Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 169 to answer any criminal charge that could be instituted against him, nothing of the sort was attempted by the public prosecutor ; consequently Mr. Rowan’s bail-bond fell to the ground. The political history of ARCHIBALD HAMILTON ROWAN is pretty generally known. His own name was Hamilton-that of Rowan having been assumed on succeeding to a property of considerable extent, The family from which he was descended-if we are rightly informed-was of Scottish origin, and had attained to much wealth and respectability. He was born about the year 1750, and was early distinguished for a chivalrous enthusiasm of disposition-kind and benevolent even to excess, but somewhat pugnacious and jealous of his honour. Barrington, in his “Personal Sketches,” gives the following highly coloured, but amusing picture of his character and appearance, prior to the unhappy political transactions in which he subsequently became involved :- “ There were few persons whose history WBS connected with that of Ireland during my time who excited my interest in a greater degree than Mr. Hamilton Rowan. The dark points of this gentleman’s character have been assiduously exhibited by persons who knew little or nothing of his life ; and that too, long after he had ceased to be an obnoxious character. I will endeavour to show the obverse of the medal ; and I claim the meed of perfect disinterestedness, which will, I think, be awarded, when I state that I never had the least social intercourse with Mr. Rowan, whose line of politics was always decidedly opposed to my own. “ Archibald Hamilton Rowan (I believe he still lives) ”-Barrington wrote in 1826-“ is a gentleman of most respectable family, and of ample fortune : considered merely as a private character, I fancy there are few who will not give him full credit for every quality which does honour to that station in society. As a philanthropist, he certainly carried his ideas even beyond reason, and to a degree of escess which I really think laid in his mind the foundation of all his enthusiastic proceedings, both in common life and in politics. “The first interview I had with this gentleman did not occupy more than a few minutes, but it was of a most impressive nature ; and, though now eight-and-thirty years back, appears aa fresh to my eye as if it had taken place yesterday j in truth, I believe it must be equally present to every individual of the company who survives, and is not too old to remember anything. “In 1788 a very young girl of the name of Mary Neil had been ill-treated by a person unknown, aided by a woman. The late Lord Carhampton WBS supposed to be the transgressor, but without any proof whatsoever of his lordship’s culpability. The humour of Hamilton Rowan, which had a sort of Quixotic tendency to resist all oppression, and to redress every species of wrong, led him to take up the cause of Mary Neil with a zeal and enthusiastic perseverance which nobody but the Knight of La Mancha could have exceeded. Day and night the ill treatment of this girl was the subject of his thoughts, his actions, his dreams. He even went about preaching a kind of crusade in her favour, and succeeded in gaining a great many partisans among the citizens; and in short, he eventually obtained a conviction of the woman, as accessory to a crime, the perpetrator whereof remained undiscovered; and she accordingly received sentence of death. Still Mary Neil was not bettered by this conviction: she was utterly unprovided for, had suffered much, and seemed quite wretched. Yet there were not wanting persons who doubted her truth, decried her former character, and represented her story as that of an impostor. This not only hnrt the feelings and philanthropy, but the pride of Hamilton Rowan ; and he vowed personal vengeance against her calumniators, high and low. “At this time, about twenty yonng barristers, including myself, had formed a dinner club in Dublin. We had taken large apartments for the purpose ; and, as we were not yet troubled with too much bnsiness, were in the habit of faring lnxurionsly every day, and taking a bottle of the best claret that could be obtained. There never existed a more cheerful, nor half so cheap a VOL. 11. Z
Volume 9 Page 228
  Enlarge Enlarge  
170 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. dinner club.’ One day, while dining with our usual hilarity, the servant informed us that a gentleman below stairs desired to be admitted for a mmnent. We considered it to be some brother barrister who requested permission to join our party, and desired him to be shown in. What wm our surprise, however, on perceiving the figure that presented itself !-a man, who might have served as 8 model for a Hercules ; his gigantic limbs conveying the idea of almost supernatural strength ; his shoulders, arms, and broad chest, were the very emblems of muscular energy ; and his flat, rough countenance, overshadowed by enormous dark eyebrows, and deeply furrowed by strong lines of vigour and fortitude, completed one of the finest, yet most formid. able figures I had ever beheld. Close by his side stalked in a shaggy Newfoundland dog of corresponding magnitude, with hair a foot long ; and who, if he should be voraciously inclined, seemed well able to devour a barrister or two without overcharging his stomach. As he entered, indeed, he alternately looked at us and then up at his master, as if only waiting the orders of the latter to commence the onslaught. His master held in his hand a large, yellow, knotted club, slung by a leathern thong round his great wrist : he had also a long smallsword by his side. ‘‘ This apparition walked deliberately up to the table ; and, having made his obeisance with seeming courtesy, a short pause ensued, duriiig which he looked round on all the company with an aspect, if not stern, yet ill calculated to set our minds at ease either aa to his or his dog’s ulterior intentions. “ ‘ Gentlemen ! ’ at length he said, in a tone and with an air at once so mild and courteous, nay so polished, as fairly to give the lie, as it were, to his gigantic and threatening figure ; ‘ Gentlemen ! I have heard with very great regret that some members of this club have been so indiscreet as to calumniate the character of Mary Neil, which, from the part I have taken, I feel identified with my own : if any present hath done so, I doubt not he will now have the candour and courage to avow it. W h avows it P’ The dog looked up at him again ; he returned the glance ; but contented himself, for the present, with patting the animal’s head, and was silent ; so were we. ‘(The extreme surprise, indeed, with which our party were seized, bordering almost on consternation, rendered all consultation as to a reply out of the question ; and never did I see the old axiom, that ‘ what ia everybody’s business is nobody’s business,’ more thoroughly exemplified. A few of the company whispered each his neighbour, and I perceived one or two steal a fruit-knife under the table-cloth, in case of extremities ; but no one made any reply, We were eighteen in number ; and as neither would or could answer for the others, it would require eighteen replies to satisfy the giant’s single query ; and I fancy some of us could not have replied to his satisfaction, and stood to the truth into the bargain. He repeated his demand (elevating his tone each time) thrice : ‘ Does any gentleman avow it ?’ A faint buzz now circulated round the room, but there was no answer whatsoever. Communication was cut off, and there waa a dead silence : at length our visitor said with a loud voice, that he must suppose if any gentleman had made any observations or assertions against Mary Neil’s character, he would have had the courage and spirit to avow. it : ‘therefore,’ continued he, ‘ I shall take it for granted that niy information was erroneous ; and, in that point of view, I regret having ahrnzed your society. And, without another word, he bowed three times very low, and retired backwards towards the door (his dog also backing out with equal politeness), where, with a salam, doubly ceremonious Mr. Rowan ended this extraordinary interview. On the first of his departing bows, by a simultaneous impulse, we all rose and returned his salute, almost touching the table with our noses, but still in profound silence ; which booing on both sides was repeated, aa I have said, till he was fairly out of the room. Three or four of the company then ran hastily to the window, to be sure that he and the dog were clear off into the street ; and no sooner had this satisfactory denouement been ascertained, than a general roar of laughter ensued, and we talked it over in 8 hundred different ways. The whole of our arguments, however, turned upon the question- ‘ which had behaved the polite& upon the occasion !’ but not one word wm uttered as to which had behaved the stoutest. ” He was very well dressed. . . One of us, Counsellor Townly Fitgate (afterwards chairman of Wicklow county), having a pleasure cutter of his own in the harbour of Dublin, used to send her to smuggle claret for us from the Isle of Man. He made a friend of one of the tideawaitem, and we consequently had the very best wines on the cheapest possible terms.
Volume 9 Page 229
  Enlarge Enlarge