My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 17
THE REVIVAL OF THE "NATION"
Conflicting advice—John Dillon—D'Arcy M'Gee—Thomas Meagher—"Wanted, a few Workmen"—Communications from Carlyle, Dr. Smiles, Maurice Leyne, John George MacCarthy, William Shaw, Edward Butler, Cashel Hoey, John George Adair William Jennings, Edward Whitty, Julia Kavanagh, Thomas Wallis on the situation—Letter from Speranza—The tirailleurs of Nationality—Weekly suppers—Projects of the day—The Small Proprietor Society—Result of a year's work—John Sadleir and disaster—The National Bank—Revival of Conciliation Hall—T. D. M'Gee invited to return to Ireland—The Irish State prisoners—Letter from T. B. MacManus—The Catholic University and Dr. Newman—Henry Wilberforce and Dr. Quinn.
Worldly wise friends, who considered my tranquillity rather than my duty, insisted that I should practise my profession as a barrister for some years, and not revive a struggle which had proved so barren and disastrous. On the other hand, a few suggested that the contest ought to be taken up at the precise point it had reached when the Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended. Some, of whom Fintan Lalor was the most notable, honestly believed that it was our duty to conspire for the speedy revival of insurrection in Munster. The Government were determined to know what was my actual purpose; for a month or two my friends observed that whenever I left the house a covered car emerged from a neighbouring alley and pursued my steps, and a scoundrel who had entered into the service of the police called on me to tender his advice of what was fitting to be done at the moment. This mouchard was Mark O'Callaghan, brother of a perfectly honourable man well known in national politics. But the most able and reliable of my friends tendered me advice almost as contradictory and irreconcilable. John Dillon, a man of solid judgment and high integrity, thought I ought to transfer the Nation to London, and make it the organ, not of Irish nationality alone, but of a philosophical radicalism embracing the empire.
"The issue of Duffy's trial," he wrote to his wife, "has given me the liveliest satisfaction. I rejoice at it, not only as the triumph of a very dear friend over very vile and malignant enemies, but also as an event which will certainly be followed by important consequences to the country. Supposing (as it seems to be generally believed) that the Government have abandoned the design of trying him again, he is now in a better position than he has ever occupied. The persecution he has endured must have softened the hostility of many of his enemies, and all prejudice against him must have been entirely dissipated in the course of his trials; so that if the Irish people will ever listen to anybody they will listen to him, and if ever man was above wilfully misleading a people for any purpose, I think he is. It is my most earnest wish that he may remain quiet for a little time, and before he enters on a new career (it must be altogether new) that he would weigh carefully the relative advantages of the different projects which will not fail to be pressed upon him. If he should turn his face now in a wrong direction, all future exertions will be leading him but further astray. I have seen in one of the papers that he proposed re-establishing the Nation, and I heard through P. J. Smyth that Meagher wishes him to do so. I would be strongly opposed to this. The tenants want the land, the landlords want the rents. … Repeal itself was sought by the mass of the people as a means to an end. In France Irish Nationality is regarded as dead. Here it is not understood. When they fought here, it was for principles and rights, and they cannot comprehend why people should fight for anything else. If you were to tell an American that Celts ought not to be ruled by Saxons, he would say you were either mad or drunk. But if he should see a people struggling to overthrow a dear and a bad Government, and to replace it by a good and cheap one, he would give a dollar to help them. The history of Ireland can hardly in truth be called the history of a nation. The glory that could be won in two or three battles is too small a thing for a nation to subsist upon. There is not one link that can bind the past of Ireland to its future. The old forms of society, the old laws, and the old language have perished irrecoverably. For these reasons I would, if I were Duffy, abandon this ground of Celtic Nationality, and take my stand henceforth upon the rights of man. A Federal Republic is what Great Britain and Ireland want, and if that object were judiciously pursued it might, perhaps, be realised within twenty years. If the French Republic should endure (as I hope it will) England will be the next addition to the Republican sisterhood, for, next to this country and France, it is the most enlightened and (politically) virtuous. With a republic at either side, it is impossible that she can long be satisfied with the present absurd and burdensome institutions. Here is a new gospel of which Duffy might become a great apostle, and London is the spot for him to erect his pulpit in. If he could only start a great journal in London, he would have the whole democracy of the Three Kingdoms in his hands in three years, and in this country he would be the most popular of living men. From that centre he could influence Irish opinion just as much, and he could brave Irish prejudices with vastly greater independence. From that place, too, his voice will be heard in foreign nations. In Ireland he must either suppress his opinion on most important questions—education, for example—or he will become once more the persecuted mouthpiece of a provincial party. Suppose, for example, he were called upon to express his opinion on the relation of the Pope to his subjects, and suppose him to state his opinion truly (which he would not fail to do), would he not have the whole Irish Church upon his back to say nothing of the danger in which he would place the life of that most valuable citizen, John Gray, in giving such a shock to his religious feelings. I would wish you to communicate these views to Duffy, though I do not think they will influence him much."
D'Arcy M'Gee, a man more variously gifted, and of more imagination and ardour, agreed with Dillon that Ireland was not in a condition to maintain a great journal, and a great contest as of old, and that the Nation might with advantage be transferred to New York, but he admitted that that was a course I scarcely could or ought to take.
"New York, May 8, 1849.
"Io triumphe! You are free, my friend. I congratulate you with all my heart, and Mrs. Duffy, and Mrs. Callan, and all your devoted and delighted friends. It is the first Irish news I've heard since the 6th of August that gave me joy, and wherever there is a true Irishman on earth he will feel equally, or rather proportionately, glad. For no one must feel equally glad. To all intents and purposes you face the future, and about that same future I have much to say to you. The chieftaincy of Ireland is vacant now. It is only in Ireland it can be exercised. The greatest Irishman anywhere else is an Exotic, a palm tree from Arabia, stared at and admired, but not cherished or cultivated. You could take on that chieftancy at once if you had a fortune at your command, and even the want of that, perhaps, could be soon supplied.
"This is the cheering aspect of the case, and the details are lost in the outlines. But suppose you stay in Ireland, and revive the Nation. Is Ireland at present able to sustain this, or could you strike keys lower than those your fingers are familiar with? Then, mark you, others may say with impunity, what you must not, the Captain's choleric word in politics is unpardonable. I do believe, however, that if next October, the seventh vol. of the Nation appeared, it would have a success equal to the best of its predecessors. Only in this event how can you shape a policy cognate and coherent with the past, yet fit for the present and hopeful for the future? Herein I see great difficulties to your revival. If you restart the Nation I hereby tender you the enthusiastic services of a New York Correspondent.
"I will not go back to Ireland. I have thrown myself on the race in America. I aspire to be the Duffy of our Emigrants; I have provoked their attention to projects and themes which I am bound to see out, or carry out. They have sustained me handsomely. Seven months ago I entered this city with 11 in my purse, since then I received 5,000 dollars, all of which has been sunk, as it came in, in their Nation. I therefore feel myself bound to our outcasts; at the same time my heart longs and strains itself after Ireland and you. I would rather ten to one live in Dublin. My little Nation in 1850, will give me personal independence, all I want or wish for. Whatever in sway, or wealth, it may create I shall feel bound to share with you, whether you stay in Ireland or come here. As it is, half of it is at your service, at this hour, and if you refuse it I have a mental reservation to devote so much of its gains to whatever Irish enterprise you originate at home. Personally, I would wish above all things to be your second again—but, I dare not say, come; you are by far better able to decide between Ireland and America than I can be, and I expect you have chosen already.
"As to the prospects of an auxiliary Irish party on this side, I hold them to be as good or better than ever they were. We have more Irishmen, and absence sublimes love of country. All the Irish here feel under a cloud till the work is done, and though if appealed to now they would be mighty hard of hearing, still they keep watching every speck of light in the Eastward. But any new Irish movement, social or other, should begin in Dublin. The waters must come from the fountain, and the command from the head of the army. You cannot make a tail a head, or any quantity of emigrants a people. All they can do is to give help, and that you could get, after a time, as largely as any one ever got it.
"You are, perhaps, aware that 'the Directory' here have some .£5,000 or thereabouts in the funds, of Irish subscriptions since last year. This, or part of it, could be got for an Irish purpose again—if the said purpose was clearly manifest. New means would also be subscribed as freely as before, and a new spirit evoked.
"The moral of all these pros and cons is command me, in any way, whether you come or stay. If you stay return boldly to moral force not—O'Connell's but Davis's—not the moral force of the Peace Resolutions, but the 'Creed of the Nation.' Assume that Mitchelism is dead. It is dead. It will soon cease to have any organ here, and when it cannot live here, with all its professors prescribing for it, what can it do in Ireland? Mitchel's policy was driftless and reckless as O'Connell's—the one was mad, the other a cheat. Between them lies your course, and in the very same quarter lies victory."
In reply to these letters I told Dillon that it was not Radicalism or Republicanism which was the motive power of my life, but the desire to put a sceptre into the hand of Ireland, and if ever that became impossible my career would be at an end. "Fallen as the country is," I said, "I would not exchange the hope of serving it for the rule of India. I will, if it lies in me, reorganise and reanimate it. And you may rest assured that extermination and famine have conclusively eradicated all reliance on Irish landlords. Whatever I attempt shall base itself upon the people. But your pleasant dream of a fraternal union of the imperial democracy addressed by a journal in London does not realise itself to me. In English democracy there have appeared no enthusiasts, no thinkers, like those who have won a worldwide audience in France. I do not doubt that the generous youth of England might be engaged in democracy by an Apostolic English organ of liberty, but scarcely by an Irishman, and if by an Irishman our own people would die out in the interval. I will co-operate with an Englishman who attempts this work, but I will myself hold by the old ship. Mrs. Dillon read me your letter to her on this subject, and I copied it to consider it well. I cannot transform my own views into yours, but I will transfuse yours into mine." To M'Gee I said that New York was impossible; a country must be regenerated from within, not from without. I could not satisfy exaggerated hopes at home by promising impossibilities, nor could I lay down the cause for any consideration. I was the last of a party deeply pledged to nationality, and I could not lay it aside without dishonour. From other old friends advice as contradictory came.
"You must rebaptize the cause in the old Holy Wells," said Meagher, meaning that we must be more distinctly Catholic for the future. "You advised that two priests should be put on the War Directory," said a Protestant Nationalist. "Had they succeeded in seizing the country what would have become of us?"
I brought these conflicting opinions to one test—my conviction of what was best for the cause. I have committed grave mistakes as an Irish publicist, often created angry enemies, sometimes offended genial friends, but from the beginning to the end of my career I have no one to blame but myself, as I uniformly followed my own judgment.
As soon as the languor of a long imprisonment was mitigated I summoned a private conference of the most experienced Nationalists left in Dublin, who still made a very impressive show. They unanimously advised the revival of the Nation, and the re-establishment after a time of political agitation, citing O'Connell's saying that agitation was the lowest price Ireland paid for a little liberty. I told them that the protection of the farmers who were flying daily before the Exterminator seemed to me the most urgent business. For nationality we could do little just now, except keep alive its traditions; the ghastly clamour of unreal threats and promises which came to nothing was odious to me. I should never spend another hour in Irish affairs indeed except with the hope and determination to regain our national existence. But this was only to be done by working out patiently a large design, month by month, year by year; Ireland lay in ruins and needed to be rebuilt, beginning with the foundations and gradually piling work above like granite upon granite.
This was the policy of the revived Nation. To say that the country could be delivered then and there needed a besotted intellect or a brazen front. In an hour of profound darkness I set before the people what they discovered in the end to be the only way in which they could make any progress. Though I proposed for immediate action measures of immediate necessity, I was careful to state the ultimate end frankly, because it is only large proposals which create enthusiasm. After all that had befallen us there were more men and more property in Ireland at that moment than when the Declaration of Independence had been made, or in any other of the great historical eras of the past. It was true, as we were reminded by our enemies, that many of the agencies of the past were wanting, but the best workmen are those who can work with the tools within their reach. My dear and venerated friend, Dr. Blake, the Bishop of Dromore, sent me advice and encouragement which fell in naturally with my general design.
"Violet Hill, Newry, April 30, 1849.
"My dear Mr. Duffy,—I have read your letter, elated the 28th inst., with unqualified pleasure. Your motives for not reviving the Nation at present are prudent and praiseworthy. But what especially delights me is your resolution to make your leisure time subservient to the great purpose of .providing immediate relief for our starving and perishing people. Your acquaintance and influence with many of our most benevolent and leading men will enable you, I hope, to bring them together and to organise some effective machinery for accomplishing that great work. The public feeling is well disposed for it, but it requires to be quickened into action by the exertions of an active and able committee respected and confided in by the whole nation. I have always expected much national good from you; I now expect more than ever.
—Ever faithfully yours,"✠ Michael."
This policy, which I explained in detail, met general assent, and I developed it in several numbers of the revived Nation. Since my imprisonment I had visited and corresponded with men who could effectually help such a policy. In London I saw Frederick Lucas and urged him to carry out the postponed design of transferring the Tablet to Ireland. We not only wanted his large brains and vigorous nature, but I was confident that Conciliation Hall had sown suspicion of the Young Irelanders so widely that without him we should scarcely get the support of the Catholic clergy.
Under the title "Wanted, a few Workmen," I invited the help of young Irishmen to fill the gap disaster had left in the ranks of my friends. I did not conceal the long, weary way that lay between us and success, but any one who was not willing to accept cheerfully the conditions of the case would be a useless recruit. The latest workers had got the wages which mostly pays heroic toil; their successors might be more fortunate, they could not be more faithful. The appeal had the good fortune to please Thomas Carlyle, who wrote to me to declare that it was the best article on Ireland he had ever read. Another writer, who has since won distinction as a practical teacher of morals and duty, expressed his satisfaction with the tone of the revived journal. "All true friends of progress in England," Dr. Smiles wrote, "wish you well, and bid you Godspeed. I have been greatly gratified by the manly and courageous utterance of the Nation at its new birth. You have made a great beginning in the education of the people to self-reliance and self-help. This must be the foundation of all true progress in a nation." Many volunteers answered the summons for workmen—among them some who became notable: first Maurice Leyne, grand-nephew to O'Connell. Leyne had remarkable powers; as an orator he was scarcely inferior to Meagher, and he possessed a gift which Meagher wanted, the great gift of humour. The popular squibs of the era we are now approaching were nearly all his work; John George MacCarthy, afterwards member for Mallow, author of some remarkable little books, and in the end one of the Land Purchase Commission in Ireland; William Shaw, a young Independent minister, destined to become a member of Parliament, and for a time leader of the Irish Party in the House of Commons in succession to Isaac Butt; and Edward Butler, who became Attorney-General in New South Wales; and but for an accident would have been Chief Justice of that colony. But my best helper was John Cashel-Hoey, who had gifts amounting to genius, and a safer judgment than any of his colleagues.
John George Adair, the manly, handsome young squire who had coalesced with my friends in the Irish Council, expressed his cordial sympathy with this new attempt.
Another recruit, who was obliged to maintain strict anonymity, promised to be of greater value than any of William Jennings was a student on the Dunboyne establishment in Maynooth College, a class to whom any flirtation with the Press is strictly forbidden, but he was confident I would soon become a professor, which indeed befell, and in that capacity he projected help for my educational projects of the highest value; he designed to filter the stream of instruction at its fountain-head. "If I were," he wrote, "a professor I would create a love of general reading throughout the entire college. This might be an indirect, but I have firm faith that it would be a sure, means to make the entire clergy the most devoted Irishmen we could wish them."
But no recruit of that day brought me more hope of results than Edward Whitty. He was a young London journalist of Irish descent, but born and reared in England, whom the unfairness and malignity of Lord Clarendon's policy in the State trials kindled into a flame of just wrath. He was secretary of a Liberal Association founded by Sir Joshua Walmesley, and one of the writers in the Leader. He was son of Michael J. Whitty, who laid down a public office in Liverpool to become a journalist, who in later years was one of the founders of the Penny Press, and when he was a youngster was the writer of "Captain Rock in London," the little periodical which gave me so much delight as a boy, in Monaghan. From that time Edward Whitty became practically an active agent for Irish interests in London. Whitty pressed on me to carry the Nation to London from quite a new motive.
My maxim, he said, is, and always has been, that the Battle of Ireland is to be fought in England. Scipio saved Rome at Carthage. But what other force to fight it is there than the Nation? I despair of the Irish members. They strike me as the most worthless of mankind. If the Nation were mine, I would double its size and sell it at fourpence. And I would publish it in London.
He consulted his father, and that more practical man was of an opinion almost identical with Dillon's.
"Touching the Nation in London (he wrote to his son) my deliberate opinion is against it. As it would necessarily be Irish and Catholic, none but Irish would support it, and few but those who now take the Dublin Nation would then take the London Nation. There is one thing, however, of which I have no doubt. If Mr. Duffy bestowed the same ability, &c., on a weekly paper in London that he does on the Nation in Dublin, he would have five times the profit and influence. I mean a democratic journal—fearless and talented, friendly to Catholicism, but not its organ. Such a paper would succeed, and do more real good to the cause of Ireland than all the pro-Catholic papers published."
But I was immovable in the conviction that the Nation must not be detached from the soil of which it aimed to be racy.
From the beginning gifted women were among, the best beloved contributors to the Nation, and the revived Nation was destined to rally recruits of the same class. Julia Kavanagh, who was earning her income by literary work for English periodicals, proffered to aid the new experiment, without payment or applause, by her facile pen. Her letter is a touching illustration of the unconquerable sentiment of nationality which lives in the Irish heart:—
"Sir,—I am not, I confess, a constant reader of the Nation; I know it chiefly through the extracts and misrepresentations of the English Press, but those extracts have sufficed to give me as exalted an opinion of your talents as the persecutions you endured formerly gave me of your patriotism.
"I should not, however, have troubled you with this letter but for an extract from the Nation given in this day's Times, by which I find you suggest a very excellent plan of promoting the Irish cause by means of popular tracts, essays, &c. It occurs to me, were this plan to be adopted, I might, perhaps, be of some use.
"I do not suppose my name is known to you, but I have been a writer for five years. I have published a few works, and contributed to Chambers's Journal, to their Miscellany, to the Popular Record, to the People's Journal. I am now writing for the journal of Eliza Cook. This, if I have not misunderstood you, is the literature you wish to turn into the channel of nationality. I have always felt that of myself I can do nothing, but I might be rendered useful, and nothing could give me greater joy. I make this proposal to you, sir, in the sincere belief that you will not misunderstand me, or think me guilty of indecorous and unwomanly presumption. I live by my labour and have not much time to spare, but in this cause I will gladly make time and dispense with payment; nor do I aim in the least at any sort of celebrity which may be connected with this movement. Let my name be known or not, it is a matter of total indifference to me. Let me only be of some use, employed as a common workman, and I am content.
"I speak somewhat earnestly, but I should not like to forfeit your esteem. I am Irish by origin, birth, and feeling, hough not by education; but if I have lived far from eland she has still been as the faith and religion of my have ever been taught to love her with my whole soul, to bless her as a sorrowing mother, dear, though distant and unknown.—I have the honour, sir, to remain yours very "Julia Kavanagh."
Of the old contributors two still remained, but much depressed in spirit.
Wallis grumbled at large, as his wont was, and announced that I need not count upon him for much assistance. But he recognised that our work was generous, even noble. "By the living God," he wrote, "I can conceive nothing nobler than that a few men, standing up in the midst of such social, moral, and physical pestilence as covers the length and breadth of Ireland, should say, 'We don't despair—we believe endlessly in the redemptive energies of man, whether in the mass or in the individual,' and who should testify by a lifetime of recuperative toil to the sincerity of their belief." Speranza had not lost sympathy with the National cause, but she had not unnaturally lost hope, and was indignant with the people at large. "I do not blame the leaders in the least," she wrote to me; "in Sicily or Belgium they would have been successful." To my policy and projects she gave a general but tepid assent and sympathy; but the eagerness and impatience of a woman of genius could ill reconcile themselves to the slow road we were bound to travel. One project to be mentioned presently—the Small Proprietors' Society—excited her enthusiasm as of old:—
"I read the pamphlet with great interest. If the object can be accomplished it will make Ireland a 'Garden of the Lord.' Nothing so admirable has ever yet been suggested. But the Small Estates should be guarded against sub-letting, or we shall have renewed cycles of pauperism only."
The new journal was more the express image of my own will and conscience than the old one, because my colleagues were young and untrained, and for a long time were fitter to practise than to project. They matured in time and became notable men, but not yet. It was impossible to write any longer with the glad confidence of '43, but visions of speedy success were replaced by a dogged determination not to fail in the end, and never to be turned aside from the goal of our race.
The national sentiment was subdued, but not extinct. It broke out in the disguise of imperfect and impossible proposals, but they at least showed that there was still an Irish question to be dealt with. A society for promoting the periodical meeting of the Imperial Parliament in Dublin met, in which Lord O'Neill, Lord Castlestuart, Lord Rossmore, Lord Talbot de Malahide, and other peers took part, and half a dozen baronets, including Sir Harcourt Lees, their representative Orange and No Popery orator in Ireland. The Federalists, under Sharman Crawford and Thomas Hutton, made a slight move, enough to show they were alive. These were the tirailleurs manoeuvring and skirmishing in front of the silent multitude of Nationalists.
I re-established the weekly suppers which had been a rare enjoyment to the Young Irelanders. Some new recruits joined, among them Dr. William Sullivan, director of the Museum of Irish Industry; Dr. Lyons, afterwards member for Dublin, and a physician in good practice; and George Waters, now a County Court judge, all of them experts on practical subjects. John O'Hagan, by this time a successful barrister, only joined us occasionally.
In later articles I specified some of the work that might and ought to be done. We might make a new plantation in Ireland, not for strangers this time, but for the natives, under the Encumbered Estates Act. We might unite with the Ulster tenantry in obtaining a reform of the Land Code, which they desired as much as we did. We might encourage industrial experiments, primarily work done under the domestic roof, not needing coal or expensive machinery. There were one hundred thousand children who might be trained in reproductive employment, an experiment which was being tried at the moment in Belgium, in the Atelier d'apprentissage. We might encourage the people to create local Tenant Societies for their own protection and the prompt exposure of oppressive landlords. We might feed the national spirit with national books. The counsel of the Nation did not fall upon heedless ears. Two priests of the County Kilkenny, who became popularly known from the name of their parish as the Callan Curates, set the example of establishing a local Tenant Society, to awaken public opinion in the interest of the farmers. Their example was followed in various places, and a Tenant Right Movement was begun which had large practical results. The founders of the parent societies were, to use the popular parlance, expressive of affection and confidence, Father Tom O'Shea and Father Mat Keefe. The other projects were undertaken and carried out to the limit of our resources. The time was declared by timid persons to be altogether unfit for political action; but history is the safest umpire in such a controversy, and they were reminded that the Catholic Emancipation movement began immediately after a famine.
Some of the practical work accomplished at this time I still recall with satisfaction.
Many of the Irish landlords were practically bankrupt from a long career of extravagance and sloth. An Encumbered Estates Act had been recently passed, establishing a court authorised to sell compulsorily the property of insolvent landowners, and feudal castles and ancient manor houses had fallen before its hammer in every province. In three years a property had been sold, representing a rental of a million and a half, without the smallest advantage to the tenantry, to their detriment indeed, for the new law had altogether disregarded their interest in the soil, and the new proprietors were often more greedy and relentless than the old ones. Thirty nobles of all ranks under a duke, thirty-nine baronets or other titled persons, ten members of Parliament, and as many ex-members were struck down under this decisive law. The price of land fell disastrously, and the purchasers in many cases cleared out the majority of the population to increase the selling price of the property. Help from Parliament there was none, but I bethought me that we might perhaps help ourselves. If estates could be bought at the low rate which then prevailed, and the farms resold to the tenants at the wholesale price, a great good might be extracted out of the social wreck and ruin which prevailed. The most industrious and enterprising of the tenants-at-will might raise themselves to comfort and independence. It was a fascinating idea, but how was it to be realised? There existed at that time throughout England a multitude of Freehold Land Societies created by the Liberal leaders for the purpose of buying land wholesale, and re-selling it in allotments, which in addition to providing a home for industrious artisans would create county votes to leaven the franchise with a Liberal element. The method was borrowed from the practice of building societies long in existence. In addition to the reduced price, it greatly quickened the power of action. If a man wanted to build a house which would cost £200, and could only save £10 a year from his income for this purpose, it would take him nearly twenty years to accumulate the necessary funds. But if twenty men in this condition agree to club their annual saving one of them could build a house every year. The same principle that regulates the dealings of those twenty members applies equally to any greater number, up to thousands and tens of thousands. If there be forty members, for example, instead of twenty, there will be two houses built every year instead of one; if there be eighty, there will be four houses built; if two hundred and forty, a house will be built every month; if a thousand, a house will be built almost at the rate of one in every week. The more members the quicker the operations of the society, and the greater each man's chance of getting what he wants soon.
Another principle was that it is cheaper to buy a thing right out than to hire it. The annual subscription necessary to be paid for about a dozen years to enable a member to acquire a house of his own was found to be no larger than the rent he would pay during the same time for the bare hire of a house of similar quality.
These principles apply equally to the purchase of land; and the English Freehold Land Societies had applied them with great success. By clubbing together their savings, many thousand members became owners of small freeholds, and purchased the land in most cases at a less sum than the rent of it for ten or twelve years would have amounted to.
My proposal was to apply these principles to the creation of an independent and prosperous Yeomanry in Ireland. Such a system would check the fatal drain of men from the country by procuring for the Irish farmers at home that complete ownership of the soil for ever which was the chief inducement to emigration among the best class of emigrants.
I explained in detail the financial part of the system, on which it is not necessary to dwell here; but I had been all my life a thinker and writer, not a man skilled in practical affairs, and the fundamental question was whether the plausible scheme would work. I published it anonymously in the Nation, and afterwards in a pamphlet marked strictly private which I circulated chiefly among a few eminent critics. I wanted to fortify my convictions by adequate and independent testimony. The result was highly satisfactory. Stuart Mill, then the highest authority in questions of this character, wrote me:—
"You were already aware, from our conversation in London, that I thought very favourably of the plan. This favourable opinion has been confirmed by reading the pamphlet. The machinery of the scheme seems unobjectionable. The success of the Land Societies in England demonstrates its feasibility; and it is open to none of the objections urged against any more summary mode of creating a class of Small Landholders owning the land they cultivate."
Mr. Bright, who was peculiarily disinclined to commit his name and reputation to new experiments, was very definite in his approval:—
"I need scarcely tell you that I rejoice to find you attempting the establishment of a Freehold Land Society in Ireland. There is no country in the world where such a society is more needed, and therefore, none in which more beneficial results may be looked for … In Ireland you have land to any extent offered in the market, and you have a great demand for it when saleable in small or moderate quantities. But it is all a question of management, for of the principle of these societies there can be no doubt. In England, so far, they have worked well, and with a little care they will work well in Ireland also."
Mr. Henry Taylor, the founder of the English Land Societies, and who had a high reputation for practical skill and experience, encouraged me with his approval:—
"I have read your proposal with the greatest care and I have not only no hesitation in giving it my unqualified concurrence, but I feel a satisfaction in saying that I believe in my heart the scheme will be found practicable, easy, and profitable." Two men very notable at this period for their writings on Economic Science, Mr. Arthur Scratchley, an actuary, authorised to sanction Friendly Societies; the other, Mr. Thornton, who was one of Mr. Mill's colleagues in the India Office, and had written successfully on Peasant Proprietary, became warm partisans of the project.
"I can frankly say (said Mr. Scratchley) that the case is admirably put, the principles are applied in a very satisfactory manner, and I could safely certify that the basis of the society is sound and equitable."
"It has interested me (said Mr. Thornton) more than any paper I have read for some time, for it seems to me to present the most feasible scheme that has yet been proposed for affecting the social regeneration of Ireland. God speed you, I say most heartily, and if at any time I see any way of aiding the good work depend upon my co-operation as well as my good wishes."
For nearly a year I occupied myself largely with this project, making friends for it wherever I could. One day I was so ill-advised as to mention the project to Mr. William Keogh, then a member of Parliament, of remarkable ability and uncertain principles. "Have you secured the assistance of John Sadleir"? he demanded. "No," I said, "what could he do for me"? "Everything," he replied. "He is a man of brains, of capital, of enterprise, of influence; you will want money, he can furnish it; you will want an influential board of directors, he can procure them; but above all you want the confidence men feel in a scheme approved of by a great financier and lawyer, and he will bring you that." I allowed Mr. Keogh to bring me to Mr. Sadleir's office, who promised effectual help. His cousin, Mr. Vincent Scully, Q.C., wrote an interesting and valuable pamphlet in support of the project. Mr. Sadleir himself was good enough to publish a letter explaining the working of the system, which was read with avidity, no one having any idea that it was drafted by me. My name, however, now got known as the writer of the original proposal, and my correspondence at that time was full of friendly and sympathetic letters approving of the project. My kind friend, Dr. Blake, sent up his vicar-general to confer with me on the subject, and he promised a large help in subscriptions.
The committee, got together with infinite pains, consisted of a few men with special capacity for such an enterprise, a few others necessary to secure the confidence of the people, and two or three of social or official position whom Mr. Sadleir considered indispensable. Here are the names: Alderman Moylan, governor of the Hibernian Bank; the Right. Hon. More O'Ferrall, M.P.;" William Shee, Sergeant-at-Law; Thomas O'Hagan, Q.C.; John Sadleir, M.P., chairman of the London and County Bank; Very Rev. David Moriarty, president of the College of All Hallows; William Monsell, M.P.; W. K. Sullivan, director of the Museum of Irish Industry; Patrick Lalor, Tinakill; Alderman Farrell, deputy governor of the Hibernian Bank; Tristram Kennedy, land agent; Captain Donolan; John Thomas Devereux, M.P., and Charles Gavan Duffy. The recruits obtained by Mr. Sadleir were Mr. More O'Ferrall and Mr. Monsell.
When our plan was ready to launch Mr. Sadleir intimated to me two or three methods of aiding it which he had in view. He had bought several properties in the Encumbered Estates Court which he would at once hand over to the society; the Bank of Ireland was announced in our prospectus as the custodian of our funds, but their methods were cumbrous and tardy, and it would be better to place our money in the London and County Bank in England and the Tipperary Bank in Ireland, whom he could induce to help us with funds whenever it was necessary. I had not the slightest idea that Mr. Sadleir was a swindler, but these proposals alarmed me. I said we were bound at any inconvenience to use the bank announced in our prospectus; the other method had been nearly ruinous to O'Connell in his conflict with Peter Purcell. There was a still graver objection, I thought, in accepting the estates Mr. Sadleir had on hands, for enemies would infallibly say our society was created to relieve him from unsaleable property. Other controversies arose, and Mr. Sadleir intimated that his friends, More O'Ferrall and William Monsell, were of opinion that the appearance of my name on the directory would alarm prudent persons. In later years, when I became intimate with Mr. Monsell, he assured me that there was not the slightest truth in this statement, but at the time I did not at all doubt it. Finally, he caused the society to be registered at the office of his firm in Dublin without consulting me on the subject. I called the managing committee together and told them of my difficulties with Mr. Sadleir. Nearly the whole of them were of opinion that a man so capable and experienced as Mr. Sadleir must know best. I was deeply chagrined. I declared that I had created the society for great public ends, and would not consent to make it the milch cow for a firm of attorneys. I handed in my resignation and retired. After a time letters appeared in the newspapers asking when we would begin and what delayed operations, and I stated the facts briefly in the Nation. From that day the society wasted away and never so much as divided one of Mr. Sadleir's derelict estates. But I had wasted a year of my life without result.
Another project largely affected the interest of what was regarded as the people's bank in Ireland. One afternoon I received the card of an unknown visitor—Mr. Joseph Neale M'Kenna. "I took the liberty of calling without an introduction," he said, "because you know my father very well." "I think not," I replied, searching my memory in vain for any one resembling the new-comer. "Oh, yes you do," he replied, naming a silent, placid old gentleman, utterly unlike my visitor, from whose face rayed vigour and purpose as if they were physical not spiritual gifts. He told me he was one of three inspectors of the National Bank of Ireland, whom the directors had just dismissed for the offence of noticing in their report that certain of the directors had overdrawn their accounts, and certain of the local managers had fallen into arrears with their cash. He trusted I would consider this a case in which the Press might justly interpose for the defence of a public interest. I said, smiling, "You may take a conditional order. Satisfy me as to the facts, and I shall certainly intervene. It is a quarrel between the upper and under servants of the bank, and the bank belongs not to the directors but to the shareholders, and they constitute the legitimate and natural court of appeal, and to them I will certainly submit the case." The case revealed the most corrupt and unscrupulous conduct on the part of some of the directors. Many of them were heavily in debt to the bank; one of them, the director of an insurance company which had spent its capital and the premiums of insurers in paying dishonest dividends, had induced several of the bank managers in Ireland to become agents for what Mr. M'Kenna regarded as no better than an organised swindle, and had protected managers who had violated their duty to the bank, if they did this work effectually. This gentleman had been returned to Parliament by the influence of the Repeal Association at the late general election. The yacht of one of the directors, a man with an historic name, was seized for debt, and the bank protected him against his creditors by claiming the yacht as their property. His younger brother was also a director, but had not invested a penny in the concern, a qualification having been borrowed for him. In short, the concern was fatally rotten. I opened the case mildly in the Nation, but the facts disclosed created consternation throughout Munster, where the bulk of the shareholders resided. Mr. Christopher Fitzsimon, a son-in-law of O'Connell, and brother-in-law of two of the directors, who was chief officer of the bank in Ireland, sent for his kinsman, Maurice Leyne, and demanded was the Nation going to ruin a great national institution. "Certainly not," I said, when the case was referred to me; "let the directors agree to an investigation before some competent arbitrators of the facts stated by the inspectors, and there never shall be another word on the subject in the Nation." Mr. Fitzsimon replied that the directors were not going to consent to be tried before their dismissed servants. I answered that it seemed to me a case between dismissed servants and other servants who ought to be dismissed, and I could not permit the latter to destroy four millions and a half worth of property, mostly belonging to Irish farmers and shopkeepers. The inquiry went on, Mr. M'Kenna writing letters clear, trenchant, and persuasive. Finally the peccant directors were removed by order of the shareholders, and two of the inspectors reinstated, the third having gone to Australia.
Let me complete the story a little out of chronological order. A couple of years later Mr M'Kenna found an opportunity of reciprocating my good offices effectually. Shortly after the Nation was revived I placed the commercial department under the control of Mr. John M'Grath, who was admitted to a small share in the business. He managed it for three years at his discretion, when he suddenly announced his determination to retire, and claimed that a large balance was due to him, of which he demanded instant payment. I showed his abstract of accounts to M'Kenna, who, after a brief study of it, assured me that he had no doubt that the claimant on his own showing was in my debt. Mr. M'Grath took proceedings against me in Chancery, and the case was referred for the consideration of a Master. Mr. M'Kenna, who was a barrister as well as a banker, represented me, and before his scrutiny the entire claim disappeared, and Mr. M'Grath was brought in my debtor. Thus one good turn not only deserved but obtained another.
Shortly after the revival of the Nation a national requisition was put in course of signature, largely signed by ecclesiastics and laymen of note, to consider the state of the country. Mr. John O'Connell thought this a fitting moment to re-open Conciliation Hall and demand the immediate Repeal of the Union. He had become a militia captain since his last appearance in public, and some angry Nationalists denounced this violation of the peace principles of his father, but a caustic critic in the Nation told them "they were unreasonable, as it was quite certain he would not in his new capacity shed one drop of blood." I may dismiss Mr. John O'Connell from this narrative by stating that whatever was done for Ireland from that date till his death found him whining a feeble opposition. The country did not sustain the revived Conciliation Hall, and to keep the doors open he sold the noble library, collected at the cost of the Irish people, sold the instruments of the National Band, and finally sold the lease of Conciliation Hall and violated his father's will and testament as shamelessly as Nelson's will was violated by his brother, and by all these sacrifices succeeded only in assembling about a dozen coal porters and basket women once a week in a hall which had once held the flower of the Irish race.
A letter which I wrote to M'Gee when the Nation was revived tells in the briefest terms several things necessary to the integrity of this narrative:—
"Dublin, April 18, 1849.
"Thank Heaven I am emancipated! When John Williams fled he left me to cope with pecuniary embarrassments and complicated details of business which took up my whole time and nearly ruined the Nation. But I have sold a fourth share in it to Mr. M'Grath, solicitor, formerly a member of the Council of the Confederation. He will reside in the office, which has a fine house attached to it, and superintend the business, from which I am, as I say, emancipated. I propose that you should come over forthwith, and I will bestow on you what Mr. M'Grath purchased at £600, to be increased hereafter to £1,000. I have within this week given the last fragment of my personal property, a mortgage of £460, to increase the working capital of the establishment.
"The chief reason why I wish you to come at once is because it is impossible to do effective political work while my time is absorbed in the paper. I have only a little effective help, and great occasions are slipping away. A second reason is that to do anything worth doing in public life I must have leisure to think, which I have never had since the Nation was revived. When Williams fled the annual income of the Nation was £1,900. I have been compelled to neglect it since, and it suffered somewhat, but it will speedily reach that again. The American agency needs to be put upon a safe footing, and security given on this side the ocean for punctual payment. Otherwise it would be better never to send a paper across the Atlantic.
"After twenty weeks Drum has remitted only £12, meantime I have expended £160 on furnishing him with papers. I am embarrassed for funds, and this has become intolerable. Will you have the goodness to see Drum? If he does not settle his account promptly I will appoint some other agent. May I ask you in this case to find one for me? Hitherto the American agency has been an oppressive drain. Ireland is growing poorer and poorer every day, but she is still honester and more punctual than Irish America. I pray you look to this for me.
"If you come you had best come quickly. I would expect you to commence operations here on the ist September with the second year of the Nation. Thomas O'Hagan assures me you would not run the smallest risk of prosecution. The Government could make no case against you, and want anything rather than to stir the embers of popular indignation. On that score there is no difficulty.
"In case you do this, I would not wish you to blow any trumpets about uniting the two Nations, but announce your return to Ireland in a quiet spirit. But it is time enough to discuss these things. The present question is, Will you come, and come at the period I have specified?
"P.S. I have never ceased to be anxious that you were here, because here or nowhere Irish work is to be done, and because, as a writer and a speaker, there is not any Irishman living whose help I would as soon have as yours. I think you want some faculties of statesmanship, for your Nation and Celt have been travelling the same road, which leads nowhere; but know, Thomas D'Arcy, that there is neither a poet nor journalist of the race of Heber and Heremon entitled to take his place before you. Therefore, I want to see you here in the time when the last effort must be made for Ireland. And perhaps, if I probed my heart a little deeper, also because life has not anything that compensates me for the pleasant summer rambles we have enjoyed together, speculating on the dead past and unborn future."
Later I wrote to the same friend:—
"On the question of the priests you are angry, and therefore unreasonable. Nothing has been done against you in America but was done also here against the old Nation. But we minded our work and let it blow by. I have seen the priests everywhere throughout Ireland since I left Newgate, and I would make oath that there are many of the young priests as zealous and true as the best of the Confederates. If there be others, enemies to liberty, they are there, and they or their successors will be there when we are in our graves. Writing against them would effect something by the time you were grey headed perhaps, but not much even then. A wise navigator does not preach sermons against rocks ahead, but takes entirely different precautions.
"You ask me ought you go on with the 'Personal Recollections' you have been writing. I think not. Do you remember when you wrote the sketch of Carleton for the Boston Pilot, how vehemently I warned you against N.P. Willis-ing? It is an American vice which European literature abhors. Then the sketch of Mangan was in shocking taste, and a mere romance. ' He never borrowed more than 2s. 6d., forsooth! I lent him nearly a hundred pounds, and never gave him, but once, a sum smaller than £1—sometimes £5 or £10. The public have nothing to do with facts of this nature, pro or con, even if they are true, but you put him into a light at once mean and false to nature.
"John M'Keon, the Honourable John of your New York Irish Directory, has been here lately, and brought me an introduction from Dillon, and I learned from him the history of that ambitious experiment. I recognise now how fatally too late had been our appeal to America postponed by one of the whimsies which the people accepted from Mr. Mitchel as an oracle, that they had no need of assistance of any sort.
"Remember me to honest Michael Crean. The burr of his Clare brogue in the Council sounded sweetly in my ears, for it sounded always on the right side. Tell him I hope to shake his honest hand some day before I die."
Of my exiled comrades I got elaborate reports from Meagher, and short practical ones from MacManus. The first letter from the latter covers all the necessary ground with a rapidity like the seven-leagued boots of fiction:—
"The Police District of New Norfolk,
"Feb. 18, 1850.
"A friend going to England affords me an opportunity of writing you a hurried line about ourselves. We had on the whole rather an agreeable passage—a small cabin to ourselves with separate sleeping berths. We were rather badly off for provisions, and water was scarce and bad. Our health was good all through. We were not allowed to converse with either officers or men. Since we came here we are separated, but O'Doherty's, Meagher's and Martin's districts meet at a certain point, and once a week they can converse there. O'Donohoe is next to me, but I seldom see him. He has started a paper, the Irish Exile. Poor O'Brien is really suffering a severe imprisonment, and his health is much affected. I am located here in a rural district with nothing to do but hunt and shoot. We have many sympathisers, and are expected to take high ground. Hampton, the Comptroller-General of Convicts, is quite willing to annoy us as much as he can. The people are all very kind to us and treat us with much respect and civility. The Government are evidently annoyed at this, and would be glad of an opportunity of humbling us. But they'll get none."
At this time a great design was undertaken by a great man. Dr. Newman came to Ireland to conduct and control a Catholic University, a task for which perhaps no man living was so fit. All the class who valued learning, and were able to estimate how much we had lost by the want of a University, gathered joyfully around him. We venerated him as one of the most pious and gifted ecclesiastics in the Catholic Church, but to most of us he was personally unknown up to his coming to Dublin. We were impressed by his sweet gravity, his simplicity of manners, and plainness of speech. But perhaps the greatest surprise was his lectures and sermons. The orator who had carried off in his revolt such a huge section of the English Church, who ruled supremely over so many consciences, was assumed to be passionate and eloquent like Savonarola or in a manner to which we were accustomed in the best preachers. Not at all. He spoke in a level voice, scarcely raised or lowered by a note, without action, and without the play of feature which we regarded as so large a part of oratory. A speaker may pause, Moore Stack was accustomed to say to his students, as often and as long as he pleases if he fill up the interval with emotion. But this eminent man exhibited no emotion. His speech was a silvery stream which never sank out of view or foamed into cascades.
The work which he had in hands had my deepest sympathy—to educate and experienced judgment, as he came to extend his circle of acquaintances. With the exception of a few converts who had followed him from England, the body of professors was taken from the Young Ireland party and their immediate friends. If I had the selection of them, they could scarcely have been chosen otherwise; but the committee for collecting funds and determining the principles and discipline of the institution, which consisted in equal numbers of prelates, priests of the second order, and laymen, was differently constituted. The laymen were respectable nonentities or shrewd men of business, who knew no more of a University than of astrology. The most notable of them was Charles Bianconi, the. proprietor of the passenger cars so famous in Munster. My friend, Dr. Moriarty, said Bianconi was certainly a man of extensive reading, but it lay chiefly among weigh-bills. O'Hagan, O'Loghlen, Moore, Lucas, and other conspicuous Catholics were altogether excluded. It soon leaked out that Dr. Newman proposed to invite me to become Professor of Modern History, but Dr. Cullen peremptorily objected. I was a bad man, he conceived, "at the bottom of all evil designs, and in short the Mazzini of Ireland." Dr. Newman was too discreet and too new to the country to resist this strong opinion. Mr. Henry Wilberforce, secretary at this time of the Catholic Defence Association, who had come over to Dublin with the converts, and whom I had met occasionally with Lucas, said to me soon afterwards that he liked me much, but he wished I would wait till I became known before accepting any responsible position. "Yes," I said, "I have lived barely five-and-thirty years in this island, but I will endeavour to be patient till men who arrived here last year have made up their minds about me." I met Dr. Newman habitually at Dr. James Quinn's, and friendly relations grew up which were never interrupted. Dr. Quinn, who was headmaster of the principal Catholic school in Dublin, and afterwards Bishop of Brisbane, was a kinsman of Dr. Cullen's, but did not accept the opinions of his distinguished relative in my regard. One of the converts of whom I saw a good deal assured me that the Oxford Movement began in Ireland. In his opinion Bishop Jebb, and still more his friend Alexander Knox, for a time private secretary to Lord Castlereagh, were the real authors of the Oxford Movement called after Pusey. Knox had a house in Dawson Street, Dublin, nearly opposite Morrison's Hotel, but lived chiefly at Marlay with the Latouches's. Knox exercised great influence on the mind of Dr. Newman, and Jebb borrowed his ideas from him. Knox is not long dead.the middle classes. He set to work to organise his staff of senators and professors. Men fit for the task were not plentiful, and he chose them not upon advice, but by the exercise of his skilled and
Some of the most exalté of my Nationalist friends were discontented with the foreign character which they feared Dr. Newman in the University, and Frederick Lucas in the Press (for he had now brought over the Tablet to Dublin), would give the coming generation. "We have the English brought over by Strongbow," said Maurice Leyne, "the English brought over by Cromwell, and the English brought over by William—now we are going to have the English brought over by Lucas."
- Dr. Madden, the author of "The United Irishmen," told me that Mark O'Callaghan called upon him about the same time to say that he wished to consult him on a political movement far ahead of '48. But Madden, warned by his experience of spies in '98, called in his wife, and bade her note the conversation, whereupon O'Callaghan got up and retired. O'Callaghan's death took place in Tasmania in a lone house which he was occupying jointly with J. D. Balfe, another spy; he had been dead several days when his body was discovered.
- See for Carlyle's letter and the article: in question the volume entitled "Conversations with Cariyle," page 135. London: Cassell & Co.
- "I cannot deny myself the pleasure of writing to you to congratulate you on your reappearance among us as teacher and guide, to express my cordial approval and deep sympathy with your new movements, and to request that my name may be enrolled on your list of workmen for Ireland. … However, the past is gone except as an influence and instructor. You have now to create manliness, honesty, industry, literature, the great elements of nationality, without which separate government would be but a trifling good. … I firmly believe that but for the Church question the great majority of Irish Protestants would be earnest Nationalists; in fact, nothing is wanted but honest common-sense teaching and working to organise a party that will be more formidable to English and Irish oppressors than anything we have yet seen. … I am determined to use any influence and talent I possess for the good of my country, in diffusing charily and truth, and elevating and purifying the tone of thinking and of acting among the people. It will give me the greatest satisfaction if in any way I can unite with you in the work."
- Edward Whitty will probably be best remembered by his piquant articles in the Leader on the "Governing Classes" and "The Stranger in Parliament," a running commentary on public affairs, from which Richard Doyle once assured me he derived all the knowledge of them he ever needed. But his greatest work was his novel "The Friends of Bohemia," a political and social panorama which Thackeray need not have been ashamed to own.
- How hard it was to continue a national literature will be illustrated by the fact that no publisher in Dublin, not even the publisher whom national literature had raised from obscurity to opulence, would consent to bring out a collection of Meagher's speeches which he had left ready for the printers.