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The Death of Sir Robert Peel

The following report of Peel's death was published in The Lamp, a Catholic newspaper, in July 1850.

Sir Robert Peel is dead! A great instrument in the hand of Divine Providence has ceased to operate in mundane affairs! His task has been fully performed. He has been called to render an account of his stewardship, and in our heart's core we wish that he may have been found acceptable in the unveiled presence of his JUDGE! It is not our object to follow in the track of the mere politicians of the day, who view his exit from this earthly scene as an event big with misfortune or fertile in blessings, as party feelings or personal bias may prompt them to prognosticate. Neither our judgment nor our hopes are limited to so narrow a range. True, our best sympathies for the last twenty years towards the man, and still shall they cling tenaciously to his memory; nor could any one more sincerely condole with the bereaved and deeply afflicted family of the great departed statesman; but we must confess we do not, like many others, hold his sudden call from among us, as an irreparable national loss. The designs of divine providence, though impervious to human intellect, must be wise and perfect - to us, to every thinking mind, they must be all-in-all, and we would sooner mistrust our own existence, than doubt for a moment that other fit agencies await the summons, to carry out and complete the great work or regeneration so well and nobly begun; by the late and deservedly lamented Sir Robert Peel.

Beyond comparison the most remarkable and distinguished English statesman of the age, it would appear he was called into existence to shiver the theories, and dash, by his extraordinary career, the prejudices, the hopes, the wishes, and the unsound principles of the millions who had staked their earthly welfare upon the power of genius and the subtle exercise of the human intellect. Starting into political life under the auspices of the proud old Tory Faction, he became at once their most able instrument, their cherished and favoured protégé. Endowed, however, with a mind capable of gathering and storing up practical wisdom, another name for expediency, he soon perceived that his haughty patrons secretly looked down on the young aspiring Commoner; but he was prudent, he had a noble card to play, and he was not slow in learning the true value of what the old school called constitutional principles. In the honesty of his heart he despised their hackneyed and used-up absurdities; He found himself trammelled, however, by the extensive influence and powerful interests of those whose index he had become, and who deemed him to be the best expositor of their sordid wishes and over-weening pretensions. Acting with that caution and moderation which were two great ingredients of his character, he closely watched the progress of events, drew knowledge from facts, waited his opportunity, and gradually converted his early masters into the unresisting slaves of his own proud will. On the altar of his loved country he immolated the Tory Faction, and gathered round his own name the grateful respect and admiration of that great body from which himself had sprung, the middle classes of Englishmen. Thus, under the direction of an over ruling providence, did he assume the championship of the men and the principles that in early life he had been brought forward to crush and annihilate.

While secretary in Ireland, he had the misfortune to earn the applause, almost the adoration of the Orangemen. It was because he came forward the bitter opponent of Catholics and Catholicism. This was a great error on his part, a defect in the statesman, a crime in the governor, a sin against a crushed people. But time and opportunity were vouchsafed to correct it, and he did not permit the occasion to slip. Under his tyranny the Catholic people began to learn their own importance. O'Connell concentrated their powers, the association sprung into existence, grew rapidly into gigantic strength, and, finally assumed a position, from which the united efforts of religious bigotry and political intolerance failed to dislodge them. Sir Robert quailed before this new creation, this offspring of a mind mightier than his own; accordingly, he reconsidered his position, drew wisdom from facts, and casting all former prejudices aside, he gracefully bent to necessity and became the reluctant benefactor of the Church of God. Strange destiny his, if aught which God marks by a special interposition may be called strange. Singular that he was made not only the scourge of early party, but the champion of those whom he formerly despised and oppressed! but so it was. His great merit as a statesman was, that when he knew himself to be right, he proceeded in his course with fearlessness and candour. What he did, he did not do by halves; with the grace of sincerity he made his recantations and concessions; and in the case of emancipation, without hankering after or attempting to impose silly and insulting securities, &c., he admitted the Catholics freely into the temple of the constitution. The drag being thus removed from the wheel, Catholicity has since rolled forward with such an accelerating motion, as neither he nor his fellow labourers, nor his opponents, nor those whose condition he sought to ameliorate, had ever dreamed of. Two men alone perhaps possessed correct anticipations of the results. O'Connell, in the vivid picturings of faith, beheld the conquests which the untrammelled Church was destined to achieve. Lord Eldon, in the depression of despair, saw through his tears, as through an inverted lens, that "the sun of England's glory had set for ever," and in his narrow view he was indeed prophetic. In Protestant ascendancy his bigoted soul had concentrated England's glory, and with the emancipation act, that sun did truly set never to rise again!

As the instrument of God's good providence, we did honour Sir Robert Peel. In his sober practical wisdom, in his experience and honesty of purpose, we had much faith. We know not the man who can fill his vacant chair; for we believe that all the prominent legislators of Britain, did they club their various gifts, could not furnish one statesman with a tithe of his ability; but we do not therefore feel depressed at his loss. Our cause will not the less steadily advance. The weal of England will not the less assuredly progress. Eternal wisdom never fails to select suitable agents. Sir Robert lived for his age; and though he is gone, yet the sternest, the sourest, the most crotchety enemy we could name - yes, even Lord John himself, for aught we know, may be the very appointed for carrying out the beneficent designs of God for the advancement of religion, for the moral grandeur, and the happy regeneration of our distracted but still noble country.

 
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