Monday 2 September 2019

Biographical Sketch of the Earl of Moira (1805)

Among the public men of our own times, there is not perhaps an individual who bears a more striking resemblance to the feudal chieftain, than Francis Lord Rawdon, Earl of Moira.

In tracing his career from his birth to the present day of his eminence and renown, we shall, most probably, be led to remark the strong resemblance which we have supposed to exist between his character and that of men who were distinguished for all that is illustrious and praise-worthy.

Earl Moira is sprung from a family which has been known in Yorkshire since about the period of the conquest. His ancestors migrated to Ireland during the last century; and from that country his family held its titles, until the present Earl obtained a British peerage. Sir John Rawdon, Baronet, his father, was, in 1750, created a peer, by the title of the Baron of Moira, and, in 1701, obtained the further honour of Earl of Moira, in the county of Down, with remainder to his heirs male. The present Earl of Moira is the eldest of six sons: these, with four daughter's, his father had by his third wife, Lady Elizabeth Hastings, sister to the late Earl of Huntingdon. His Lordship was born on the 7th of December 1754.

It may not be impertinent to remark, that, very early in life, Earl Moira (then Lord Rawdon) exhibited some of those traits of character which have distinguished his future life. Several anecdotes are related of him, which evince an early attachment to military pursuits, and an ardour of mind peculiarly tinctured with the enthusiasm of a daring soldier. When only a boy of 10 years of age, he was wounded in the leg by the bursting of a small brass cannon, with which he was battering an old folio volume. He was then accustomed to repeat, with all the fervor of generous youth, the following expressions of Zanga, when about to be tortured, and seemed to contemplate, with unspeakable satisfaction, every instance of heroic enterprise, and unshaken constancy of mind.
" The blood will follow where the knife is driven,
" The flesh will quiver where the pincers tear,
" And sighs and groans by nature grow on pain;
" But these are foreign to the soul: not mine
" The groans that issue, or the tears that fall;
" They disobey me. – On the rack I'll scorn thee,
" As when my faulchion clove thy helm in battle."
In addition to the improvement which his native country afforded, he visited the European nations that are celebrated for the refinement of their manners, or perfection in the arts of life: Thus animated, thus instructed, and thus polished, he entered upon the active business of life, and, at the age of 17, he, in September 1771, obtained an ensigncy in the 15th regiment of foot. He afterwards entered the 5th regiment of foot, in which he was a lieutenant of grenadiers: and in this corps he was among those who were destined to act against the Americans.

When we see a passion for military enterprize agitating a soul, in other respects endowed with the highest excellencies of our nature, we cannot fail to deplore the unfortunate co-operation of such means of mischief. We cannot persuade ourselves, that, in the instance of Lord Rawdon, we have not occasion to lament that he was stimulated by a thirst for military fame. His case furnishes a striking example of the influence of the military trade, in perverting the mind from the steady contemplation of what is correct and genuine in morality. Indeed, we could have wished to have seen the name of Rawdon enrolled in the list of those patriots who reared the hallowed fabric of American independence. An Alexander, a Caesar, and a Bonaparte, may be remembered, to the end of time, as the splendid destroyers of their race; but the fame of Wallace, and of Tell, of Kozciusko; and of Washington, will be imperishably recorded on every heart which beats with exultation at the triumphs of freedom, or sympathizes with the wrongs of the oppressed.

He partook, however, in all the dangers and vicissitudes of the war, and fought at Bunker's-hill, where he was one of seven, in the company of grenadiers with whom he went to the battle, who escaped from its ravages: His cap was shot through twice in this battle. He afterwards obtained a higher command, and acquired considerable reputation for skill and discretion in the lottery of war. So great indeed was his success, and so rapid his promotion, that, before he had completed his 24th year, he held the rank of colonel, and was appointed adjutant-general to the British forces under the command of General Clinton. He was entrusted with the conduct of various hazardous enterprises; and, in the separate command of which he was judged worthy, he displayed the wisdom of a veteran, and the consummate intrepidity of heroism.

The fatigues of war, and the heat of the climate had made an impression upon his constitution, and rendered it necessary that he should revisit England, for the restoration of his health. While labouring under the pressure of indisposition, a march which had been planned was countermanded, on account of his illness; but so keen was the ardour of his mind, that he gave new orders for it, when he had recovered from a swoon into which he had fallen. While on this march, he gave his orders from a cart, in which he was obliged to be carried. On the passage from America to Britain, the ship in which he had taken his passage was captured by a French man of war, and he was carried into Brest. He, however, at length reached England, and his services were much applauded. In November, 1782, his Lordship was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and to the command of the 105th regiment of foot, and was also nominated aid-de-camp to the King. On the 5th of March 1783, he was created an English peer, by the title of Lord Rawdon, of Rawdon, in the county of York. Thus honoured and rewarded for his exertions, his Lordship retired, for a season, from the bustle of public life.

During the long interval which occurred between the close of the American war and the commencement of the French Revolution, the name of Load Rawdon makes little figure in our public records. His time seems to have been passed in the enjoyment of private tranquillity, and the practice of the peaceful virtues. One eminent proof at least appears of the enlightened benevolence of his nature. The laws for the imprisonment of debtors, as they prevail in England, are of equivocal excellence. Various expedients had at different times been adopted for remedying this evil: one of these was an exertion of royal clemency, called an act of grace. Upon the accession of a king to the throne, or on any other occasion of public joy, it was common to release the prisoners from their bondage. There was another mode of effecting this, by what is called the Lords' act, which is a sort of perpetual law provided for compounding the affairs of debtors, whose debts do not exceed 100/. This limitation was extended, in the year 1785, to the sum of 200/. The prisons have also been, at different times emptied, by insolvent acts, when the measure was supposed to be absolutely necessary. One of these instances was occasioned by the riots in 1780, and another was attempted to be brought in the year 1783. The bill passed the Commons, but was rejected by the Lords. Similar attempts were made, with similar success, in the years 1784, 1785, and 1786. A bill was, in the year 1787, brought into parliament, and, on the 22d May, came to be read a second time in the house of Lords. It was supported by the Duke of Norfolk, who stated, that there were above three thousand debtors confined in the different prisons of England. Lord Rawdon stood up the champion of the unfortunate: He detailed the modes which had been resorted to, at different periods of the history of England, for compelling the payment of debt. Originally, it appeared, an individual was deemed so valuable to his family, and the public, that, when his property was seized, his agricultural implements were exempted from attachment. After various other stages, the system advanced, in the reign of Charles II, to the mode now in use, of detaining a debtor's person in confinement for an uncertain period. The bill was keenly opposed by Lord Thurlow; and Lord Rawdon's exertions were rendered ineffectual for a season. He again, in 1792, made another attempt; but, as the bill came before the Lords at a late period of the session, it was withdrawn, at the request of the Law Lords, who wished it to be fully considered. On the 7th of March 1793, he again brought the business before the House of Lords but to little purpose; for, upon the 18th ot that month, the Lord Chancellor made a motion, which was carried, that the matter should be remitted to the consideration of the Law Lords, by whom a bill should be framed, and brought in to the succeeding session of parliament, for remedying the defects of the law. These repeated discomfitures, however, did not diminish the perseverance of his Lordship; and his incessant application to Parliament on this subject affords the most satisfactory manifestations of his disposition.

From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 25th February 1805

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