes
flow from long-reigning intolerance and the storms which, gathering
first in the Scotch and English atmosphere, never failed to burst over
our heads.

We are too wise to quarrel about religion. The Roman Catholics sing
their psalms in Latin, with a few inflections of the voice. Our
Protestant neighbors sing the same psalms in English, on a larger scale
of musical notes. We never quarrel with our honest and worthy neighbors,
the Quakers, for not singing at all; nor shall we ever quarrel with Mr.
Wesley for raising his voice to heaven, and warbling forth his canticles
on whatever tune he pleases, whether it be the tune of 'Guardian Angels'
or 'Langolee.' We love social harmony, and in civil music hate
discordance. Thus, when we go to the shambles, we never inquire into the
butcher's religion, but into the quality of his meat. We care not
whether the ox was fed in the Pope's territories, or on the mountains of
Scotland, provided the joint be good; for though there be many heresies
in old books, we discover neither heresy nor superstition in beef or
claret. We divide them cheerfully with one another; and though of
different religions, we sit over the bowl with as much cordiality as if
we were at a love-feast.

He concludes with the following remarkable paragraph, in which humor,
eloquence, and philanthropy, are happily blended--a paragraph worthy the
Honorary Chaplain of the Irish Brigade;--

We have obtained of late the privilege of planting tobacco in Ireland,
and tobacconists want paper. Let Mr. Wesley then come with me, as the
curate and barber went to shave and bless the library of Don Quixote.
All the old books, old canons, sermons, and so forth, tending to kindle
feuds, or promote rancor, let us fling out at the windows. Society will
lose nothing: the tobacconists will benefit by the spoils of antiquity.
And if, upon mature deliberation we decree that Mr. Wesley's 'Journal,'
and his apology for the Association's 'Appeal,' should share the same
fate with the old buckrams, we will procure them a gentle fall. After
having rocked ourselves in the large and hospitable cradle of the Free
Press, where the peer and the commoner, the priest and the alderman,
the friar and the swaddler,[2] can stretch themselves at full length,
provided they be not too churlish, let us laugh at those who breed
useless quarrels, and set to the world the bright example of toleration
and benevolence. A peaceable life and happy death to all Adam's
children! May the ministers of religion of every denomination, whether
they pray at the head of their congregations in embroidered vestments or
black gowns, short coats, grey locks, powdered wigs, or black curls,
instead of inflaming the rabble, and inspiring their hearers with hatred
and animosity to their fellow-creatures, recommend love, peace, and

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