His Duel With Bully Egan

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.