Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 40.djvu/191

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sense, but they are not specially poetical. The most ambitious effort in the book, ‘David: a Drama,’ is a somewhat slim expansion of the Bible story.

[Dr. Whitelaw's memoir as in text.]

T. B.

NEILSON, SAMUEL (1761–1803), United Irishman, the son of Alexander Neilson, a presbyterian minister, was born at Ballyroney, co. Down, in September 1761. He was educated partly by his father, partly at a neighbouring school, and displayed considerable aptitude for mathematics. About the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to his elder brother John, a woollendraper in Belfast. He married in September 1785 Miss Bryson, the daughter of a highly respectable and wealthy merchant of that town, and, starting in business for himself, established one of the largest woollen warehouses in Belfast. But, becoming absorbed in politics, his business gradually declined to such an extent that it was eventually abandoned. In 1790 he was particularly active in promoting the candidature as M.P. for the county Down of Robert Stuart, afterwards Viscount Castlereagh [q. v.], in opposition to Lord Hillsborough, in the tory interest. In 1791 he suggested to Henry Joy McCracken [q. v.] the idea of a society of Irishmen of every persuasion for the promotion of a reform of parliament, and he may therefore be regarded as the founder of the United Irish Society, though the real organiser of it was Theobald Wolfe Tone [q. v.], with whom he in this year became acquainted, and with whose republican views, involving a complete separation of Ireland from England, he cordially concurred. In order to propagate the principles of the society a bi-weekly newspaper, the ‘Northern Star,’ was started under Neilson's editorship, the first number of which appeared on 4 Jan. 1792. At first only a shareholder, with a salary of 100l. per annum as editor, he eventually in 1794 became sole proprietor. Without possessing the literary qualities of its successor, the ‘Press,’ the ‘Northern Star’ soon became a very popular and influential paper in the north of Ireland, and at the time of its suppression in 1797 had attained a circulation of 4,200 copies of each issue. According to Tone, its object was ‘to give a fair statement of all that passed in France, whither every one turned their eyes; to inculcate the necessity of union among Irishmen of all religious persuasions; to support the emancipation of the catholics; and finally, as the necessary, though not avowed, consequence of all this, to erect Ireland into a republic independent of England.’ With such aims the paper naturally became an object of suspicion to government. In 1792 the printer and proprietor were prosecuted and acquitted. In January 1793 six injunctions were filed against them for seditious libels, and in November 1794 they were prosecuted for publishing the address of the United Irishmen to the volunteers. After this Neilson became sole proprietor. In September 1796 the offices of the ‘Northern Star’ were ransacked by the military and Neilson arrested. A full account of the affair appeared in the next issue of the paper on 16 Sept. He was at first placed in solitary confinement in Newgate, Dublin; but, being shortly afterwards removed to Kilmainham, the rigour of his punishment was relaxed. During his imprisonment his neighbours displayed great kindness to his wife and family. After his arrest the ‘Northern Star’ was at first edited by Thomas Corbett, and afterwards by the Rev. Mr. Porter, author of the highly treasonable articles ‘Billy Bluff and the Squire,’ but was finally suppressed with great violence in May 1797.

After seventeen months' confinement, which told seriously on his health, Neilson was, on 22 Feb. 1798, three weeks before the arrest of the Leinster Directory at Oliver Bond's, released on his own recognisances and those of his friend John Sweetman, on condition that he would for the future abstain from treasonable conspiracy. After his release he was, according to the younger Grattan (Life of Henry Grattan, iv. 368), ‘sent for and closeted with Mr. Pelham, on an inquiry by the secretary as to the probability of conciliating the north of Ireland by granting reform, and at the period of his release he was in habits of intercourse with the people of the castle. They sought him in order to obtain intelligence, as he was an open-mouthed person.’ Neilson was probably more astute than either Grattan or Pelham fancied. Mr. Lecky, who has no high opinion of him, suggests (England in the Eighteenth Century, viii. 44 n.) that in communicating with government he only did so in order to betray them. It is certain that he did not long adhere to the conditions of his release. This he admitted in his examination before the secret committee, but pleaded in extenuation that he took no part in politics till he found that government had broken faith with him, and that he had reason to know that it was intended to arrest him again. Anyhow he soon entered into communication with Lord Edward Fitzgerald [q. v.], and was very active in filling up the vacancies in the Directory caused by the arrests at Bond's on 12 March. His intimacy with Lord Edward Fitzgerald, by whom he was greatly esteemed,