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In vain thy children tuned the lofty strain-
Oh, pause on ruin's steepy cliff profound !
The man who wrote such songs as 'The Sprig of Shillelagh' and 'Kitty of Coleraine,' and that one addressed to Henry Grattan, The Gallant Man who led the Van of Irish Volunteers,' to say nothing of countless others which charmed and delighted at the time, but which are now lost or dispersed or without their father's name, would be sure of being remembered, even had he no further title to fame. But Pleasant Ned Lysaght,' as he was known by his contemporaries, was a well-known barrister, an accomplished wit, a notable bon vivant, an uncorrupted politician in days when corruption, naked and not ashamed, swayed the politics of Irishmen.* He was the son of John Lysaght, of the county Clare, and descended from an ancient Irish family, an offshoot of the royal house of O'Brien. It is said the name is derived from the Irish Lae sacht (seven days ), a surname conferred on an
Sir Jonah Barrington says, however, that Lysaght was employed and paid by Lord Castlereagh to write up the Union.
O'Brien who most valorously defended his castle for seven days against an enemy's attack. He was born on 21st December, 1763, and was educated in Cashel, at a Catholic school, though he was a Protestant, and entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1779, where he graduated B.A. in 1782. He afterwards was at Oxford, where he graduated M.A. in 1784, and he was called to the English Bar at the Middle Temple, and to the Irish Bar, in the year 1798-being then thirty-five years of age. His intention was to live and practise in England, but he had to leave that country owing to monetary difficulties. He therefore returned to Ireland, and attained to a very successful practice at the Bar, from which he retired on being appointed a Divisional Police Magistrate of Dublin, in 1809. He died in 1810, and the best evidence of his worth and popularity is in the fact that the members of his profession, the judges and barristers of Ireland, contributed over £2,500 to a fund for his widow and children.
Lysaght was a bright particular star in the midst of a literary constellation. The Munster Bar, with which he went circuit, was in his time the most brilliant, eloquent, and gifted body of barristers that any circuit has ever assembled together; and in a company composed of such men as Curran, O'Connell, Deane Grady, Keller, Quin, McCarthy, etc., Lysaght occupied a pre-eminent position. Mr. Owen Madden, in his Revelations of Ireland,' speaking from a personal acquaintance with him, says : 'A man of more varied talents it was impossible to meet. In his personal character he was a thorough Irishman-brave, brilliant, witty, eloquent, and devilmay-care. His bravery was shown in his attitude in respect to the Volunteer movement, and his vigorous opposition to the proposed Act of Union. His brilliance and wit were the talk of his contemporaries. His eloquence was notable amongst an eloquent bar. His devil-may-careness is seen in the many anecdotes preserved of him. He is the reputed author of the 'Rakes of Mallow,' and, whether he wrote it or not, he was worthy to be the author :
*Spending faster than it comes,
Live the Rakes of Mallow.'
He was, Mr. Owen Madden tells us,
a very decided rake.' People esteemed it a privilege to be in his company, and he lived in constant fear of arrest for debt. 'He used only to skulk out at night; he lived in Trinity College in order to be out of the reach of bailiffs and duns.' “He was short in stature, with a very long nose;' and withal preferred his bottle and his pleasure, his jokes and his songs, to his briefs and law-books. “Poetry and pistols, wine and women,' were, in his own words, all he lived for. He earned a happy name, 'Pleasant Ned Lysaght,' and left a happy memory amongst his friends and acquaintances; but life was never a serious matter with him. He was acting as second, on one occasion, to Deane Grady, in a duel between the latter and Counsellor O'Maher. O'Maher's second, during the preliminaries, drew Lysaght's attention to the fact that his pistol was cocked. "Take care, Mr. Lysaght, your pistol is cocked.' "Well, then,' says Pleasant Ned, cock yours, and let me take a slap at you, as we are idle.'
He married, and Sir Jonah Barrington records that he discovered his father-in-law, whom he believed to be a wealthy Jew, to be only a bankrupt Christian ; yet the
disappointment had little or no effect ; his exuberant spirits, his irrepressible gaiety and wit, were superior to greater misfortunes.
In his private life he was irreproachable-'a nobly-spent life,' says Madden; and there is throughout his songs a healthy tone of feeling and lofty sentiment that, notwithstanding his debts and difficulties, and dodges and devil-may-careness, show that he was a pure-minded and good man.
The concluding lines of Byron's rather heavy monody on the death of Sheridan,
Nature made but one such man,
convey a true idea of the estimation in which the great Irishman was held by his contemporaries, and in which he will ever be held—for another Sheridan is as impossible as another Shakespeare. To our thinking he was far and away the greatest Irishman whose name is on the roll of Irish literature; not the greatest song-writer, but greatest in the combination of brilliant qualities, varied accomplishments, extraordinary characteristics. A wonderful genius; his life is itself a comedy, his death a pitiable tragedy. He wrote “The Rivals'; he delivered the Begum oration; he said more witty things than would have sufficed to give a reputation to a dozen men. The boon companion of princes of the blood; the cynosure of London society, to which his presence was life and laughter; the applauded of the populace, the schools, and the senate, he yet was drunk in the gutters one day, in the spunging-house another, and again sleeping-off the previous night's debauch to rise at midday to booze and gamble with Fox. He died heart-broken and harassed, neglected and forsaken by those whom he was wont to delight. He enjoyed political offices, and was a privy councillor; his life was a succession of intellectual triumphs, one of which would suffice for an immortality; and side by side with these we find a life of dissipation, debts, difficulties, duns, through which his extraordinary wit, his powers for raillery and persuasion, carried him almost unharmed. A human anomaly; profligate and profuse, yet he never had a shilling of his own; lazy, careless, and indolent-he was offered £1,000 by a publisher if he would write out for the press the Begum speech, accepted the terms, but never performed the easy task, though at the time a thousand pence would have been a sum of consequence to him-yet at times industrious, careful, and energetic.
The dialogues in his plays were altered and polished and elaborated with scrupulous care, and his great orations were prepared for days beforehand. Nevertheless, in almost every incident of his life he seems to have acted on the principle that what could be done to-morrow should never be done to-day. The Begum speech was the crowning effort of his genius. Pitt, Burke, and Fox, themselves Parliamentary orators of the highest distinction, adjudged it to be the most splendid speech ever delivered to mankind. Pitt said that it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient or modern times, and possessed all that genius and art could furnish to agitate and control the human mind;' Burke declared it to be the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united, of which there was any record or tradition; and Fox said, 'all that he had ever heard or read when com