Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/346

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countermanded. It was as well that the attempt to give a military appearance to his agitation was abandoned, for government had resolved to mark its disapprobation by depriving him of his silk gown. His conduct was, however, approved by the city of Dublin, and in July 1799 a resolution conferring on him the freedom of the city, ‘for his manly resistance of a legislative union,’ was carried in the commons, and adopted by the court of aldermen with the omission of the clause relating to his ‘manly resistance.’

The retirement of the Hon. Richard Annesley, who had accepted the escheatorship of Munster—the Irish equivalent for the Chiltern Hundreds—having created a vacancy in parliament, Saurin was, by the influence of Lord Downshire, returned M.P. for the borough of Blessington in 1799. He spoke three times at considerable length against the union in January, March, and June, 1800, his argument going to prove that parliament could not alienate the rights of the nation, and that if the union was carried without having been brought constitutionally before the people, it would not be morally binding, and the right of resistance would remain. His doctrine was denounced as a manifest incitement to rebellion, and Castlereagh declared that, ‘however his professional opinions might accord with the principles of the constitution, his doctrines in the House were those of Tom Paine.’ And in his last speech on 26 June he displayed ‘more caution and moderation on the subject of the competence of parliament’ (Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 248). His opposition to the union has been highly eulogised by writers who reprobate that measure, but it was based on narrow professional interests and hostility to the Roman catholics rather than on broad national grounds. Of patriotism outside the narrow limits of the protestant ascendency he had no conception; and his subsequent career, so far from being illogical, was the natural result of the motives that inspired his opposition to the union. He was again offered and again declined the post of solicitor-general in 1803; but four years later he yielded to friendly pressure, and on 21 May 1807 was appointed attorney-general for Ireland under the Duke of Richmond as lord lieutenant. This, the most important post perhaps in the Irish government, he continued to hold till January 1822, and during that long period of fourteen years he was the heart and soul of the opposition to the catholic claims. In 1811 he advised and conducted the prosecution of Dr. Sheridan under the provisions of the Convention Act of 1793, and, though on that occasion failing to secure a conviction, he was more successful in a similar charge against Mr. Kirwan in the year following. His conduct was regarded as arbitrary, and even unconstitutional by the catholics, and strenuous but ineffectual efforts were made to obtain his removal.

During Peel's tenure of the Irish secretaryship he lived on terms of cordial intimacy with him. He conducted the prosecution in 1813 against John Magee [q. v.], editor and proprietor of the ‘Dublin Evening Post,’ for an alleged libel against the Duke of Richmond, but with the avowed object of wresting that formidable instrument of agitation out of the hands of the catholics, thereby drawing down on himself the wrath of O'Connell, who did not spare to hint at his foreign origin and ‘Jacobinical’ conduct during the union debates. So intense, indeed, was O'Connell's indignation that when Magee was brought up for judgment, he distorted something that Saurin said into a personal insult, and declared that only his respect for the temple of justice restrained him from corporally chastising him. The ‘scene’ was brought to a close by Saurin declaring that he had not meant to refer to O'Connell; but there can be little question that the attack to which he had been subjected intensified his hatred both of O'Connell individually and also of the catholics generally. And it is perhaps not unfair to attribute to a feeling of personal animosity against O'Connell the pertinacity with which he insisted on the suppression in the following year of the catholic board (Parker, Sir Robert Peel, p. 139). That he could and did use his position to promote an anti-catholic agitation, the discovery of his famous letter to Lord Norbury, urging him to influence the grand juries on circuit, places beyond doubt. His intolerance seemed to Lord Wellesley to render his removal necessary, and in 1822 he was superseded by Plunket. The blow was wholly unexpected, and, in indignation at what he conceived to be his betrayal by Lord Liverpool, he refused a judgeship coupled with a peerage, and returned to his practice at the chancery bar. ‘I have been told,’ said Lord Wellesley in explaining his conduct, ‘that I have ill-treated Mr. Saurin. I offered him the chief-justiceship of the king's bench: that was not ill-treating him. I offered him an English peerage: that was not ill-treating him. I did not, it is true, continue him in the viceroyalty of Ireland, for I am the viceroy of Ireland’ ({{sc|Grattan}, Life of Grattan, v. 123 n.) Though deprived of office, Saurin