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MR. CURRAN’S SPEECH,
AGAINST THE MARQUIS OF HEADFORT.
In the year eighteen hundred and four, the reverend Charles Massy brought an action against the marquis of Headfort for a criminal intercourse with his lady. The suit was tried on the twenty-seventh of July, in that year, at the Ennis assizes, holden for the county of Clare, when the ensuing speech was delivered by Mr. Curran, as the senior counsel for the plaintiff.
The parties were in the first circle of society, and mutually availed themselves of the highest legal talents of their country. Great art and skill were employed by the defendant's council to mitigate his offence, and to lessen the amount of the damages which were claimed by Mr. Massy. But the eloquence of Mr. Curran was irresistible, and procured for his client the sum of ten thousand pounds.
NEVER so clearly as in the present instance, have I observed that safeguard of justice, which Providence has placed in the nature of man.
Such is the imperious dominion with which truth and reason
wave their sceptre over the human intellect," that no solicitation, however artful, no talent, however commanding, can reduce it from its allegiance. In proportion to the humility of our submission to its rule, do we rise into some faint emulation of that ineffable and presiding divinity, whose characteristick attribute it is to be coerced and bound by the inexorable laws of its own nature, so as to be all-wise and all-just from necessity, rather than election. You have seen it in the learned advocate who has preceded me, most peculiarly and strikingly illustrated-you have seen even his great talents, perhaps the first in any country, languishing under a cause too weak to carry him, and too heavy to be carried by him. He was forced to dismiss his natural candour and sincerity, and, having
no merits in his case, to substitute the dignity of · his own manner, the resources of his own inge
nuity, over the overwhelming difficulties with which he was surrounded. Wretched client ! unhappy ad. vocate! What a combination do you form! But such is the condition of guilt-its commission mean and tremulous-its defence artificial and insincereits prosecution candid and simple its condemnation dignified and austere. Such has been the defendant's guilt-such his defence--such shall be my address, and such, I trust, your verdict. The learned counsel has told you, that this unfortunate woman is not to be estimated at forty thousand pounds. Fatal and unquestionable is the truth of this assertion. Alas! gentlemen, she is no longer worth any thing—faded, fallen, degraded, and disgraced, she is worth less than nothing. But it is for the honour, the hope, the expectation, the tenderness, and the comforts that have been blasted by the defendant, and have fled for ever, that you are to remunerate the plaintiff, by the punishment of the defendant. It is not her present value which you are to weigh—but it is her value at that time, when she sat basking in a husband's love, with the blessing of Heaven on her head, and its purity in her heart. When she sat amongst her family, and administered the morality of the parental
board-estimate that past value-compare it with its present deplorable, diminution-and it may lead you to form some judgment of the severity of the injury and the extent of the compensation.
The learned counsel has told you, you ought to be cautious, because your verdict cannot be set aside for
The assertion is just, but has he treated you fairly by its application? His cause would not allow him to be fair--for, why is the rule adopted in this single action ? Because, this being peculiarly an injury to the most susceptible of all human feelings -it leaves the injury of the husband to be ascertained by the sensibility of the jury, and does not presume to measure the justice of their determination, by the cold and chilly exercise of its own discretion. In any other action, it is easy to calculate. If a tradesman's arm is cut off, you can measure the loss which he has sustained—but the wound of feeling, and the agony of the heart, cannot be judged by any standard with which I am acquainted. And you are unfairly dealt with, when you are called on to appreciate the present suffering of the husband by the present guilt, delinquency, and degradation of his wife. As welí might you, if called on, to give compensation to a man for the murder of his dearest friend find the measure of his injury by weighing the ashes of the dead. But it is not, gentlemen of the jury, by weighing the ashes of the dead, that you would estimate the loss of the surviver.
The learned counsel has referred you to other cases, and other countries, for instances of moderate verdicts. I can refer you to some authentick instances of just ones. In the next county, 15,0001. against a subaltern officer. In Travers and M'Carthy, 50001. against a servant. In Tighe against Jones, 10,0001. against a man not worth a shilling. What then ought to be the rule, where rank and power, and wealth, and station, have combined to render the example of his crime more dangerous to make his guilt more odious-to make the injury to the plaintiff more grievous, because more conspicuous ? I affect no
levelling familiarity, when I speak of persons in the higher ranks of society-distinctions of orders are necessary, and I always feel disposed to treat them with respect—but when it is my duty to speak of the crimes by which they are degraded, I am not so fastidious as to shrink from their contact, when to touch them is essential to their dissection. In this action, the condition, the conduct, and circumstances of the party, are justly and peculiarly the objects of your consideration. "Who are the parties? The plaintiff, young, amiable, of family and education. Of the generous disinterestedness of his heart, you can form an opinion, even from the evidence of the defendant, that he declined an alliance, which would have added to his fortune and consideration, and which he rejected for an unportioned union with his present wife. She too at that time young, beautiful and accomplished; and feeling her affection for her husband increase, in proportion as she remembered the ardour of his love, and the sincerity of his sacrifice. Look now to the defendant! I blush to name him! I blush to name a rank which he has tarnished—and a patent that he has worse than cancelled. High in the armyhigh in the state-the hereditary counsellor of the king-of wealth incalculable—and to this last I advert with an indignant and contemptuous satisfaction, because, as the only instrument of his guilt and shame, it will be the means of his punishment, and the source of compensation for his guilt.
But let me call your attention distinctly to the questions you have to consider. The first is the fact of guilt. Is this noble lord guilty ? His counsel knew too well how they would have mortified his vanity, had they given the smallest reason to doubt the splendour of his atchievement. Against any such humiliating suspicion, he had taken the most studious precaution by the publicity of the exploit. And here, in this court, and before you, and in the face of the country, has he the unparalleled effrontery of disdaining to resort even to a confession of innocence his guilt established, your next question is, the da
mages you should give. You have been told, that the amount of the damages should depend on circumstances. You will consider these circumstances, whether of aggravation or mitigation. His learned counsel contend, that the plaintiff has been the author of his own suffering, and ought to receive no compensation for the ill consequences of his own conduct. In what part of the evidence do you find any foundation for that assertion? He indulged her, it seems, in dress--generous and attached, he probably indulged her in that point beyond his means ; and the defendant now impudently calls on you, to find an excuse for the adulterer, in the fondness and liberality of the husband; but you have been told, that the husband could not. Odious and impudent aggravation of injury-to add calumny to insult, and outrage to dishonour. From whom, but a man hackneyed in the paths of shame and vice--from whom, but from a man having no compunctions in his own breast to restrain him, could you expect such brutal disregard for the feelings of others—from whom but the coldblooded veteran seducer-from what, but from the exhausted mind—the habitual community with shame
-from what, but the habitual contempt of virtue and of man, could you have expected the arrogancethe barbarity-and folly of so foul-because so false an imputation? He should have reflected, and have blushed, before he suffered so vile a topick of defence to have passed his lips. But, ere you condemn, let him have the benefit of the excuse, if the excuse be true. You must have observed how his counsel fluttered and vibrated, between what they called connivance and injudicious confidence; and how, in af. fecting to distinguish, they have confounded them both together. If the plaintiff has connived, I freely say to you, do not reward the wretch who has prostituted his wife, and surrendered his own honour-do not compensate the pander of his own shame, and the willing instrument of his own infamy. But as there is no sum so low, to which such a defence, if true, ought not to reduce your verdict, so neither