Curran And The Informer

The following is an extract from Curran's speech delivered before a

committee of the house of Lords, against the Bill of attainder on Lord

Edward's property:--

I have been asked, said he, by the committee, whether I have any

defensive evidence? I am confounded by such a question. Where is there a

possibility of obtaining defensive evidence? Where am I to seek it? I

have often, of late, gone to the dungeon of the captive, but never have

I gone to the grave of the dead, to receive instructions for his

defence; nor, in truth, have I ever before been at the trial of a dead

man! I offer, therefore, no evidence upon this inquiry, against the

perilous example of which I do protest on behalf of the public, and

against the cruelty and inhumanity and injustice of which I do protest

in the name of the dead father, whose memory is sought to be dishonored,

and of his infant orphans, whose bread is sought to be taken away. Some

observations, and but a few, upon the evidence of the informer I will

make. I do believe all he has admitted respecting himself. I do verily

believe him in that instance, even though I heard him assert it upon his

oath--by his own confession an informer, and a bribed informer--a man

whom respectable witnesses had sworn in a court of justice, upon their

oaths, not to be credible on his oath--a man upon whose single testimony

no jury ever did, or ever ought to pronounce a verdict of guilty--a kind

of man to whom the law resorts with abhorrence, and from necessity, in

order to set the criminal against the crime, but who is made use of for

the same reason that the most obnoxious poisons are resorted to in

medicine. If such be the man, look for a moment at his story. He

confines himself to mere conversation only, with a dead man! He ventures

not to introduce any third person, living or even dead! he ventures to

state no act whatever done. He wishes, indeed, to asperse the conduct of

Lady Edward Fitzgerald; but he well knew that, even were she in this

country, she could not be called as a witness to contradict him. See

therefore, if there be any one assertion to which credit can be given,

except this--that he has sworn and forsworn--that he is a traitor--that

he has received five hundred guineas to be an informer, and that his

general reputation is, to be utterly unworthy of credit.

He concludes thus:--Every act of this sort ought to have a practical

morality flowing from its principle. If loyalty and justice require that

those children should be deprived of bread, must it not be a violation

of that principle to give them food or shelter? Must not every loyal and

just man wish to see them, in the words of the famous Golden Bull,

'always poor and necessitous, and for ever accompanied by the infamy of

the father, languishing in continued indigence, and finding their

punishment in living, and their relief in dying?' If the widowed mother

should carry the orphan heir of her unfortunate husband to the gate of

any man who himself touched with the sad vicissitude of human affairs,

might feel a compassionate reverence for the noble blood that flowed in

his veins, nobler than the royalty that first ennobled it, that, like a

rich stream, rose till it ran and hid its fountain--if, remembering the

many noble qualities of his unfortunate father, his heart melted over

the calamities of the child--if his heart swelled, if his eyes

overflowed, if his too precipitate hand was stretched forth by his pity

or his gratitude to the excommunicated sufferers, how could he justify

the rebel tear or the traitorous humanity? One word more and I have

done. I once more earnestly and solemnly conjure you to reflect that the

fact--I mean the fact of guilt or innocence which must be the foundation

of this bill--is not now, after the death of the party, capable of being

tried, consistent with the liberty of a free people, or the unalterable

rules of eternal justice; and that as to the forfeiture and the ignominy

which it enacts, that only can be punishment which lights upon guilt,

and that can be only vengeance which breaks upon innocence.

* * * * *

Curran was one day setting his watch at the Post Office, which was then

opposite the late Parliament House, when a noble member of the House of

Lords said to him, Curran, what do they mean to do with that useless

building? For my part, I am sure I hate even the sight of it. I do not

wonder at it, my lord, replied Curran contemptuously; I never yet

heard of a murderer who was not afraid of a ghost.

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