Reference > Cambridge History > The Period of the French Revolution > Political Writers and Speakers > Henry Grattan
  Richard Brinsley Sheridan  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

II. Political Writers and Speakers.

§ 18. Henry Grattan.


That weight and respect which Sheridan never gained was amply enjoyed by his fellow-countryman, Henry Grattan. Perhaps, as a statesman from his youth up, whose whole energies were engrossed in politics and government, he had an inevitable advantage over the brilliant literary amateur. But the main causes lie deep, in divergences of genius and temperament. Grattan had none of Sheridan’s exterior advantages; his gestures were uncouth, his enunciation difficult. He surmounted these impediments, however, almost at once, both on his entry into the Irish parliament, in 1775, and on that into the parliament of the United Kingdom, in 1805. In the former case, he led the party which obtained Irish legislative independence, and inaugurated a period called by his name; in the latter, at the time of his death, he had become venerated as the last survivor of the giants of debate among a lesser generation. A certain magnanimity in Grattan corresponded to the greatness of his public career. His fiercest invective, however severe in intent and effect, had an old-world courtliness. Of persiflage he knew nothing; his wit, of which he had plenty, was dignified and almost stern. “You can scarcely answer a prophet; you can only disbelieve him,” he said grimly, in 1800, of the Irish predictions of Pitt. He was always, beyond question, in earnest. The excellence of his speeches does not depend on any of the pettier artistic canons of composition. Rhythmical sentences and periods are both to seek. There is no architectural arrangement of matter; he forges straight ahead, seizing on the crucial points one by one. But he had a magnificent power of statesmanlike reasoning and of lucid exposition, and, if he had not Fox’s capability of making all argument seem to tend his way, he was quite able to make opposing reasons seem of little worth. He could generalise, too, and state, in a pithy way, maxims of practical philosophy. Pithiness and expressiveness, indeed, were at the root of his oratory. His thoughts came out double-shotted and white-hot; his words are the most forcible and convincing for his meaning, rather than the most apt. It was conviction and force at which he aimed, not beauty. Yet, every now and then, he attains a literary charm, more lasting, because more deeply felt, than the considered grace of Sheridan or Pitt.   33

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Richard Brinsley Sheridan  
 
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