Robert Jocelyn, The Earl of Roden

From The Dublin University Magazine, Volume 15, Number 85, January 1840

ON the other page our readers have a striking likeness of this distinguished Peer, and truly noble advocate of Protestantism, We feel a pride in commencing a new year, and a new Volume of our Journal, with the honoured name of Lord Roden. His portrait occupies, indeed, a distinguished place upon the wall of our Gallery--not because of his rank or wealth--but because of his virtues--because, in evil times, he has remained steady to the principles of truth; because he has devoted his rank, his talents, and his influence to the service of the cause which is dear to our hearts, the cause of pure Christianity in these lands.

We feel, we confess, some difficulty in attempting the sketch which must accompany this portrait. Flattery is not our province; and, our anxious wish is to avoid even its imputation. We can scarcely divest our minds of sentiments of warm attachment to the subject of our present sketch, so as to describe him with that judicial impartiality to which, upon all occasions, it is our effort to attain. Few men of any rank or any age have so completely gained on the affections of the better portion of Irishmen as Lord Roden; and this he owes, not so much to his fearless and unwavering advocacy of their principles, as to the solid and sterling worth of his private character. No political services, however distinguished--no political partizanship, however complete, can permanently supply the want of private virtue, so as to sustain the individual in the good opinion of the middling classes of society. In times of excitement many things will be overlooked in the advocate of principles on which men feel strongly. A popularity, however, which requires such indulgence will pass away with the excitement that created it; or must, in any case, survive only with the mob. Genuine popularity, to be permanent, must be based on private worth; and Lord Roden has retained his hold upon the affections of his country,--just because he is as estimable in private as he is consistent in public life; because even the breath of calumny has never yet dared to insinuate that his private actions are inconsistent with his public declarations of attachment to religion; because we can trace in the gentleman, as well as in the senator, the true elements that should make up the noblest of all characters--that of the Christian patriot.

Robert Jocelyn, Earl of Roden, was born in the year 1788. Like many other of the noble families of these countries, he traces his titles to the profession of the law. The first peer of the family was Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in 1743, having been created a baron under the title of Baron Newport of Newport, in the county of Tipperary. To this were subsequently added the higher dignities of Viscount and Earl.

Lord Roden was educated at Harrow, where he was the school-fellow of Sir Robert Peel and Lord Byron. With the subject of our sketch, Lord Byron himself tells us he had frequent pugilistic encounters, and it is said that he was the only antagonist with whom the future poet got the worst of the encounter.

Those who have remarked the athletic frame of the noble earl, will have no difficulty in believing this part of the story.

As Viscount Jocelyn, he represented the county of Louth, in the imperial parliament, for upwards of eleven years. As a member of the lower house, he advocated the same political principles by supporting which he has been so distinguished in the upper.

In 1820 he succeeded to the Irish titles of his family. In the following year, at the coronation of George IV. in whose household he held a high office, that monarch revived in his favour the extinct English barony of Clanbrassil, which had belonged to his maternal ancestors.

Lord Roden very early distinguished himself among the nobility by his zeal in the cause of religion. With his brother-in-law Lord Powerscourt, he may be said to have identified himself with those who were then known by the name of the evangelical party; we dislike those watchwords in the church, but we have no other term to express what we mean. He was an active supporter of the different religious societies, not unfrequently presiding and speaking at their public meetings in the Rotundo. He also became the President of the Sunday School Society for Ireland.

As a politician, his conduct has been perfectly consistent with his religious professions--he has emphatically advocated Protestantism and the Protestant Church--supporting principles and not party. Upon one occasion, indeed, he has been charged by the enemies of his principles, with compromising them. During Sir Robert Peel's short administration he had been charged with acquiescing in the support of the Irish system of education--his friends know how earnest were his remonstrances on the subject, and that when the ministry resigned, he was actually preparing to bring the entire question before the House of Lords. At this period he was offered by the ministers the high office of Lord Steward of his Majesty's household, which he declined accepting. The charge of compromise, as regards Lord Roden, was utterly without foundation.

He has several times taken the leading part in animating and exciting the spirit of the Protestants of Ireland--he was the principal mover of the aggregate meetings of August 1834, and January 1837, and, we believe, we may add, of the great Downshire meeting of October 1834--in 1831, he accepted the office of President of the Irish Protestant Conservative Society--in 1834, he enrolled himself with the great mass of the Protestant yeomanry of Ireland in the Orange Association. It is impossible to describe the effect which this bold and manly act produced. From that moment he was regarded with almost affectionate veneration by the Protestant people. It may be added, to the credit of the Noble Lord, that he took no part in the dissolution of that institution in 1836. His Lordship was chairman of the Grand Lodge at which that step was determined on--his influence was not exerted or his opinion expressed either way, and those who were present will not soon or easily forget the emotion with which, on the question being carried in the affirmative, he, for the last time, closed the proceedings of the lodge.

In his place in the House of Peers, Lord Roden has taken every opportunity of bringing the case of his Protestant brethren in Ireland before the notice of that august assembly, and his appeals on their behalf have been always marked by a deep earnestness that could leave on the mind of the audience at least no doubt of the sincerity of the speaker. Some of his speeches produced a great impression on the house. His greatest service as a senator was, however, the institution, in the last session, of the inquiry into the state of Ireland. For this, the country is indebted solely to the wisdom, courage, and temper of the noble subject of this sketch, Unsupported by the influence of party--discouraged session after session, by those who, on other points, took the same views with himself, it needed the courage which can only arise from strong principle to persevere. It is not to be wondered at that the discouragements which he met with should have induced the noble earl to postpone his promised motion for inquiry. He felt, perhaps, that he stood alone; at length, however, he fully redeemed his pledge, and in spite of every discouragement, made his promised motion early in last session. He introduced it in a very temperate, speech, which, fortunately for the country, had the happy effect of gaining for the motion the support of the Duke of Wellington, and, on a division, the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the state of Ireland, was carried by a majority of five.

The results of this inquiry belong not to a sketch like the present. Every member of the committee expressed their high sense of the mild, temperate, and, if we may use the word, un-factious course which the noble mover pursued in his prosecution of the inquiry, and several of his political opponents bore a full, and to both parties, an honourable testimony to his conduct in the anxious and exciting investigation in which they had been engaged.

Late in the same session, the noble earl divided the House of Lords against the second reading of the Irish Municipal Reform Bill. Unfortunately, upon this occasion, he was not supported as on the former. Only five peers agreed with him in his opposition to the principle of that fatal measure--a minority, small, indeed, in numbers, but whose names will yet be held in honor by posterity.

Of late years, he has mingled but little in politics out of doors. The dissolution of the Orange lodges unquestionably severed a tie which bound him with many others of high rank, to the wishes, the feelings, and the movements of the Protestant people. With a growing influence in the House of Lords, he feels perhaps, that to take an active part elsewhere, would be to risk the impairing of that influence, by which he can most effectually serve the cause he has at heart. For some time past, it is certain that he has appeared but seldom in public, except in his place in the House of Lords.

As a speaker, he has not much claim to the higher attributes of the orator, unless we are to class among these, clearness and force. His style is clear, simple and unambitious. He never attempts any deep or philosophic argument; nor are there any of those bursts of passion, or strains of lofty sentiment which move the feelings, and exalt the thoughts of men. But there is a nervous, rapid, and sustained vehemence, and a solemn earnestness of manner which arrests the attention, and engages it. You can never doubt that he is in earnest--that he feels what he says with a depth, if not of passion, yet of sincerity, and there is that indescribable something in the manner which conveys the impression that he is a thoroughly honest man. With these qualities of style and manner, combined with his high station, and higher character, it is not surprising that either in the House of Lords or in the popular assembly, he should be, on the whole, one of the most effective speakers of the day.

We happen to have now before us one of the published speeches of the noble lord; a speech delivered in the House of Lords, on the 7th of March, 1836, on the subject of the Orange societies. At this time, the memorable address of the House of Commons had been presented to the late king. His majesty, in his reply, had promised to discourage the Orange Associations. In an incidental debate in the House of Lords, Lord Roden, after stating that a meeting of the Grand Lodge had been summoned for the 14th of April, continued, evidently under the influence of deep emotion--

"It is impossible for you to sympathize with those noble and honourable men, in the sacrifice they have made to their country's cause, by the letter which they have addressed to the Orangemen of Ireland, and by their secession from the ranks of that institution. They were cut to the heart's core in pursuing the course which their sense of duty directed. Your lordships cannot possibly understand the nature of the union which exists between the members of the Orange Society. It is an union of affection and brotherhood which I cannot undertake to describe. That brotherhood may cease, but, I trust, the spirit which influences it will never cease to occupy our breasts; it springs from the noblest affection of the mind of man; it has for its object the welfare of all, in the maintenance of the Protestant faith--the only basis upon which the happiness and prosperity of England can stand. It is well for those who can look beyond the politics of time, to see a master hand over all these transactions in troublesome days, causing all things to work for good, according to the counsel of his sovereign will. I trust the Protestants of Ireland will never forget the source of all their former deliverances, or the strength of that gracious Providence who has so often delivered them for the sake of his own righteous cause. Were I in the midst of them on the present occasion, I could not say more than I have said to your lordships. I shall anxiously await the day of meeting them on the 14th of April; the humblest of their body is not more alive to, or more interested in the subject than I am. I know their affection for me--I owe them a debt of gratitude I can never repay; but I trust my love and regard for them and their cause will never cease but with life itself."

We have selected this passage, not because it is superior to many others in the addresses of the noble lord; but it happened, as we wrote, to recur to our recollection. It is a fair specimen of his style--perhaps, a good illustration of the character which we have attempted to give of his speaking. It is all from the heart; all simple, earnest, and honest, and flows in a continuous and uninterrupted course, as if the speaker were anxious for nothing but to express his convictions, and give utterance to his feelings.

In private life, Lord Roden is universally esteemed and beloved. Naturally, perhaps, with something of aristocratic pride, this is tempered by the influence of religion, so that its traces are scarcely perceptible, seldom, indeed, when there is not just occasion for its manifestation. As a landlord, he is universally beloved by his tenantry; and all classes in his neighbourhood, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, look up to him with equal affection and regard. No man was ever held in higher estimation by the aristocracy and gentry around him, and no man perhaps, ever exercised the same influence over their feelings and opinions. His private worth, his known and deep attachment to religion, and the perfect confidence that all repose in his integrity, give him an influence which nothing else could give.

It is said, and, perhaps with truth, that he has the common fault of generous minds, an absence of suspicion, even where suspicion would be fully justified. Those who are conscious of perfect purity of intention in themselves, find it difficult to conceive opposite motives in others, and it often happens, that not even the experience of years can teach such a mind the lesson which, after all, is an essential one, not to give its confidence lightly to those who have an object in gaining it. Where a generous disposition is united with a deep sense of religion, we believe this fault to be the most common.

The noble earl is said, by those who know him, to devote much of his time and his talents to the religious instruction of those about him. In his own house, he acts each day as chaplain--or, rather, to recur to the patriarchal days--as priest at the altar of his own household, in a little chapel, where every one is permitted to join the household at family prayer. At Sunday-schools, too, and on such occasions, we have heard that he is in the habit of addressing his tenantry and neighbours upon religious subjects.

Of the personal appearance of Lord Roden, the sketch of our artist conveys a very adequate idea. He is considerably above the ordinary size, out-topping even very tall men by several inches, and his whole frame is proportioned to his height. The expression of his countenance is one of mingled dignity and benevolence; the forehead is good; and there is in his fine and large eye, a sober and chastened indication of feeling, which is in exact accordance with his character. Openness and candour are, perhaps, the prevailing character of the features. Good-humour mingled with something of a grave and serious sadness, as if solemn thoughts were now and then passing across his mind, without, however interrupting the habitual benevolence of his disposition.

We believe the sketch is intended to represent the noble earl in the act of presenting the great Protestant petition in the House of Lords; this immense scroll lies before him. The genius of the artist has placed along with it a book--what it is, we cannot exactly say, unless it be meant to represent the Bible. What brings it there, we cannot tell, unless it is intended expressively to say, that in every act of his life, as the private individual and the peer, in private and in politics, he takes the precepts of the Bible as his guide.

His lordship is now in his 51st year. He is represented in the engraving as wearing the badge of the illustrious order of St. Patrick.

We have inadequately attempted to describe a man whose position and character are alike memorable in the history of our country. We feel fully how imperfect is our account; but, in the brief space assigned to this sketch, we have attempted to throw together hints, which, however poor and inaccurate, have been coloured neither by flattery nor its opposite. If our pencil has failed to delineate the character of the noble lord, it is not that it has been dipped in any false colours. Our estimate has been formed at a distance, and from imperfect observation; it has, however, been unbiassed by prejudice, except, indeed that prejudice in which it would be no honour not to share--the prejudice of an honest mind for virtue, of a Christian for religion, of a patriot for integrity, of a Protestant for the fearless and consistent advocate of the cause of pure Christianity in these realms.