My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 3
A PROVINCIAL CAREER. BELFAST
My position in Belfast—New friends James M'Knight—Rev. James Godkin—A bolder policy advised—Derry, Bally bay and Belfast supposed strongholds of Unionism—Muster of Ulster Catholics in nearly a hundred meetings—Effect on O'Connell—He determines to hold a provincial meeting in Belfast—Rage and resistance of the Orangemen—Anxiety of the country on his behalf He arrives at Belfast, is entertained at a public dinner, and sails for Scotland—Political and social studies Literature in the Vindicator—Clarence Mangan—National songs—Conference in Dublin with Thomas Davis and John Dillon—the Nation projected—Davis visits Belfast—Conference in Dublin with John Dillon and John O'Hagan—Become a law student and am engaged to be married—Visit to Edinburgh.
I went to Belfast to be a Catholic journalist among an unfriendly majority, and my first business was to take stock of our resources for defence or attack. There were about fifty thousand Catholics in Belfast, and we were a moiety of the population of Ulster. We were the descendants of the men to whom the entire territory had belonged of old, but laws designed to turn us into helots had snatched away our possessions, and left us poor, ill-educated, and often pusillanimous. The malign laws had been at length repealed, but the change was ignored or only reluctantly acknowledged by our fellow citizens, and was ill understood even by those whom it emancipated. A small section of the Belfast Catholics had refused from the beginning to have any share in the new journal, for which they would recognise no necessity, and among many of those associated with it the prevailing virtue was prudence.
My position was essentially one of isolation and aggression, but I had never held aloof from honourable opponents, and I had no disposition to do so in my new home. My friends brought me to a sort of inorganic social club, where men of various opinions and pursuits met when the day's work was done, over pipes and punch. "Jenny Macalister's," as the place was popularly called, was a favourite rendezvous for men of business, young professional men, and journalists, and the current talk was a summary of whatever was mooted at the moment in the world outside. In this smoky atmosphere I made acquaintance with a man with whom my relations gradually became intimate, and a few years later, as we shall see, became memorable. James M'Knight was editor of a Presbyterian journal, and probably an elder of the Presbyterian Church, but he had slight resemblance to the ordinary type of Northern Presbyter. He was as little of a bigot as a man of his training and position could possibly be; he took a keen interest in the history, antiquities, and music of Ireland, a taste (as he afterwards wrote) not common with a "black-mouthed Presbyterian." The patriotic history of Belfast was familiar to him, and he held utterly aloof from Orangeism. We viewed each other at the outset with mutual caution, but at bottom we desired the same thing, and we advanced by degrees from an armed neutrality to a friendly pact. Somewhat later I made the acquaintance of another notable man, who also proved a serviceable ally in later times. The Rev. James Godkin was an Independent minister and editor of a controversial journal called the Christian Patriot. We met at first as opponents, but on better acquaintance discovered we had much in common, and finally became associates in the same cause. Three years later he wrote a Repeal prize essay, and ten years later became one of the founders of the League of North and South, and to his death was a writer on the Irish side of the National controversy.
The clientele whom I came to Ulster to represent was immense but totally unorganised. The Catholics of Belfast were rarely consulted on political movements; they were expected to follow the lead of the Whigs, one or two of whom were men of considerable ability. Outside Belfast the Catholics were a moiety of the population of Ulster, and in some counties had been accustomed to assert themselves at times; but the Presbyterians, who were less numerous, had ten times more influence. It seemed to me my clients did not know their own strength and that their opponents knew it still less. I thought we ought to come to an understanding with the Whigs on the policy and organisation of the popular party; or, failing such understanding, to act for ourselves. My opinion did not meet the universal support of my friends in Belfast, but I controlled an instrument by which, in the language of a French statesman, a man could drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same minute. When I submitted my proposal to the people I received encouragement and sympathy from many places and persons. John Fisher Murray, a young Belfastman in London, beginning to make a name in letters, applauded heartily, and a priest or professional man here and there gave it a certain assent. At length I proposed that to enlighten those who ignored our existence we should parade our forces. Let us meet in every county and barony of the province on the same day, or in rapid succession of days, in perfect order and with unbroken urbanity, but in all our strength. We were Liberals as much as ever, we should be ready to help any cause that promised to promote the liberty or prosperity of Ireland or human progress, but under leaders selected by ourselves, not bound to follow, but rather bound not to follow, the whistle or whip of any other organisation.
This was my first stroke of practical work, and I spared no pains to perfect the project. I was fascinated by the idea of an appeal to the clansmen of the North, which to the heated fancy of a boy recalled the achievements of Roger O'Moore. The proposal had a striking success. On an appointed day, or within a brief period of it, nearly a hundred meetings were held between Antrim and Cavan to proclaim the principles of civil and religious equality. At that time Ulster was regarded throughout England, and largely regarded in our Southern provinces as the enemy's country; a territory where Nationality could only appear under some decent disguise. But I was an Ulsterman and knew better. Summing up the movement after it had concluded, I declared that there was not one town in Ulster in the market-place of which I would not undertake to hold a Repeal meeting. The contrary impression which prevailed so widely was, I insisted, a complete delusion. Deny was one of the towns which had the reputation of being an Orange fortress: Protestant Derry, English Derry, Londonderry, the city that shut its gates against James II., and still shut them annually in commemoration of that undoubtedly gallant achievement. But nowadays when the imposing ceremony of shutting the gates against the Popish enemy was performed there were as many Papists shut in as Protestants. The first town in which Orange processions were suppressed was no other than this reputed stronghold. The Corporation had encouraged processions down to recent times, though they produced riot and bloodshed. At length they were warned that if so much as one further procession took place it would lead to disastrous consequences. A procession was held notwithstanding, and to the surprise of the offenders did not excite a ripple of disturbance. The historic "No Surrender" was shouted with new significance, and the thunder of "Roaring Meg" swelled the popular diapason. But on an autumn morning shortly afterwards it was reported to the Civic Fathers that forty thousand men were assembled at Bogside, and might be observed arranging themselves in three columns to advance on the city. Hurried consultation of frightened officials ensued, with much running hither and thither, and finally an appeal was made to the Catholic bishop, who hurried to the Bogside, and besought the malcontents to disperse. But the sturdy peasants refused to retreat a step on any other condition than an undertaking by the Mayor that an Orange procession should never more be held within the walls of Derry. The Mayor accepted the terms, and had he not done so the Maiden City would probably have ceased to be maiden on that autumn morning.
Ballybay was another boasted fortress.
"The brave Ballybay,
From which Jack Lawless was hunted away."
So ran the Orange boven. The literal truth, without a shadow of hyperbole, was that Mr. Lawless ran away from his own followers, not from the Orangemen. He was sent to the North by the Catholic Association to organise the county Monaghan. When he arrived at the Catholic chapel outside the town of Ballybay he found to his consternation 150,000 men assembled, many of whom were armed with guns, blunderbusses, and ruder weapons. They had lived so long under the Orange magistrates and yeomanry that they secretly determined to give their enemies a signal lesson. A regiment of infantry had been sent to the district, and the Commander, General Thornton, warned Mr. Lawless that he was about to strike the first blow in a civil war. Mr. Lawless exhorted his followers not to enter Ballybay; they could sack the town no doubt, but they would be disobeying the strict commands of the Catholic Association never to violate the law, and next morning they would be an insurgent army with every hand in the island against them. But his remonstrance was thrown away; he was denounced as a coward and a traitor, and in the end had to quit his carriage, mount a horse, and gallop off from his own adherents. When he was gone, the priests, by dividing the multitude into parishes, and each taking charge of his own parishioners, contrived to break up the assembly peaceably; but the task was one of the utmost difficulty and peril.
In Belfast, which was pronounced solid for the Union, a weekly Repeal meeting was held as regularly as in the Corn Exchange. There was a large anti-Repeal majority in the town, no doubt, but the middle-class Presbyterians were not Orangemen, and might be won to love their country as of old—provided always we taught them to respect us; otherwise never.
The Orange Press was furious, but no longer contemptuous. A single extract will suffice to indicate the new spirit which the movement awoke. "The Vindicator (screamed the Northern Standard) is to be found in every hamlet; it has become the oracle of the peasantry, and the manual of respectable Romanists." But a more memorable and significant impression was made outside Ulster. The national leader was naturally delighted with this unexpected temper of the hostile province, and he proclaimed his satisfaction triumphantly:—
"The spirit of the North has been aroused by a free Press; that excellent journal, the Vindicator, has caused a new light to dawn upon the people of Ulster, and still continues to do incalculable service to the cause of freedom. As an illustration of what has been effected and what we may expect in the coming struggle, I may tell you that not less than ninety-three meetings were held in one day."
Returning to the subject later, O'Connell declared that he would hold a provincial Repeal meeting in Belfast at which all Ulster would be represented. An O'Connellite meeting in Belfast! It sounded like the announcement of High Mass in the Mosque of St. Sophia, or an Abolitionist mass meeting in Virginia. The attention of the country was soon universally fixed on the design, and its development was watched with feverish anxiety. I took up the proposal cordially, but my ordinary abettors were alarmed at the project; they believed that such a meeting would exasperate the Orangemen to frenzy, and perhaps lead to open conflict. They were certainly more discreet than I, and were determined that O'Connell should not be allowed to run into danger. I was persuaded that the foolishest bigot in the North understood that he could not injure O'Connell with impunity while a nation stood by "to ask the reason why." A provincial dinner was suggested as a compromise, and a deputation was despatched to Dublin to propose it to O'Connell. I find by a letter to Mr. O'Hagan, who was then resident near Newry, that O'Connell, as the project developed, saw more clearly the objections to Belfast, and, without abandoning a Northern meeting, desired to change the venue.
"My dear O'Hagan, Mr. Magill and I waited on O'Connell this morning; he will not go to Belfast, but he is most anxious to go to the North, and will visit any other town that will get up a Provincial Dinner. He talked of Deny, but there is not spirit enough there for anything of the sort. I suggested Armagh, and he said he had been talking to you of that city, and he thought it would do admirably. I intimated that the Primate might be too cautious to countenance such a demonstration, and he said if that were the case there was nothing to do but bow to his wishes. Finally we told him, since he regarded Belfast as out of the question, we could say nothing more till we heard from you, who were about to communicate with Dr. Crolly that you would either write the result of your inquiry or arrive in town yourself, and that as far as we were at present instructed it would be either Armagh or nowhere. Write me on Sunday and say which hour you will arrive in town on Tuesday, and we will appoint a later hour to see O'Connell that you may come with us. Always yours,
"C. G. D.
- "Dublin, 16th April, 1841."
O'Hagan was against Belfast, which as a native he knew au fond, but in favour of any place else in Ulster.
"My dear Duffy, I had your two letters. As to the first I hope we shall dine together on Tuesday, for I go down to-morrow morning to Newry and shall return by Tuesday morning's mail, by which probably you also will travel. Say if you will. We have four holidays at Easter.
"As to the provincial meeting there are great difficulties. I saw O'C. to-day, he is eager for it and will attend, but Belfast would not do, just now. The effect of the holding back of the Liberal Protestants would be very bad. So O'C. thinks and declares that he never thought of Belfast. Newry would hardly do. There is no good place of meeting, and there might be opposition. Indeed this is greatly to be apprehended anywhere. If there be a public meeting the Orangemen will pour in and at least produce awful confusion, if not something worse. But if the thing is to be done, I think it may best be done at Armagh, and I shall assist to the utmost of my power. O'C. agrees that Armagh would be the proper place, and I have agreed to write to the Primate on the subject. I fear he will be against the movement; but as a middle measure O'C. proposes a provincial dinner which would save us from troublesome intruders. We will do either thing if the Primate consent, and probably the dinner, all things considered, should be held rather than the meeting. Ever yours,
Mr. O'Hagan did not obtain the approval of the Primate, and we were for a time dead-locked. With the rash confidence of a young man intoxicated with his own rhetoric, I insisted that we could and would succeed in Belfast; but when the thing was done and over I looked back on the adventure as a man who has walked close to a precipice in the dark, and sees with amazement and thankfulness how narrowly he has escaped a catastrophe.
The Tory Press probably surmised the state of affairs, and persistently defied the agitator to visit the capital of the loyal North, and in the end O'Connell grew angry and resolved at all hazards to accept the original invitation. It will help the reader to understand the condition of Ulster at that time to note what followed. The Ulster Orangemen were vehement supporters of the law, when the law was a convenient instrument of oppression, but they treated it with contempt whenever it crossed their purposes or prejudices. An eminent public man desired to meet his political friends in a town where they amounted to over fifty thousand, and it was determined to resist this design by open force. To Newry, a frontier town with a large Catholic population, it was admitted he might go, but he was warned that if he presumed to pass the Orange frontier it would be at his peril. Between Newry and Belfast Orange lodges were convoked, and the mildest measure proposed was to clutch his horses' heads, turn them back, and hunt him out of Ulster. After Newry was passed on the line of approach to Belfast, all the active magistrates were Orangemen. The first stage from Newry was Bannbridge, and the only innkeeper there, obeying the political pressure, announced that he would furnish no post-horses to the Agitator; the same resolution was adopted at various stages between Bannbridge and Belfast, and it was assumed that a sure barrier to his design was interposed.
Intense anxiety began to prevail in the other provinces lest O'Connell should suffer some gross insult or perhaps some disastrous injury, and I was not unnaturally assailed for having advised so dangerous an adventure. But we had reached a point when it was more dangerous to retreat than advance, for retreat meant humiliation for the National leader and his party, and the preparations went on steadily. In Belfast a pavilion was erected for the banquet, and a public meeting was announced for the previous day. The North was like a beehive rashly overturned; all buzz and menace; a muster of Orangemen was summoned at various points along the line, and the pass into Ulster was pronounced secure. But O'Connell was not so easily baffled. I received by special messenger a letter from his most confidential agent, Patrick Vincent FitzPatrick, describing a method by which it was believed the enemy would be baffled, and announcing the exact hour of his probable arrival in Belfast, the device to be kept a profound secret, even from the committee, till he appeared amongst us. The resourceful old man set out a day earlier than was announced, horses having been ordered in the name of a gentleman who accompanied him, one of a little band selected for the purpose, of a temper not to be trifled with. He passed quietly through the enemy's pickets and arrived safely in the midst of his friends. The news spread like a bush fire in Australia; in an hour it was known in every corner of Belfast, and next morning throughout all Ulster. From an early hour in the morning bodies of Orangemen began to arrive in Belfast, and a brisk demand for tickets for the public meeting began—a demand not only from known O'Connellites, but from grim men with high cheek-bones, and vigorous young fellows with purple complexions and party-coloured cravats. It was plain the meeting was to be interrupted, and O'Connell advised that it should be abandoned, the banquet supplying sufficient opportunity to meet his friends and proclaim his opinions. A placard was issued announcing that the meeting would not take place, and that those who purchased tickets might have their money returned at the Vindicator office. The Orangemen were naturally in a rage, and recreated themselves by an attack on my office, in which there was soon not a pane of glass unbroken.
I went immediately to the officer in command of the Constabulary, and reported what was happening. He was a grey-headed, saffron-coloured old satrap, who had probably never once in his life employed his authority to restrain Orange violence or protect Popish property. At any rate he gave me no assistance, and seemed amazed and insulted that I should expect it. This was the way the scales of justice were poised at Belfast fifty years ago.
The banquet and a levée where O'Connell received his friends were remarkably successful, even the Whigs who would not go to the banquet thought fit to send a deputation to welcome him to the North as an eminent reformer. The pavilion accommodated fifteen hundred persons, and was crowded with the flower of the Ulster Catholics and a few Liberal Protestants, notably Robert M'Dowall, a Belfast merchant, who occupied the chair. O'Connell's original purpose was certainly attained; he succeeded in moving the entire population of Ulster from the "Gap of the North" to the Lough of Belfast. But the Orangemen boasted that they would lay hold of him on his return journey, and swore that he would have to run the gauntlet from the Lagan to the Bann. But they were mistaken; he was due at a public dinner in the North of England in a few days, and the day after our banquet he sailed for Greenock in a Belfast steamer, and the Orangemen saw the last of him on board surrounded by his friends. The feeling of relief throughout Ireland was immense—nothing like it was known since he escaped the bullet of d'Esterre. No one probably felt the relief so keenly as I did when I realised too late how rash and perilous an experiment we had made. It had ended triumphantly, and I could now return to my ordinary business.
Whatever leisure I could command in so busy a career was employed in fitting myself for the battle of life. I took up anew the education so prematurely interrupted in my native town. The Belfast College admitted students to lectures without examination, and I entered the class of Logic and Belles- Lettres in the session of 1841-2. My fellow students were for the most part lively country lads intended for the Presbyterian ministry who made light of logic and belles-lettres. When Professor Cairns was discoursing on the intrinsic relation of things, and expressed his regret that there was no convenient treatise "on relations," one of his audience suggested in a muffled voice, "Japhet in search of a father." Dr. Henry MacCormac was then practising his profession in Belfast and teaching benevolence and good- will with unflagging zeal. I probably made his acquaintance as a patient, but we soon became friends. He introduced me to new regions of thought in metaphysical speculation, and to new views of duty towards the labouring, suffering people which were very welcome. In the double capacity of friend and physician he insisted that I needed relaxation, and took me into society with him for a time, but the experiment was a failure; I was feverish with political designs, and totally indifferent to social success of any sort. The experiment was worth something doubtless, but it was not worth the quantity of my treasured leisure it would consume. At that time I read incessantly, and was making acquaintance from day to day with new regions of thought, an enjoyment beside which other recreations were tame. O'Hagan sent me Carlyle's "Miscellanies," then recently published, and his daring theories moved me like electric shocks. It was O'Hagan who advised me to read in the Edinburgh Review the articles of a young man named Macaulay, who had written brilliantly on some of the great men and great eras of English History. The only poets I had known in boyhood were Moore and Burns. I now read Scott, Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley, and pitied somewhat presumptuously those who wasted their time in salons.
I made few intimacies in Belfast; I had not the disengaged mind and the holiday spirit in which intimacies flourish. The companions of whom I saw most were two young priests Rev. George Crolly, nephew of the Primate, and afterwards a professor of Belles-Lettres at Maynooth, and Father Dorrian, in later times Bishop of the diocese. The former, like his distinguished relation, was a Whig, and the latter a steadfast Nationalist. These were young men little beyond my own age, but during my residence in Ulster I was fortunate enough to make two friends among my seniors who never withdrew their confidence from me during a tempestuous and changeful career. One was Father Mathew. He was at that time in the first flood-tide of success in his teetotal movement, and his sympathisers in Belfast invited him to visit the northern capital and administer the pledge. The unassuming missionary made it a rule not to visit any diocese without an invitation from the bishop of his church, and for some reason which I have forgotten the Bishop of Down and Connor would not give such an invitation. Dr. Denvir was a friend of mine, and to a Catholic journalist the bishop of the diocese is an important factor, but I was greatly moved by the career of the illustrious friar, and I determined to take his side unequivocally. I organised a deputation of Belfast Catholics to meet him at the town closest to the frontier of our diocese and give him a cordial welcome! to the North. I afterwards attended a banquet to him in Newry, the second town in Ulster, and on that occasion broke new ground, on which I must pause for a moment, as it was practically the key-note of my whole after life. I insisted that what the Irish people wanted most was education, and that the benefactor who was giving them temperate habits might give them, and was especially bound to give them, this kindred blessing.
"When total abstinence ends," I said, "in redeeming a man from the vice of intoxication it stops far short of the point which it is capable of reaching. We have not only appetites to restrain, but^great faculties, to cultivate, and the latter is not the least important portion of our duties; for the man whose heart and imagination are not opened and exalted by education is no more the creature God intended him to be than if eyes and hands were wanting in his physical organisation.
"You, Father Mathew, have taken from the people a sensual, material stimulant; ought you not to replace it by a moral stimulant? You have quenched one thirst; ought you not to excite another—a thirst which is not to be slaked in the whiskey shop, but in the library or lecture-room—a thirst for knowledge? The human mind is never idle, least of all will it be idle when healthful action is no more impeded by the paroxysms and depressions of intemperance. It is your duty, I submit, to find it employment which will make it wiser, happier, and better.
"How may this be done? I venture to propose a method which, I am glad to say, has the concurrence of the illustrious guest of the evening. The teetotal societies should become not only agencies for the diffusion of total abstinence principles, but for improving the morals and cultivating the understanding of the people. Why should not every teetotal society have its lecture-room, where the artisan might be taught the principles of mechanics, the farmer the latest improvements in agriculture, and every one something that would make him a better man and better citizen? I long to see the day when every town will have its temperance hall, and every temperance hall its schoolrooms, its reading-rooms, its lecture-rooms, its exhibition-rooms, and even its public baths and gymnasium, for the operative classes. Let the teetotaler come to be recognised not only by his sobriety and respectability, but by his intelligence; not only by fulfilling life's duties, but by enjoying life's virtuous pleasures, till the very sensualist is forced to confess that the way to happiness is not through the indulgence of our passions, but through their regulation and restriction. Leisure is the poor man's right as much as food or clothes; leisure to think, to read, to enjoy. But without some friendly aid, how are the people to attain these blessings? Many of them cannot read because education was discouraged by law, and by custom, which outlives law, and those who can read cannot get suitable books. Ten years ago, more than half the counties in Ireland were without a bookseller's shop, and there are still several counties in that condition, but the teetotal societies might right this grievous wrong."
The chairman of the banquet was Dr. Blake, bishop of the diocese, a spiritual and venerable old man, whose head, if one encountered him in the Great Desert, would be recognised as the head of a Christian teacher. He supported my educational proposal cordially. "We were not permitted to govern our country," he said, " but we might teach it, and it is a nobler task to teach a people than to rule them." This was the second friend. From that time forth, whenever I made any public proposal entitled to his support the support of the Bishop of Dromore was sure to come; and whenever any difficulty embarrassed my public life the good bishop, as we shall see, came to my aid. This proposal did not perish on the highway. Father Mathew afterwards declared that he caused thirty thousand copies of my speech to be printed and circulated among the teetotalers of Ireland. These were some of the incidents which reconciled me to a provincial career, and left me not discontented with the use I had made of three years of my early manhood.
As a political journal the Vindicator was a success, but I longed to see it awaken an interest in native literature. The fragments of Celtic song which came down to us from the eras of resistance, often in rude translations only, had been a constant joy to me, and I was persuaded that among a race whose public festivities were always enlivened by ballad poetry, chanted by minstrels and chiefs, song was an immense though greatly underrated force. Swift, who was as little as possible of a Celt, seems to have divined this passion in the race, and his political songs were almost as powerful stimulants of opinion as his pamphlets. Clarence Mangan contributed constantly to the Vindicator, but his verses were either epigrams or. mere elaborate pleasantries; his national enthusiasm and confidence were not yet awakened.
"My dear Duffy (he wrote to me at that time) Don't ask me for political essays just now I have had no experience in that genre, and I should infallibly blunder. I send you six pages, 'Our Budget,' 'Jokeriana,' 'Jokerisms,' 'Flimflams,' and 'Whim-whams,' or anything else you like to call them—isms, they are facetiæ (at least I hope so) in the American fashion, and might do for your fourth page—pray Heaven you don't imagine they'd do for your paper altogether. If you like these I shall probably improve my specimens as I go on, and shall intermix them with political epigrams; but as to any formal political essay I fear I am not equal to do it at all."
Some of the epigrams were pleasant specimens of what his friends in after life came to call Manganesque. For example:—
"Says the bell to the bell-hanger, stop, my old trout,
Take your hand from my throat, let me off, let me out,
I'll be hanged if you know what it is you're about."
"'Tell me, my man, what is his honour's name,
The chief ground landlord of this wilderness?'
'The grinding landlord you must mean,' says Pat,
'It is the tenants who are ground, I guess.'"
I wrote a few ballads which I still smile or blush to encounter in collections of national verse, and T. M. Hughes did much better. Here is one of his rude, vigorous songs which glows with all the fervour that a little later inspired the "Spirit of the Nation":—
"Oh, bitter's the lot of the vanquished 'tis still to be scoffed at and scorned;
The arms that are weakly relinquished to goads for the fallen are turned!
What, dare you to call yourselves equal to those who have bound you so long?
What, dare you to look for a sequel but hate and oppression, to wrong?
'Barbarians, ill-fed and ill-clothed,' your lords are the rulers of earth;
By them know your manhood is loathed; to them know your wrongs are a mirth!
Look, bondsmen, for help to the Senate! Bleat, lambkins, and soften the wolf!
Can the drowning man's prayer for a minute pour oil on the merciless gulf?
When our shores by the Dane were invaded, brave Brian petitioned with steel;
How he scowls while his children degraded to lordlings a-blubbering kneel!
Invaded in hearth and in altar! in language, religion, and blood,
Pronounced to be aliens why falter, whose rights are all crushed in the bud?
Hath Heaven the fair Emerald Island to waste as a province decreed?
Eat your roots, ye cowed slaves, and be silent, or learn to be aliens indeed!"
"Thou shalt not die—thou shalt not die—
Though thy valleys are rank with a race of slaves
Who laugh as they look on their fathers' graves,
And hug the red hand of the foe,
Thou shalt not die thou shall not die—
Thou shalt not die—thou shalt not die—
Whilst the soul and the spirit of Liberty fills
The depth of the valleys—the height of the hills,
And the crags where the strong winds blow—
Thou shalt not die—thou shalt not die—
Thou shalt not die—thou shalt not die—
Whilst pulses are panting and glowing each eye,
And the front of the freeman looks holy and high,
With his banner and breast to the foe—
Thou never shall die—thou never shall die—
The worm at the root of the whole social system in Ireland, the land laws, was not forgotten in these tirades.
"Degenerate race, not a sod is your own,
Of the soil where your fathers coursed free as the air:
Not a bird dare you mesh, where their falcons have flown—
Not a fish dare you draw from the stream which were theirs,
Of park, grove, or garden, which smile in the morn,
If you lift but a latch, by their mastiffs you're riven:
The food you have grown, they refuse you with scorn;
If you starve by their law, you deserve it by heaven."
I copy these rude experiments because they were the precursors and precedents of the poetry of the Nation, which produced a memorable and permanent change in the spirit of the country.
Soon after I left Dublin Henry MacManus went to London, bent on doing for Ireland what Wilkie had done for Scotland. His ambition was not altogether a hopeless one. His training as an artist was indeed incomplete, but he had the inspiration of an artist, and he caught the character of the Irish peasant in all his moods with a fidelity which suggested Griffin or Carleton. Fostered by success he might have become a notable painter of national manners. But nobody in London, it seems, wanted Irish pictures unless they were flavoured with burlesque.
"I thank you, my dear Duffy (he wrote from his new home), for the notice of me in the Vindicator, in which I recognise the friend of my youth. I had need of such a cordial. Body o' me, man, we have entered on the busy arena of life, to tread or be trodden on, and mine is the spirit of that ugly customer Anteus whom our early friend Hercules met on his rambles. I never suffer an unjust defeat but I get a new strength, when the wound heals. I recently got back a rejected picture from the Royal Academy. I had worked on it for six months, and I expected it would tell well for me in London as the painter of Irish subjects. It was the 'Hedge School' which you saw on the easel. For success in London I ought to have copied the modern English school, with just a reaping-hook, a cotomore, a shillelagh, and perhaps a peck of potatoes in the corner for local colour. Then the Cockneys would have understood it; but, being true and natural, it produced the same effect among them as the appearance of an actual Irish peasant would do at Almack's. I read you constantly, but you must not be surprised that I do. not agree with all your politics. It is not with your work, but with yourself my wishes go."
MacManus did not realise his design of being the interpreter of Irish life to England; but in his own country he became in time one of the leaders of the Royal Academy in Dublin, and in the end Master of the National School of Design. He had ambition and gifts for a greater career; but Art, which prospers only in a rich soil, had few patrons and small public sympathy in Ireland.
A young Irishman entangled in politics had only one profession open to him, and I determined to become a barrister. On a visit to Dublin to keep my first term I met at the office of the Morning Register a young barrister who had recently become a writer in the journal. He was introduced to me as John Blake Dillon, and after a little talk we made an engagement to see more of each other. He was a man of the type which I had sought, and had not found, when I joined the Dublin Press. Frank and manly in his bearing, deeply in earnest in his convictions, and well acquainted with the principles which underlay and justified Irish agitation, his talk begat sympathy and confidence. He desired to make me known to one of his comrades named Thomas Davis, and for this purpose we made an appointment at the Committee Room of the Repeal Association in the Old Corn Exchange. I was less pleased with Davis than with his friend; he was able and manifestly sincere; but at first sight I thought him dogmatic and self-conceited—a strangely unjust estimate as it proved in the end. When I returned to Belfast I thought much of these young men, so fundamentally unlike their predecessors in journalism, and resolved when I saw them again to open a design, on which I had pondered frequently, of establishing a weekly journal in Dublin. In Ireland there was no journal resembling the London Examiner or Spectator, which were original, critical, and vital from cover to cover; and such a journal might, I believed, be created. What followed has been often told in detail; enough to say here that on my next visit to Dublin I had a conference with Davis and Dillon under an elm tree in the Phoenix Park, and we came to an agreement to establish the Nation newspaper, of which I was to be proprietor and editor.
After winding up my affairs in Belfast, when I restored the property of the Vindicator to those who had bestowed it on me that it might be still carried on for the purpose for which it was created, I removed to Dublin in the autumn of the same year (1842), and the first number of the Nation was published on the 15th of October. Before leaving Belfast I took another decisive step in life by becoming engaged to be married to one who had sweetened my life during my residence in that conventicle.
A little earlier I was invited to a public dinner in Edinburgh, and saw that fine city for the first time. I was more anxious to see Christopher North than the Calton Hill, but did not succeed. Perhaps I escaped being impaled on an epigram. A dozen years earlier John Lawless, my predecessor as a National journalist in Belfast, was entertained by his admirers in Edinburgh, and "Crusty Christopher" declared in the "Noctes" that "the editor from Belfast was as great a goose as ever gabbled on a green or was grilled on a gridiron."
- Mr. Godkin reared a son who has become a distinguished publicist in the United States, and editor of a journal which probably derived its title (the Nation) from the contest in Ireland.
- Mr. William Jackson, a Liberal Protestant of Ballybay, well known at that time, published an account of the day's transactions at a later period in the Nation. The multitude who met Mr. Lawless on the 23rd September, 1828, came, he affirmed, not alone from Monaghan, but from Armagh, Louth, Meath, Cavan, Leitrim, and Tyrone (to which districts notice had been sent from Monaghan), and amounted to nearly 200,000 men. The Orangemen in Ballybay, who did not exceed five hundred, would, he was persuaded, have been destroyed but for the wise moderation of Mr. Lawless.
- Dr. Crolly.
- It is a curious evidence of how wide the interest in these transactions was that upwards of £40 were received at the Vindicator office in separate sixpences sent by post from persons in various parts who wanted an immediate copy of the journal recording the visit to Belfast.
- Father of Sir William MacCormac, President of the College of Surgeons London, and author of several books on metaphysics and social science.
- Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst had recently declared that the Irish were aliens in blood, language, and religion.
- Rev. Dr. Murray, of whom the reader shall hear more later. His ordinary life was that of a spiritual recluse, but there was a reserve of passion and force in his nature easily evoked by injustice.
- In Michaelmas Term, 1839, when I was admitted a law student at King's Inns, a number of men with whom I was after associated in life were called to the Bar, among them Joseph Lefanu, the future novelist; William Foster Stawell, Attorney-General and finally Chief Justice in Victoria; and Richard Annesley Billing, afterwards of the Melbourne Bar. Among the law students who started with me were Patrick MacMahon, afterwards M.P. for Co. Wexford, and a dear friend and colleague of mine; Thomas Wallis, the college tutor of Thomas Davis, and Andrew Russell-Stritch, a notable member of the Repeal Party.
- My future wife was Emily, daughter of Francis M'Laughlin, a Belfast merchant, and grand-daughter in the maternal line of The MacDermott of Coulavin, one of the two or three Celtic families in Ireland whose hereditary title had survived to the nineteenth century. Her only child, John Gavan Duffy, is a Cabinet Minister in Australia when these pages are being written.