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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

John Philpot Curran

  • [An Irish orator and barrister, born near Cork, 1750; educated at Trinity College, Dublin; called to the Irish bar, 1775, and gained a large practice; entered Parliament, 1783; counsel for the Irish rebels of 1798; master of the rolls in Ireland, 1806; died Oct. 14, 1817.]
  • When I can’t talk sense, I talk metaphor.

  • MOORE: Life of Sheridan, II. 29, note.
  • He said of the speech of a certain member of Parliament, “It was like a long parenthesis, because that is a paragraph which may be omitted from beginning to end without any loss of meaning;” and of the speech of one Hewett, “It put me exactly in mind of a familiar utensil called an extinguisher: it began at a point, and on it went widening and widening, until at last it fairly put out the subject altogether.”
  • When asked what he thought of a certain speech in the House of Lords,—“made by an able speaker,” says Jennings, “but addicted to lofty language,”—he replied, “I had only the advantage of hearing Lord —— airing his vocabulary.”
  • His answer to the prosy member who asked him if he had read his last speech, was brief: “I hope I have;” and to the poet who wished to know if Curran had seen his “Descent into Hell:” “No, but I should be delighted to see it.”
  • In this case I rather think your lordship takes the will for the deed.

  • When a judge in a will-case remarked that it was clear the testator intended to keep a life-interest in the estate to himself.
  • A judge was interrupted in his charge by the braying of a donkey. “May it please your honor, it is only an echo!” suggested Curran.
  • On one occasion Lord Clare was observed caressing a Newfoundland dog during Curran’s argument. Counsel stopped, and, on the judge motioning him to proceed, observed, “I beg ten thousand pardons. I thought your lordship was in consultation.”
  • He said to a judge who threatened to commit him for contempt of court, “If your lordship commit me, we shall both have the consolation of reflecting that I am not the worst thing your lordship has committed.”
  • Lord Clare once said, that if one of Curran’s positions were law, he would go home and burn his law-books. “Better read them, my lord,” was the retort. This is also told of Dunning, first Lord Ashburton, in reply to Mansfield.
  • He reminds me of a fool I once saw trying to open an oyster with a rolling-pin.

  • Of the elaborate but confused exposition of a point of law given by a learned serjeant.
  • Curran was once engaged in a legal argument; and behind him stood his colleague, a gentleman whose person was remarkably tall and slender, and who had originally designed to take orders. The judge observing that the case involved a question of ecclesiastical law, Curran said, “I can refer your lordship to a high authority behind me, who was once intended for the Church; though [in a whisper to a friend beside him], in my opinion, he was fitter for the steeple.”
  • A judge, whose wig was a little awry, asked Curran if he saw any thing ridiculous in it. “Nothing but the head, my lord,” was his reply.
  • He was told that he would lose his gown for defending the rebels of 1798. “His majesty may take the silk,” said Curran, “but he must leave the stuff behind.” A barrister changes his stuff gown for a silk one on being made king’s counsel.
  • My dear Dick, you don’t know how puzzled we all are to know where you buy your dirty shirts.

  • To counsellor Rudd of the Irish bar, who was remarkable for his love of whist and his dirty linen.
  • Curran was asked what an Irish gentleman just arrived in England could mean by continually putting out his tongue: “I suppose he is trying to catch the English accent,” he replied.
  • Being told that a miserly man had gone from Cork to Dublin with but one shirt and a guinea: “Ten to one,” said Curran, “that he changes neither until he returns.”
  • He refused to give a politician a list of Irish grievances, saying, “At my time of life, I have no notion of turning hodman to any political architect.”
  • Having been annoyed by fleas, he said to his landlady, “If they had been unanimous, and all pulled one way, they must have pulled me out of bed entirely.”
  • He saw a broken pane of glass in an obscure alley of Dublin, patched by a page of a very dull book. “This is the first time,” said he, “that the author has thrown light upon any subject.”
  • The motto he gave Lundyfoot, the rich tobacconist, who was setting up his carriage, is well known: “Quid rides?”—From HORACE: Satires, I. 69.
  • In his last illness, when his physician said he seemed to cough with more difficulty: “That’s rather surprising,” replied Curran, “as I have been practising all night.”