Charles Lucas

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Lucas, Charles, M.D., a distinguished Irish patriot, was born 16th September 1713, in Dublin, or according to some accounts at Ballymageddy, County of Clare. Having served the usual apprenticeship, he became an apothecary, and for many years kept a shop in Charles-street, Dublin. Afterwards he took out the degree of M.D., became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, and entered upon an extensive and lucrative practice in Dublin. At the outset of his career he was obliged to retire to the Continent, according to one account, for opinions expressed against the despotic principles of his day. After his return, and about the year 1748, he addressed a number of letters to his fellow-citizens, devoid of style and taste, but full of ardour, spirit, and love of freedom: they exposed all the leading Irish grievances, denied the supremacy of the British Parliament, and asserted Ireland's right to self-government. "He denounced Poyning's Act as unconstitutional, and declared that the imposition of laws made in a 'strange, a foreign parliament,' without their consent or knowledge, placed the Protestant Irish under a more severe bondage than the Israelites suffered in Egypt. Lucas averred that he disdained the thought of being the representative of a people who dared not be free, and called on his fellow-citizens to demand a repeal or abolition of the unjust and oppressive statutes: telling them that they could not, consistently with their duty to their God, their king, and country, themselves and their posterity, relinquish the claim to their birth-right-liberty."[110]

With his friend James LaTouche, he inveighed against the abuses of the city authorities; and thus had not only the Government, but the Lord-Mayor and the Aldermen of Dublin allied against him. The grand jury presented his addresses "as tending to promote insurrection, and as justifying the bloody rebellion raised in Ireland," and ordered them to be burned by the common hangman. The House of Commons also took umbrage, and the corporation, in violation of their own rules and institutions, disfranchised him. He was called to the bar of the House, a prosecution with certain imprisonment was imminent, and he was obliged to retire to England for some years. There he applied himself with success to the practice of medicine, and wrote a treatise on the Bath waters, (1756) which was highly esteemed. Among other persons, he became acquainted with Johnson, who thus wrote of him: "The Irish ministers drove him from his native country, by a proclamation in which they charged him with crimes which they never intended to be called to the proof; and oppressed him by methods equally irresistible by guilt and innocence. Let the man thus driven into exile for having been the friend of his country, be received in every place as a confessor of liberty."[114]

He returned to Dublin in 1760, and next year was chosen by his fellow-citizens to represent them in Parliament, and became the efficient coadjutor of Flood in his efforts for reform. He continued member for Dublin until his death. In 1761 he brought in a Bill to limit the duration of Parliament; and next year one to secure its freedom. His Translation of the Great Charter of Dublin was a forcible document, and tended to draw attention to public rights which had long lain in abeyance. During his latter years he suffered frightfully from rheumatism and gout, yet he contracted a third marriage in old age. He died in Henry-street, Dublin, 4th November 1771, aged 58, and his remains, which rest in St. Michan's graveyard, were honoured with a public funeral. His later appearance in the House of Commons is thus described: "The gravity and uncommon neatness of his dress; his grey, venerable locks, blending with a pale but interesting countenance, in which an air of beauty was still visible, altogether excited attention, and I never saw a stranger come into the House without asking who he was."[114]

The fine statue of him in the Dublin City Hall is by Mr. Smith. Mr. Lecky says: "His pamphlets and addresses have been collected; they form one thick and tedious volume." Henry Grattan, Junior, thus writes of him: "He rendered to his country very great and distinguished services, and in fact laid the groundwork of Irish liberty. Lucas was the first who, after Swift, dared to write 'freedom.' He established the Freeman's Journal, a paper that upheld liberal principles, that raised a public spirit where there had been none, and kept up a public feeling when it was sinking, and to which, in a great degree, Ireland was indebted for her liberties... He was another Swift, but without the vast talents of that writer... Lucas possessed all the qualities of a tribune... Bold, active, and turbulent; querulous and ambitious; quarrelsome, yet kind; he was always ready to spread out to the people a perpetual catalogue of their calamities and their wrongs... He loved his country, he detested tyranny; no threats could terrify, no bribes could purchase him."

Sources

114. Dublin Penny Journal (1). 4 vols. Dublin, 1832-'6.

212. Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland—Swift, Flood, Grattan, and O'Connell: William E. H. Lecky. First and Second Editions. London, 1861-'71.
Lecky, William E. H., see No. 212.

349. Worthies of Ireland, Biographical Dictionary of the: Richard Ryan. 2 vols. London, 1821. Wyse, Thomas, see No. 73.

154. Grattan Henry, his Life and Times: Henry Grattan. 5 vols. London, 1839-'46.

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