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His Duel With Bully Egan

Irish Humour Home

When Curran and Bully Egan met on the ground, the latter complained of
the advantage his antagonist had over him, and declared that he was as
easily hit as a turf stack, while, as to firing at Curran, he might as
well fire at a razor's edge. Whereupon, Curran waggishly proposed that
his size should be chalked out upon Egan's side, and that every shot
which hits outside that mark should go for nothing!


The following extract is from his celebrated speech against the Marquis
of Headfort:--

Never so clearly as in the present instance, have I observed that
safeguard of justice which Providence has placed in the nature of man.
Such is the imperious dominion with which truth and reason wave their
sceptre over the human intellect, that no solicitation, however
artful--no talent, however commanding--can seduce it from its
allegiance. In proportion to the humility of our submission to its rule,
do we rise into some faint emulation of that ineffable and presiding
Divinity, whose characteristic attribute it is to be coerced and bound
by the inexorable laws of its own nature, so as to be all-wise and
all-just from necessity rather than election. You have seen it in the
learned advocate who has preceded me, most peculiarly and strikingly
illustrated. You have seen even his great talents, perhaps the first
in any country, languishing under a cause too weak to carry him, and
too heavy to be carried by him. He was forced to dismiss his natural
candor and sincerity, and, having no merits in his case, to take refuge
in the dignity of his own manner, the resources of his own ingenuity,
from the overwhelming difficulties with which he was surrounded.
Wretched client! unhappy advocate! what a combination do you form! But
such is the condition of guilt--its commission mean and tremulous--its
defence artificial and insincere--its prosecution candid and simple--its
condemnation dignified and austere. Such has been the defendant's
guilt--such his defence--such shall be my address to you--and such, I
trust, your verdict. The learned counsel has told you that this
unfortunate woman is not to be estimated at forty thousand pounds. Fatal
and unquestionable is the truth of this assertion. Alas! gentlemen, she
is no longer worth anything; faded, fallen, degraded, and disgraced, she
is worth less than nothing! But it is for the honor, the hope, the
expectation, the tenderness, and the comforts that have been blasted by
the defendant, and have fled forever, that you are to remunerate the
plaintiff by the punishment of the defendant. It is not her present
value which you are to weigh; but it is her value at that time when she
sat basking in a husband's love, with the blessing of Heaven on her
head, and its purity in her heart; when she sat amongst her family, and
administered the morality of the parental board. Estimate that past
value--compare it with its present deplorable diminution--and it may
lead you to form some judgment of the severity of the injury, and the
extent of the compensation.

The learned counsel has told you, you ought to be cautious, because
your verdict cannot be set aside for excess. The assertion is just; but
has he treated you fairly by its application? His cause would not allow
him to be fair; for why is the rule adopted in this single action?
Because, this being peculiarly an injury to the most susceptible of all
human feelings, it leaves the injury of the husband to be ascertained
by the sensibility of the jury, and does not presume to measure the
justice of their determination by the cold and chilly exercise of its
own discretion. In any other action it is easy to calculate. If a
tradesman's arm is cut off, you can measure the loss he has sustained;
but the wound of feeling, and the agony of the heart, cannot be judged
by any standard with which I am acquainted. And you are unfairly dealt
with when you are called on to appreciate the present sufferings of the
husband by the present guilt, delinquency, and degradation of his wife.
As well might you, if called on to give compensation to a man for the
murder of his dearest friend, find the measure of his injury by weighing
the ashes of the dead. But it is not, gentlemen of the jury, by weighing
the ashes of the dead that you would estimate the loss of the survivor.

The learned counsel has referred you to other cases and other
countries, for instances of moderate verdicts. I can refer you to some
authentic instances of just ones. In the next county, L15,000 against a
subaltern officer. In Travers and Macarthy, L5,000 against a servant.
In Tighe against Jones, L1,000 against a man not worth a shilling.
What, then, ought to be the rule, where rank and power, and wealth and
station, have combined to render the example of his crime more
dangerous--to make his guilt more odious--to make the injury to the
plaintiff more grievous, because more conspicuous? I affect no levelling
familiarity, when I speak of persons in the higher ranks of
society--distinctions of orders are necessary, and I always feel
disposed to treat them with respect--but when it is my duty to speak of
the crimes by which they are degraded, I am not so fastidious as to
shrink from their contact, when to touch them is essential to their
dissection. However, therefore, I should feel on any other occasion, a
disposition to speak of the noble defendant with the respect due to his
station, and perhaps to his qualities, of which he may have many to
redeem him from the odium of this transaction, I cannot so indulge
myself here. I cannot betray my client, to avoid the pain of doing my
duty. I cannot forget that in this action the condition, the conduct,
and circumstances of the parties, are justly and peculiarly the objects
of your consideration. Who, then, are the parties? The plaintiff,
young, amiable, of family and education. Of the generous
disinterestedness of his heart you can form an opinion even from the
evidence of the defendant, that he declined an alliance which would have
added to his fortune and consideration, and which he rejected for an
unportioned union with his present wife--she too, at that time, young,
beautiful and accomplished; and feeling her affection for her husband
increase, in proportion as she remembered the ardor of his love, and the
sincerity of his sacrifice. Look now to the defendant! Can you behold
him without shame and indignation? With what feelings can you regard a
rank that he has so tarnished, and a patent that he has so worse than
cancelled? High in the army--high in the state--the hereditary
counsellor of the King--of wealth incalculable--and to this last I
advert with an indignant and contemptuous satisfaction, because, as the
only instrument of his guilt and shame, it will be the means of his
punishment, and the source of his compensation.

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