Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 11

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Elected President of the Papyrus Club, and also of the Boston Press Club—Interesting Addresses Delivered before Both—Speech at the Moore Centenary—Letter to the Papyrus Club—His Home at Hull—Visit of Parnell to America—Founding of the St. Botolph Club and the "Cribb Club"—Justin McCarthy Describes the Poet-athlete—Russell Sullivan's "Here and Hereafter."

O'REILLY had the distinction of holding the office of president in two organizations during the year 1879, the Papyrus Club and the Boston Press Club; he was elected to the former on the 4th of January. In his inaugural address he said:

To be made the president of this club would be an honor to any literary man in the country. The charm of the Papyrus is that it is essentially an ideal club. The charm of the club to its members will be proportionate to our enthusiasm to work for this ideal; this is our pride. Dining, wining, the patronage of millionaires and politicians, the gorgeous service and elaborate style, are as vapor and mud beside the beauty of standing up for our independent, brotherly, anti-shoddy, aesthetic, and ideal Papyrus. Better for us the expression of a single thought, or the admiration of a high ideal, than all the gold-plated enjoyment of other orders of clubs.

Two years before, at the dinner of the Papyrus, on February 3, Mr. William A. Hovey presented the club with a beautiful crystal loving cup. O'Reilly wrote for the occasion his beautiful poem, "The Loving Cup of the Papyrus."

For brotherhood, not wine, this cup should pass;
Its depths should ne'er reflect the eye of malice;
Drink toasts to strangers with the social glass,
But drink to brothers with this loving chalice.

The first "ladies' night" of the Papyrus Club was held on February 22, 1879, during his presidency, and was one of the most brilliant in the club's history. O'Reilly's opening address was in his best vein, and ran as follows:

Like one called upon to sing who is almost certain to strike the wrong note of accompaniment, I rise to speak for the Papyrus to-night. The right word fitly spoken is a precious rarity. Could I gather the thoughts that tremble to-night toward the lip of every member of the club, I should assuredly speak a sweet word of our own gratification, and of welcome to our distinguished guests.

On this, our annual ladies' night, it seemed right to this club, composed of men who work in or who love literature and art, to make a public testament of our respect for those who have won eminence in these branches,—our gifted writers and sweet singers whom all men honor, because they "can make the thing that is not, as the thing that is."

To express this appreciation and respect, we invited to our dinner a few of those chosen ones. We welcome them with cordial warmth, with pleasure and with pride. In bringing together even so many as are here of the brightest and sweetest flowers of our time and country, we feel that we have done something honorable to the Papyrus, and beseeming the intellectual renown of Boston.

We are proud to say that their presence is a compliment to us and to Boston. A hundred years ago, everbody patronized distinguished literary people, and in doing so displeased and degraded them. Today, the distinguished literary people patronize everybody else, and in so doing delight and elevate them—so that no questions can be raised as to whom the natural right of patronage belongs.

Perhaps some future historian of literature, seeking for the period of the change, will stop at the record of this reception, to read over the names of our guests, and he will write it down that the Papyrus belonged completely to the new order of things.

The author is no longer "one whom the strong sons of the world despise." The tables are turned on "the strong sons" so heavily that one kind-hearted poet, looking down from his secure seat on the heights, is moved to apologize or plead for the million, "whose work is great and hard while his is great and sweet." You all know the tender lines of that gentle heart that is with us to-night:

"A few can touch the magic string.
And noisy fame is proud to win them;
Alas, for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!"

But there is something particular to be said about our guests—some cunning word to establish reciprocity between them and us; and I know not where to find nor how to say it. It is related of the Egyptians, as a social custom, that the head of the house always left his seat and gave it to an honored guest. Following out the Egyptian symbolism of the Papyrus it would give me much pleasure to vacate this uneasy chair in favor of Dr. Holmes or Mr. Stedman, whose fertile fancies would flash ideas where others could find only prosy sentences.

But the word is still to be said: "These twenty times beginning I have come to the same point and stopped." You know the story of the Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, who, after many years spent with students, at length found himself in a great domed hall, called upon to address the most eminent astronomers of Europe. The roof of the hall was painted like the sky at night. The astronomers sat expectant, and Tycho Brahe stood before them silent. At length one old man said: "Why don't you begin, Tycho?" "I don't know where to begin for these." "Begin as if we were students," said another. Tycho raised his wand and pointed to a star. "That," he said, "is the third star in the claw of the Scorpion; this is Sirius; here is Arcturus, and yonder are the Pleiades." "O, that is tiresome," said the old man. "Well, then," said Tycho, "since you all know their places and names as well as I, let me introduce you, brethren, in one word—to the Stars!"

I stand here in the very blaze of the galaxy, "tangled in the silver braid" of the Pleiades. Tycho might have foreseen through these centuries the use I should make to-night of his general introduction.

The note we wished to strike at this dinner was one that mayor may not have been struck before;—its sounding is certainly not too common as it will be—namely, that sex is forgotten in literary distinction; that, if in no other profession, at least in literature and art, bright minds cease to be classed as men and women, and are seen only in the rich neutral light of authorship.

To-night we have with us several ladies whose names are nationally and internationally known and honored. We, who read their books, are delighted to have an opportunity of reading their faces, to thank them for coming to us, some from great distances, and to say to them how proud we are of their pure and honorable fame.

Another great Irish centenary, that of the birthday of Thomas Moore, was commemorated in Boston on the 29th of May, by a banquet at the Parker House, Oliver Wendell Holmes reading with genuine feeling a grand poem in memory of the Irish bard. Among the other guests distinguished in literature, were John T. Trowbridge, George Parsons Lathrop, Dr. Robert Dwyer Joyce, William Winter, Francis H. Underwood, William A. Hovey, and James T. Fields. O'Reilly presided, and delivered the eloquent address which is published among his speeches in the present volume.

O'Reilly was never so winsome as when making an offhand speech at his club, giving free rein to the fun which found such infrequent expression in his written work, and piling hyperbole upon exaggeration, until the orator himself would break down in a merry laugh at the work of his own fancy. A typical utterance of this kind was his answer to somebody who had challenged some startling assertion of his, saying, "That is not right,—that is Irish." "Sir," replied O'Reilly, assuming an air of Johnsonian dogmatism, "it is better to be Irish than right!"

In half fanciful, half serious mood he glorified the newspaper profession, in his presidential address, at the dinner of the Boston Press Club, in Young's Hotel, on November 8, 1879:

Gentlemen of the Press Club: It is a pleasant duty to congratulate men who have feasted after a laborious campaign; who have wiped their swords and broken bread together as cheerfully and lovingly as if their hands had never penned a hard word or reeked in a contemporary's reputation.

To-night we occupy a unique and consoling position. We alone are the unreported. We speak as we feel, and we don't tremble for to-morrow. Throughout the year we set down the words and deeds of the public, but on this day of our own meeting we shut out the public. We are,—and I say it after due consideration,—we are a privileged class.

We are reminded by meetings like this that there is no profession so complete and rounded as ours, and none so far-reaching in its scope. We have no hangers-on that do not come into the general circulation. He who has no relation to type, except to read what he buys, is indeed a hopeless outsider, belonging wholly to the unregenerate. From the smallest printer's devil up to Horace Greeley, the chain is unbroken. The rawest youth who pens a police report is one end of a line which extends, still vibrating, until it becomes radiant in the editorial room of the Atlantic Monthly; and which goes beyond, still growing finer, uniting such essences as Whittier, Holmes, and Longfellow, and vanishing into utter sublimation in the neighborhood of Concord.

All who teach are ours. The priests of all future dispensations shall be members of the press. Ours is the newest and greatest of the professions, involving wider work and heavier responsibilities than any other. For all time to come, the freedom, and purity of the press are the test of national virtue and independence.

No writer for the press, however humble, is free from the burden of keeping his purpose high and his integrity white.

The dignity of communities is largely intrusted to our keeping; and while we sway in the struggle or relax in the rest-hour, we must let no buzzards roost on the public shield in our charge.

Reunions like this are necessary and wholesome. They are very pleasant,—and yet they have one side shaded with sadness. Looking down this board we miss some well-remembered faces of past years. Our profession changes its units as rapidly as an army in the field. It is a machine always in strong revolution; its pieces are violently tried, and many drop out unable or unwilling to bear the ceaseless strain. Some of our old members die, and are transported to that Nirvana where the angels are not allowed to use their wings for quills—where there are no nights, and, therefore, neither morning nor evening papers.

And then there is that other and more perplexing change which we see come over our living members, who change their papers, or whose papers change their principles. It is necessary to meet in this fashion once a year, to assure ourselves that whatever else changes, the hearts of our men do not, but still beat in kindly and brotherly sympathy and good-will.

As I stand here to-night, I am struck with the prevailing characteristics of the faces around the board—they are unlike the faces of any other professional gathering. They are dissimilar among themselves as the pebbles of the sea, but have lines of similarity, lines that are typical of our observant, reflective, shrewd, sagacious, persistent, enterprising, humbug-hating, and yet modest calling.

I am reminded by this prevalence of types (I do not mean to pun) of the experiment of an English scientist in making a typical portrait, not of a man, but of a class. He visited the great prison of Millbank, in London. He found that the convicts are photographed on entering, and that all photographs are made under similar circumstances; that is, each convict sits before the camera at the same distance and in precisely the same position—so that the photographs are equal in size, and if a dozen were taken in a pack, and the portrait on top pierced through the right eye with a wire, it would also pierce the right eye of those below. The scientist took with him a lot of these photographs for experiment. He proposed to make a negative from them. It takes, say sixty seconds, to make a good negative from one picture. Well, he placed one in position, and opened his camera; in six seconds he dropped another in front of it; in six seconds more another; in six seconds more another; and so on, till he had- used up ten photographs in the sixty seconds. He then had a portrait made from the ten, which was unlike any one of them. It was that of a typical criminal; lines which were common to all the faces were deeply impressed, while those which were individual were not emphasized.

Now, suppose we should take the photographic portraits of the men around this table, and from them select ten, and from these ten make a typical portrait. What a noble presentment that would be!

A combination and a form indeed.
Where every god did seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man.

This noble type brings me to the summit-house of my powers. There being no farther height to climb, no more exalted possibility than this great typical face of the press, I must pause. I would ask you, however, to become the camera, and let all who speak to-night be the slides that go to make up the negative. And if you do this, you will each carry round with you for the coming year, in the,busy streets and noisy places, an ideal of strength and beauty that will be joyful and consoling.

His term of office as president of the Papyrus Club ended on the 3d of January, 1880. He was succeeded by Vice-President George M. Towle, the well-known historian and essayist. O'Reilly was absent in New York on election night, and sent the following letter, in which raillery and kindness are blended in such admirable proportions, like vinegar and oil, that the result is the most graceful of sauces to the palate:

January 3, 1880.

To the Papyrus Club.

Gentlemen: I am grieved (no lesser word will do) at my enforced absence from the club to-night. I wanted to cast my vote, solid and early, for "Towle and the Constitution." I wanted to drink the wine of the country of the treasurer. I wanted to move a timely vote that Towle should be restrained from meddling with our chief instrument, the constitution, which he now has in his power even to carry home with him, by virtue of his office. Friends, I am with you in spirit (you are in spirits; I am in New York). May our loving-cup mean "all that its name implies," as it moves "in love's festoons, from lip to lip." (I quote from Hovey, from memory.)

And now, dear boys, under this veneer of light words lies a well of deep feeling that I almost fear to tap. Face to face with you I could say my say, as boldly as Rogers, as eloquently as Young. But in leaving the head of your board, where you have allowed my crude ruling to pass for a year, I must say to one and all, from my heart, Thank you for your kindness and courtesy. The more I learn of parliamentary law, the deeper becomes my affection for those who sat silent and heard my wonderful rulings. To Towle, and Crocker, and Scaife, especially, this consideration is doubly endearing. What they must have suffered I shall only know when I study Hoyle.

The only consolation I draw from my year of office is this—the Papyrus has not declined in vigor or promise. Its face is full to the front. For this, I earnestly thank, and ask you to thank, the gentlemen who compose the executive committee.

And now I retire to a private station—at the end of the table, left side from the president, near Joyce and Harris, and those who, with kindred blood, rejoice in anarchy.

Farewell my official distinction! Henceforward I carry a musket, at the end of the table, left side, near Joyce. Good night, and a Happy New Year to the Papyrus!

Faithfully and affectionately,

John Boyle O'Reilly.

In the summer of 1879, O'Reilly bought the house in Hull, Boston Harbor, which was to be thenceforth his summer residence, and in which he died. It was a very old house, perhaps the oldest in Massachusetts. It was built in 1644 by Rev. Marmaduke Matthews, the pastor of Nantasket, and was used as a parsonage by some of his successors. An English revenue officer. Lieutenant William Haswell, occupied it prior to the Revolution. His claim to remembrance rests on the fact that he was the father of Susanna Haswell, afterward Mrs. Rowson, well known in England and America, as actress, author, and editor, and best known by her novel of "Charlotte Temple." O'Reilly bought the property from Amos A. Lawrence, it being then known as the Hunt estate. In 1889, the old house became uninhabitable by reason of general debility and decay, and he had the falling structure demolished, and set about building a new and handsome house on the old site. The plans were made by his wife and carried out under their joint supervision, with careful attention to every detail. In the front yard stood an old cannon rescued from some forgotten wreck in the early days of Hull. In another place was a sun-dial made by one of the poet's admirers. He planted his little estate with wild vines and creepers gathered by himself in the woods of Hingham, bordering his garden walks with sea-worn pebbles and boulders that he had gathered on the beach. He took a pathetic interest in beautifying the home which he had built for himself, in which he was to die.

The year 1880 opened for Ireland as the year 1890 did, with famine, actual or impending. Charles Stewart Parnell, the young leader of the Irish party, visited America to seek help for his suffering countrymen, and support for their leaders in Parliament. He arrived at New York on January 2, and was met by delegates from all parts of the United States. On the day following his arrival he was presented with an address from natives of his own county, Meath. Mr. John D. Wolan, the chairman of the committee of Meath men, recognized O'Reilly among the Boston delegates, and immediately called that delegation to order, and said:

Fellow Meath Men: I notice that Mr. John Boyle O'Reilly has entered the room. He is a native of the County Meath, a fervent Irishman, an author of recognized, ability, who has passed into not only the literature of America, but of the world. He is a journalist, and a recognized leader among our countrymen. He is a representative Irishman in every sense of the word, and I move that he be selected to deliver this address to Mr. Parnell, instead of myself.

The motion was unanimously carried. Mr. O'Reilly thanked the men of Meath, and read the address. Parnell's reply was a just tribute to the fidelity of the priests and people of Meath under every trial.

The distress in Ireland evoked, as it has always done, the profound sympathy and substantial aid of the American people. In addition to the other relief organizations the New York Herald inaugurated a fund of its own, heading the contributions with a subscription of $100,000, and inviting Mr. Parnell to become a member of the committee for its distribution. The invitation was accepted on
John Boyle O'Reilly's cottage, Hull, Mass.jpg


condition that Parnell should be allowed to appoint a proxy during his necessary absence in America. This condition the Herald refused to accept, saying, "What we desired was his (Parnell's) personal services."

"Certainly," commented O'Reilly; "why, not only the Herald, but the English government would give $100,000 to send back the man who has dared to answer the one, and hold the other up to shame in this country. It would be worth a million dollars to England to stop Parnell's mouth in America . . . . The week he sailed from Ireland, England officially denied that there was a famine, or danger of one, in Ireland."

The fact that the Herald had persistently endeavored to discredit the mission of Parnell in America, and had taken the landlord's side in the political contest, made its charity, generous as it was, seem like a contribution from the gift-bearing Greeks. "If he (Mr. Bennett) was wrong before," wrote O'Reilly, "he does not become right by giving a hundred thousand dollars to the famine fund, especially if he hands it over for distribution to the English official committee. Mr. Bennett's paper has been the voice of the landlords who have caused this famine. He cannot argue himself right by the brutal force of wealth. If the Irish people had reason to detest his policy, they cannot sell their principles for a hundred thousand or a hundred million dollars. Nevertheless," he continues, "we await further action before we judge the motives of the man who indorses his belief with a gift forty times as great as that of the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland."

On the 3d of January, 1880, the St. Botolph Club of Boston was established on the model of the famous Century Club of New York. O'Reilly was one of the original members, among whom were included the leading authors, artists, and other men of distinction in the city. It was a much more imposing club than the Papyrus, starting with a house of its own and a list of 260 members. Its success was assured from the beginning, for it possessed the happy combination, so seldom found, of brains and money.

In the same year another club was founded, possessing, in addition to these two, a third valuable attribute, that of muscle. The "Cribb Club," named after the famous English boxer, Tom Cribb, was organized on November 27. Its number of members was limited to twenty-five active and one hundred and twenty-five honorary or associate members. O'Reilly belonged to the former. The officers of the club consisted of a "Boss" and an executive committee of three. Mr. E. C. Ellis was the first "Boss," and John Boyle O'Reilly the second. During the administration of the latter, the title was changed to the more dignified one of president, and honorary members of the club were classed as active. The Cribb Club, founded for the encouragement of the "manly art," was one of the most exclusive in the exclusive city of Boston, numbering among its membership men distinguished in art, literature, and statesmanship. They were strong, brave, honorable men, who loved the natural virtue of courage as much as they hated the cowardly custom which has made the use of the knife and pistol a repreach to the American name. O'Reilly had all the qualifications to win him popularity in the company of courageous gentlemen. Here is how the athletic side of his nature appealed to the admiration of refined and scholarly Justin McCarthy:

Although he is not more than common tall, he has the breadth and the thews of a Viking of the days when Olaf Tryggveson dwelt by the Liffey in Dublin town and wooed and won the fair daughter of an Irish royal house. He excels in all manly arts and accomplishments in a way that we are almost afraid to chronicle, so like a hero of romance the list would make him seem.

Who among amateurs can ride better, row better, walk better? above all, who can box better? If such a man is red-hot in his enthusiasm for the brawn and biceps of a famous pugilist, it is not with the sham enthusiasm of the dandies of old Rome who pinched the muscles of gladiators with slim feminine fingers. In the society of the physically strong, of the physically skillful, Boyle O'Reilly is among his peers, and if he finds a man stronger or more skillful than himself it is scarcely wonderful if he accords him his highest admiration.

It is one of the curious privileges of John Boyle O'Reilly to be universally liked. That he should be liked by his own people is only natural. He is one of the brightest ornaments of the Irish race abroad; he lives in exile for his service to his country; he has enriched its national literature with exquisite prose and yet more exquisite verse; he renders daily service to the national cause. That such a man should be popular with his own countrymen is scarcely surprising. But Boyle O'Reilly's popularity is not limited to the children of his own race. Strangers come to Boston, strangers often enough hostile, if not to Ireland, at least to Ireland's national cause and the men who guide and direct it. The strangers meet John Boyle O'Reilly and they come away with a common tale—enthusiastic praise, unqualified admiration of the exiled Irishman, It has happened time and again that travelers in New England meeting elsewhere, and running over their joint stock of recollections, have each begun to speak with warmth of the man they most admired of all they met, and to find immediately that the name of Boyle O'Reilly was on both their lips.

Once a very gifted man, a stranger to Boston, met one day a friend, a distinguished Bostonian. Said the stranger to the Bostonian: "I have just met the most remarkable, the most delightful man in all the world." "I know whom you mean," said the Bostonian, "you mean John Boyle O'Reilly." And the Bostonian was right, of course.

And here, from the pen of a rare poet and novelist, Mr. T. Russell Sullivan, is a versified tribute to the best loved son of Papyrus, the first contribution of the author after his admission to the club:



When the youngest of all is the oldest.
When the bell for our Prexy shall toll:
When death's optic transfixes the boldest,
When the iron has entered our soul;

When adversity's saccharine uses
Shall no longer watch over our gold.
And when Howard takes tea with the muses.
Leaving Tennyson out in the cold;

With earth's greatest grown sadder and wiser,
Old palaces let to new lodgers,
Albert Edward, Gambetta, the Kaiser,
All dust—with ex-President Rogers;
Still the dark dial hand shall go flitting
Till the smallest wee numbers shall chime
Round some dinner committee, left sitting,
On my honor, twelve hours at a time,

While our youngsters—or theirs, as it may be—
Gather here when a banquet is toward,
All as merry as we are shall they be.
And the saddle shall smoke on the board.

And the mirth shall wax deeper and broader
Round the cup we have emptied and filled.
Till the hammer shall knock down disorder,
And the shriek of the hawk shall be stilled.

Then the dusty Papyrus leaves turning.
Says some juvenile bard of the time:
"Let us pick out a brand from the burning,
Let us see what these roosters called rhyme!"

Drawn apart from those time-honored pages
By the hand of good fortune alone.
Falls a leaf of the earlier ages
By the only O'Reilly — our own.

And the voice of the scoffer that reads it
Takes a tremulous turn in our cause;
More expressive the silence that heeds it
Than the loudest and wildest applause.

Then the cherub that once was O'Reilly,
On his cloud in the mystical land.
Shall aslant from his halo peep slyly.
And his harp shall slide out of his hand.

He shall linger a moment to listen,
Looking down from perpetual joys,
And a tear on his eyelids shall glisten
As benignly he whispers: "Dear boys!"

December 4, 1880.

This apostle of muscular Christianity could forgive an injury, no matter how grievous; but an insult he resented promptly with pen or hand, as occasion seemed to require. Such an occasion presented itself one day in the fall of 1874, when a fellow, who had sought the Pilot's countenance in aid of a certain object for which he was canvassing, resented the editor's refusal by circulating some slanders about him. When he next called at the Pilot office, O'Reilly demanded an explanation and retraction. The fellow denied the story; but on being asked to put his denial in writing, he quibbled and shirked the act; "upon which," says the Pilot, ingenuously, "Mr. O'Reilly gave him a sound thrashing and kicked him out of the editorial rooms. When Mr. —— speaks about the Pilot in future, people will understand his motive."

O'Reilly, ever a loyal Democrat, waged gallant war for his party's ticket in the presidential election of 1880. When the contest ended in the enemy's favor he took the defeat manfully, like the gladiator that he was, and acknowledged it in the next issue of his paper under the caption,


Well, we made a great fight. That is enough for honest Democrats. We fling no reproach on the victors. We wrestled, and have been thrown. Curs whine; we don't.

There is no decadence of Democratic health when a tremendous struggle has wavered long in the balance. The controversy of the campaign has been terrible; but it has been magnificent. Out of the seething vortex the country comes tired,—but cleansed. The victors breathe hard; they have had a lesson of fire. Centralization has not yet been killed—never will be killed till the Democrats elect their President; but Garfleld does not attempt the policy of Grant.

Great principles and parties are solidified and strengthened by defeat. Why has the Democratic party failed to carry the country? It is disgraceful to say that the national will has been decided by corruption. It certainly has been influenced by the rapacity and deliberate wickedness of the office-holding organization. But this must always be true of a national election. Outside of this are the people—and the people have elected Garfield.


And now, let us draw breath and return to business. The country is Republican for four years more; but it is safe. There is no room for wild exultation in the other camp. Every thew was strained before we were thrown. The victor respects the vanquished. We are all one people—just a leetle more than half on the other side this time.

But the grand old Democratic principles still live; and next time we wont be whipped.

And they were not.