Some years ago I wrote a long article based on material I was working on at the time, concerning the eighteenth-century Irish parliament. I posted various extracts from it on MyT; here is one. There will be others.
The standard of wit and invective was often very high among members of the eighteenth-century Irish parliament and their contemporaries, even though a careless insult might result in a duel – perhaps the members avoided insulting the best shots. The language used, whether to praise or to deplore, was far more expressive than any politician could manage today.
Jonathan Swift was wont to comment harshly on the MPs and their foibles. On the subject of Joshua Allen (2nd Viscount Allen and MP for Co. Kildare), he wrote:
Let me now the vices trace,
From the father’s scoundrel race …
In him tell me which prevail,
Female vices most, or male?
What produced him, can you tell?
Human race, or imps of hell? …
Positive and overbearing,
Changing still and still adhering,
Spiteful, peevish, rude, untoward,
Fierce in tongue, in heart a coward,
Reputation ever tearing,
Ever dearest friendship swearing,
Judgement weak and passion stony,
Always various, always wrong.
In 1730 Swift wrote bitterly about John Allen (who later killed a dragoon in a brawl) and his uncle, Robert Allen (MP for Carysfort and Co. Wicklow):
–––– Allens Jack and Bob,
First in every wicked job,
Son and brother to a queer,
Brain-Sick brute, they call a peer,
We must give them better quarter,
For their ancestor trod mortar,
And at Howth, to boast his fame,
On a chimney cut his name.
Swift described Sir Alexander Cairnes (MP for Monaghan Borough and Co. Monaghan) as ‘a scrupulous puppy’ and a ‘shuffling scoundrel’, adding ‘What can one expect from a Scot and a fanatic?’ (Cairnes may even have agreed – he described himself as ‘the child of hell by my wicked practices’.)
John Waller (a low-profile but litigious MP for Doneraile, 1727–42) gave rise to the following unattributed couplets:
Who is this hell-featured brawler?
Is it Satan? No! ‘tis Waller.
In what figure can a bard dress
Jack, the grandson of Sir Hardress?
Honest keeper drive him further,
In his looks are hell and murther.
(Sir Hardress Waller had been one of the judges at the trial of Charles I.)