Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Charles (1787?-1859)

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PHILLIPS, CHARLES (1787?–1859), barrister and miscellaneous writer, born at Sligo about 1787, was son of Charles Phillips, a councillor of the town, who was connected in some way with Goldsmith's family, was a Roman catholic, and died in 1800 (European Magazine, lxx. 390). After receiving a fairly good education in Sligo from the Rev. James Armstrong, Charles was sent in 1802 to Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of fifteen, and in 1806 graduated B. A. In the following year he entered the Middle Temple in London, and was called to the Irish bar in 1812. While in London he engaged in literature, which thenceforth occupied his leisure. He joined the Connaught circuit, and speedily made a reputation by his florid oratory, which, though condemned by the bar, was very effective with juries. He was employed in most of the 'crim. con.' cases of the period, and some of his extravagant speeches were published in separate form. He took a considerable part in the agitation for Roman catholic emancipation. In 1813 he was presented with a national testimonial, and was publicly thanked by the Catholic Board. O'Connell eulogised him warmly, and Phillips almost exhausted the vocabulary of praise in his public references to his panegyrist.

In 1821 he was called to the English bar, where his fame as a pleader had preceded him. In a comparatively short time he was leader of the Old Bailey bar. Lord Brougham professed admiration for his abilities, although he regarded his speeches as 'horticultural.' Christopher North, while admitting that he had faults, was of opinion that he was worth 'a dozen Sheils.' Sir James Mackintosh declared, on the other hand, that his style was. 'pitiful to the last degree. He ought by common consent to be driven from the bar,' He was nicknamed 'Counsellor O'Garnish,' and his conduct of the defence of Courvoisier,. a valet charged with the murder of his master, Lord William Russell, in 1840, was generally condemned. It is said that, though fully aware of his client's guilt, he pledged his word that he was innocent, and sought to fasten the crime on another. He was reported to have declined a silk gown and a judicial appointment in Calcutta, but in 1842 Brougham appointed him commissioner of the bankruptcy court of Liverpool. In 1846 he obtained the post of commissioner of the insolvent debtors' court of London. He died in Golden Square, London, on 1 Feb. 1859, aged 70, and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

That Phillips was possessed of real eloquence cannot be disputed. His published speeches contain many passages of fine and fervent oratory, but the vice of overstatement was habitual to him. A portrait appears in the 'Pantheon of the Age,' 1825, iii. 134. He was a clever writer, as is shown by his 'Curran and his Contemporaries,' 1818, and many of his productions ran into several editions.

The following is a list of his more important writings:

  1. 'A Letter to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review,' 8vo, 1810.
  2. 'The Consolations of Erin: a Eulogy,' 4to, 1810.
  3. 'The Loves of Celestine and St. Aubert,' 2 vols. 12mo, 1811.
  4. 'The Emerald Isle,' a poem, 4to, 1812; 2nd edit. 4to, 1812.
  5. 'A Garland for the Grave of R. B. Sheridan,' 8vo, 1816.
  6. 'Speech on the Dethronement of Napoleon,' 8vo, 1816.
  7. 'The Liberation of John Magee,' a poem, 8vo, 1816.
  8. 'Two Speeches on the Catholic Question,' 8vo, 1816.
  9. 'Historical Character of Napoleon Bonaparte, with a curious and interesting Letter of his,' 8vo, 1817.
  10. 'An Elegy on H.R.H. the Princess Charlotte of Wales,' 16mo, 1817.
  11. 'The Lament of the Emerald Isle' (a poem on the same occasion), 8vo, 1817.
  12. 'The Speeches of Charles Phillips,' edited by himself, with a preface by J. Finlay, 8vo, 1817.
  13. 'Recollections of Curran and some of his Cotemporaries,' 8vo, 1818; 5th edit, entitled 'Curran and his Cotemporaries,' Edinburgh, 1857, 8vo.
  14. 'Two Speeches in defence of the Christian Religion,' 5th edit. 8vo, 1819.
  15. 'Specimens of Irish Eloquence,' with biographical notices, 8vo, 1819.
  16. 'The Queen's Case stated,' 8vo, 1820; over twenty editions published in that year.
  17. 'Correspondence between S. Warren and C. P. relative to the Trial of Courvoisier,' 8vo, 1849.
  18. 'Historical Sketch of Arthur, Duke of Wellington,' 8 vo, 3852.
  19. 'Napoleon the Third,' 3rd edit. 8vo, 1854.
  20. 'Vacation Thoughts on Capital Punishment,' 8vo, 1857; this work was reprinted by the quakers for their own use.

[O'Rorke's Hist, of Sligo, ii. 511-21; Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit. iii. 1581-2; Burke's Connaught Circuit, pp. 188-94, 194-202; O'Keeffe's Life of O'Connell, i. 354, 359; Brit. Mus. Cat.; European Mag. lxx. 387-90 (portrait); Public Characters, iii. 134-5 (portrait); Belgravia, vol. xxi.; Annual Reg. 1859, pp. 468-9; Georgian Era, ii. p. 552.]

D. J. O'D.