Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 13

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His Kindness to Young Writers—Versatile Editorial Work—Irish National Affairs—Speech before the League—His Canoeing Trips—A Papyrus Reunion—Death of Wendell Phillips, and O'Reilly's Poem—Presidential Campaign of 1884—"The King's Men"—Another Papyrus Poem—Touching Letter to Father Anderson.

IN December, 1882, a promising young poet, whose life was cut short in early manhood, James Berry Bensell, wrote this touching sonnet to the older poet, who had given him aid and encouragement:


As when a man along piano keys
Trails a slow hand, and then with touch grown bold
Strikes pealing chords, by some great master old
Woven into a gem of melodies.
All full of summer and the shout of seas,—
So do thy rhythmic songs my soul enfold.

First some sweet love-note, full as it can hold
Of daintiness, comes like the hum of bees;
Then, rising grandly, thou dost sound a chord
That rings and clamors in the heart of hearts,
And dying as receding waves, departs
Leaving us richer by a lusty hoard
Of noble thoughts.

O poet! would that we
Might strike one note like thine—but just for thee!

I do not know just how many poets of his own time have given formal expression to the grateful love which all who knew him bore toward John Boyle O'Reilly; but among those who dedicated volumes of verses to him were David Proudfit ("Peleg Arkwright"), Loise Imogen Guiney, and Dr. R. D. Joyce.

In January, 1883, he wrote another of his great poems, challenging the inequalities and injustices of the social system, "The City Streets." It is full of lines that fairly burn with indignation against the wrongs of the helpless ones.

God pity them all! God pity the worst! for the worst are lawless and need it most.

The briefest summary of a few months of his life at this period shows the marvelous versatility and working power of the man. His Pilot work was more than that of the mere editor, for he was also the leader and teacher of his people; not only did he gravely weigh and discuss the interests of the struggling patriots at home, but he devoted himself with minute zeal to the defense and advancement of his fellow-exiles. It was a critical, painful period. The confession of the informer, James Carey, had proved to O'Reilly's grief and chagrin, that the "murder club" of the Phoenix Park tragedy was not a fiction of Dublin Castle's imagination, nor its act the work of emergency men. He wrote:

The wretched men who committed these crimes have no perception of the injury they have inflicted on the cause of Ireland. The Irish people throughout the world have raised voices of horror at the atrocious deed. The police murder of Irishmen and women and children by English law, occurring simultaneously with the Phoenix Park crimes, was forgotten. Ireland and her people, with one heart, repudiated the assassination of the Secretaries. We ourselves refused to believe that Irishmen had committed a crime so dreadful and so purposeless.

There is an awful lesson both for Ireland and England in the discovery of these murderers. It is no victory for England to lay bare the abominations of her own misrule. She may use the appalling fact to justify still further coercion. Blind, cruel, and fatuous, will she never learn that such measures cannot have other effect than to increase secret retaliation?

The lesson for Ireland is one that has been taught before. Secret organization to commit violent crime is an accursed disease. It has blighted Ireland, under the names of Ribbonism, Orangeism, and Whiteboyism. It has blasted every country that ever resorted to it. It is the poison of patriotic action. Passion and ignorance are its patents, and its children are murder and cruel crime. The voice of the Church is always against it, and the wise leaders of the people have everywhere abhorred it. The country that allows it to become rife, which sympathizes with its dark deeds, is not fit for freedom. Ireland has not so sympathized.

It is heroic to prepare for war with a tyrant power. Patriots will always win the admiration of mankind for daring to meet the bloodshed of battle for their country's liberty. But the patriot who is willing to go to that sacrifice will be the first to condemn the aimless and secret shedding of blood in time of peace.

Since the Land League was put down in Ireland, the discontent of the suffering people has had no vent. Such a state of things is always full of danger. A smoldering fire only needs a breath to leap to flame. There is the greater need of precaution. Irishmen must be doubly patient and watchful. The moment passion becomes the guide and leader, there is danger ahead, and probably disgrace and death. When we knew not who committed these murders, we condemned them. Now that it appears that the assassins were a few passionate and desperate men, acting out their own blind fury, regardless of the honor of their country, our condemnation is increased. Men who commit crime cannot suffer and be silent as patriots can who endure for a principle; as soon as danger reaches them they become informers on the men they led into the bloody business. Such men as Carey, stubborn, unruly, and ferocious, are the leaders in these dark projects, and they are sure to shrink from the consequences, and buy their vile lives at last by the blood of their dupes.

A week later we find him writing with almost equal earnestness on a subject concerning which his attitude was often either ignorantly or willfully misunderstood. His own words, both then, and subsequently in his great work on "Athletics and Manly Sport," show just how O'Reilly looked upon pugilism. Referring to the Sullivan-Ryan prize fight at New Orleans, he said:

It is undoubtedly true that a wide and lively, if not a deep interest was 'taken by the men of America in the fight at New Orleans, last week, between Sullivan and Ryan. Every paper in the country published a detailed report of the contest, even though the editorial columns condemned the affair as brutal and degrading. Therefore, it is worth considering why did respectable and intelligent people feel an interest in so unworthy a struggle, and if there be an element of health in pugilism, how may it be separated from the brutality and ruffianism which have always characterized the English "prize ring?"

A man familiar with the "science" of the ring said last week that the three elements of a good boxer were courage, skill, and endurance. There certainly is no exercise more splendidly fitted than boxing to develop these qualities; and this being granted, the popular instinct is easily explained.

But the interest of respectable men in boxing is strictly confined to these elements, which may be seen and judged without beastly and bloody struggles. All that is worth seeing in good boxing can best be witnessed in a contest with soft gloves. Every value is called out, quickness, force, precision, foresight, readiness, pluck, and endurance. With these the rowdy and "rough" are not satisfied. To please their taste, they must be smeared with blood, served up with furious temper, mashed features, and surrounded by a reeking and sanguinary crowd.

The prize fight with bare hands could only have been developed in England. It is fit only for brutalized men. It belies and belittles real skill, which has never been and never can be its test. No prize fight with bare hands was ever decided on the merits of the boxing alone. The end of the controversy is to "knock the other man out." One accidental or lucky blow with the bare fist has often spoiled the chances of the superior boxer, and gained the prize of his opponent.

We trust that the fight in New Orleans will be the last ever seen in America without gloves. It is highly to the credit of the winning man, John L. Sullivan, that he wished to fight with gloves. Months ago, both men were asked to do so; and we are glad that the better man at once agreed. The other refused, casting a slur on Sullivan's courage, and it has turned out to his bitter cost.

Again he pronounces his opinion on a widely different subject, that of woman suffrage, to which he was unalterably opposed, thereby bringing down upon his head the following comment from The Woman's Journal:

A poem, written by Minnie Gilmore and addressed to women, has appeared in the Boston Pilot. It contains the following couplet:

"We need not the poll, nor the platform! Strong words may ring out from the pen,
And leave us still shrined on our hearthstones, the ideal women of men!"

Fifty years ago, women who wrote and published poetry were considered as "Amazonian," and as far removed from the "ideal women of men" as the most ardent advocate of suffrage is to-day. The ghost of Wendell Phillips and the living presence of Miss McCarthy and Mrs. Parnell ought to rise up and remonstrate with Mr. Boyle O'Reilly against the attitude of his paper on the woman question.
O'Reilly called this rebuke "A Blow from a Slipper," and his answer is one of the best ever given to the arguments of the woman suffragists:
We do not surely deserve this harshness. We only agree with Miss Gilmore and Mrs. Parnell, and, if we knew who Miss McCarthy was, we have no doubt that we should agree with her, too.

We are surprised that our e. c. should say so wild a thing as that a woman-poet of fifty years ago was looked upon as an unsexed creature. We need not go into details; the names of a score of brilliant women, in English literature alone, arise without call to smile down the assertion.

We sincerely respect the women who are leading the suffrage movement; but our respect is for the purity and beauty of their characters and lives, and not for their social or political judgment. As socialists, they do not think scientifically or philosophically. As pleaders, they fly to special arguments, and shirk, with amusing openness, the physical distinction which underlies the relations of the sexes.

Miss Gilmore is right; "the ideal women of men" are not practical politicians; and so long as men think as they do, they never will be. Women ought to be fully guarded by law in all rights of property, labor, profession, etc.; but, roughly stated, the voting population ought to represent the fighting population.

A vote, like a law, is no good unless there is an arm behind it; it cannot be enforced. This is a shameful truth, perhaps, but it is true. Women might change the world on paper; but the men would run it just the same, if they wanted to, and then we should only have the law disregarded and broken, and no consequent punishment. And the name of that condition is Anarchy.

Women are at once the guardians and the well-spring of the world's faith, morality, and tenderness; and if ever they are degraded to a commonplace level with men, this fine essential quality will be impaired, and their weakness will have to beg and follow where now it guides and controls.

Woman suffrage is an unjust, unreasonable, unspiritual abnormality. It is a hard, undigested, tasteless, devitalized proposition. It is a half-fledged, unmusical. Promethean abomination. It is a quack bolus to reduce masculinity even by the obliteration of femininity. It would quadruple the tongue-whangers at a convention, without increasing the minds capable of originating and operating legislation. It would declare war on the devil and all wickedness, and leave the citizens in shirts to do the fighting. It would injure women physically. Who shall say that at all times they are equal to the excitements of caucus rows, campaign slanders, briberies, inflammable speeches, torch-parades, and balloting on stormy days? How shall the poor workman's wife leave home to go to the polls? The success of the suffrage movement would injure women spiritually and intellectually, for they would be assuming a burden though they knew themselves unable to bear it. It is the sediment, not the wave of a sex. It is the antithesis of that highest and sweetest mystery—conviction by submission, and conquest by sacrifice. It is the ——

But there, there—we do not agree with the suffragists; and we have our reasons; no use getting into a flutter over it. We want no contest with women; they are higher, truer, nobler, smaller, meaner, more faithful, more frail, gentler, more envious, less philosophic, more merciful—oh, far more merciful and kind and lovable and good than men are. Those of them that are Catholics, are better Catholics than their husbands and sons; those who are Protestants are better Christians than theirs.

Women have all the necessary qualities to make good men; but they must give their time and attention to it while the men are boys. If the rich ones don't, they will have to hand their work over to poor ones; and in either case in a suffrage era voters would be kept from the polls, and from the caucus, and the foul vapors and vagaries" of the campaign.

Fie upon it! What do they want with a ballot they can't defend? with a bludgeon they can't wield? with a flaming sword that would make them scream if they once saw its naked edge and understood its symbolic meaning?

Manifold and various as his labors were, he found time in June of this year to perform one more labor of love, in writing a noble tribute to his friend, Wendell Phillips. It took the form of a letter to the Republican of Scranton, Pa. Incidentally he speaks his warm praise of the city which was his home. A great city, he calls it, "because any day you can meet great men on its streets . . . . It is only one year ago, it seems, although it must be four, that I saw Mr. Emerson and his daughter, who was always beside him, come into a horse-car that was rather crowded. There was probably not a soul on the car who did not know him. And it is sweet to remember the face of the great old philosopher and poet as he looked up and met the loving and respectful eyes around him And Oliver Wendell Holmes—every Bostonian knows him. The wise, the witty, the many-ideaed philosopher, poet, physician, novelist, essayist, and professor; but, best of all, the kind, the warm heart . . . . Much as I love Boston, I am glad I was not born in it; for then I could not brag of it to strangers; at least not with good taste; being foreign born I can—and I do Boston deserves good things, but Wendell Phillips is too good for Boston just yet. The city will grow to him in time. But to this day he is like an orange given to a baby—Boston can only taste the rind of him . . . . From his first speech in Faneuil Hall, forty-six years ago, to this day, Wendell Phillips has never struck a note discordant with the rights and interests of the people. And, mind you, he was born and bred a class man, an aristocrat. He had the position, the personal attributes, that bind men to the higher life and delightful intercourse of the reserved and select. All distinction was his . . . . But if one begins to quote from Wendell Phillips's speeches it becomes a kind of intoxication and must be abandoned." I find the same danger in attempting to quote from this masterly tribute of one great man to another. It touched the great-hearted Abolitionist, who replied:

June 18, 1883.

My Dear O'Reilly:

What shall I say for all these pleasant things your kindness has made you write about me?

If I were younger, I would fall back on what Windham said to old Sam Johnson's praise, "to be remembered not as having deserved it, but that I may."

Three score and ten, though, cannot indulge in much hope of improvement, even with such gracious stimulus.

The thing I can frankly say is, how glad I am that you thought of bringing in the old letter of 1883; I very much like to have my word go on record with the rest of you against Gladstone and Bright.

But this is so far from being the first time you have brought me into your debt that I may as well stop trying to pay.

Yours cordially,

Wendell Phillips.

"The old letter of 1882," to which he refers, was one written by him to express his horror at the murder of Cavendish and Burke, the keynote of which was the characteristic declaration: "Othello was deeply guilty; but the devilish Iago who crazed him was more guilty still."

There had been a recurrence of the dynamite outrages in London during the month of March. Several men were arrested,—some probably guilty, many certainly innocent. "Why does not the Pilot sternly denounce the dreadful Irish dynamite policy?" asked a correspondent, and O'Reilly answered that he was tired of "sternly denouncing," especially when his denunciations were used to justify and intensify the still more dreadful English policies applied to Ireland. He continued:

Where are the men who always denounced violence and could do it more effectively than any other? Where is Michael Davitt to-day, that his voice is not heard? Where is T. M. Healy, one of the best Irish representatives? Where is Timothy Harrington, M.P. for Westmeath, a man whose word was respected throughout Ireland?

These men are all in English prisons, treated like dogs, compelled to perform the lowest servile labor, herded with criminals and "punished" with days of bread and water for protesting against the "dreadful" outrages perpetrated on them, and through them on the nation they represent.

We are sick of denouncing our own people. The English papers threaten a race war against the Irish in England. Bah! let them try it. There are a million English and their friends in Ireland who are dearer to the English Government than the two or three million Irish in England. If retaliation is going to be legitimized, and necks are going to be wrung on either side, Ireland has a decided advantage.

But we do not believe the English "people" are so bitterly stirred up against the Irish for their agitation nor even for their loudest protests. The English aristocracy are just brainless enough to attempt to ferment passionate divisions among the races. But they will only bring sorrow on their own heads.

For a dozen years past, we have done our share of "denouncing" violence; and we have always been in earnest. We have tried to generate a public Irish-American sentiment of conservative and moral agitation. What good has been done by it? Every indication of quietude on the Irish side has been seized on by the English as a sign of yielding. Coercion on top of coercion has been the answer to Irish mildness.

Irishmen of the conservative and moral-force idea have bad the leading word for years; and the response of England has been, and is, the most wicked, destructive, and "dreadful policy" she has ever pursued toward Ireland.

England has made O'Donovan Rossa and all the rest of the dynamiters, and now she must make the best of them. We refuse to help her by any more "denunciation." When she had Rossa chained like a wild beast in the dark cells of Millbank and Portland she was sowing the seeds of the dreadful "policy of dynamite" that scares her now for her palaces.

She is sowing similar seed to-day. She will reap the harvest of the hatred and despair she is planting in the hearts of unjustly imprisoned men like Davitt, Healy, Harrington, and Quinn.

A convention of the Irish National League of America, the greatest of its kind ever held in this country, took place at Philadelphia, on April 25, nearly twelve hundred delegates being present, representing all the States and Territories of the Union, and also the provinces of Canada. O'Reilly attended the convention unofficially; he never sought or held any office in the various national organizations which he supported so warmly with pen and purse. He was equally averse to accepting political honors. He had been offered the nomination as auditor on the Democratic ticket in Massachusetts in 1878, but declined the honor. In the national election of 1888 he did accept the honorary position of elector-at-large. He showed his independence in politics by advocating the re-election of Governor Butler, despite the secession of many Democrats, as he had previously favored the nomination of Dr. Green, for Mayor of Boston. He was not always regarded as a "safe" man by politicians; he had a conscience.

On the 12th of July of this year, dear to the hearts of Orangemen as the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, a new significance was given to the day by the Irish-Americans of Massachusetts, who held their State convention in Faneuil Hall. The meeting was called to order by John Boyle O'Reilly, who said, among other things:

I recognize in this meeting a symbolic and a unique purpose. Twelve years ago this day, in a great American city, about this time in the morning, the militia regiments were called out to protect the peace, because the lives and property of the great city were in danger from an imported Irish abomination and nuisance. On that day, about this hour, three regiments in New York fired on the people, and forty-four persons were killed and two hundred and twenty men and women were wounded. If it be asked in America, What is the National Irish agitation doing, or what it has done? I answer that, for one thing, it has forever prevented the possibility of the recurrence of such a dreadful and disgraceful event as that. Within a dozen years the old rancor and evil blood have been obliterated from our national life, and whatever we import from Ireland in the future will not be divided and hateful as it has been in the past. The County Monaghan election the other day saw the men who were opposed to each other in New York twelve years ago go to the polls to vote for the national candidate as brothers. The selection of this day is symbolic. On the 12th of July, it used to be the English custom to inflame the religious divisions invented by themselves, to show they ruled us by our differences. For hundreds of years they kept up the inflammation; but the old wound is cured forever. It may be asked why hundreds of business men should leave their own business to come to this great American Hall, whose very walls are holy with traditions of liberty; it may be wondered that hundreds of business men should come here to this busy center, with the markets roaring outside the windows, to discuss Irish politics. I say, if we came here only for Irish purposes we should have no business in Faneuil Hall—but we have come here for great American and humanitarian purposes. We have come here to prevent the repetition of such a scene of shame as that which happened in New York on the 12th of July, 1871; to prevent such an iniquity as that of importing paupers from the Irish subject country; to destroy the wicked and ruinous drain on the finances of the people of this country, which are sent every year to fill the pockets of the rack-renting landlords of Ireland; and to take such measures as are best calculated to win to our cause our fellow-citizens and the entire American race. We can do this by appealing to the justice and to the intelligence of our fellow-citizens. It will be our first duty to prevent American citizens from misunderstanding the purposes of the Irish National movement, and from believing the misrepresentations of the English papers and their agents in this country. It is our duty to make it known to America that the National League is based on a reverence for law and order, and we hope to win for our cause the conscientious conviction of every good man in America, no matter of what race.

The old intolerant spirit which had found expression in the shibboleth, "No Irish need apply," was not yet quite dead in Massachusetts; indeed, it had rather become intensified this year by the fact that the Irish-Americans had so generally supported Governor Butler. There were two or three conspicuous instances in which O'Reilly's direct interference prevented the perpetration of rank injustice. One of these was the case of a child, daughter of a poor Irish woman, whom a rich business man attempted to steal from her mother under the legal fiction of "adoption." A society, which should have protected the mother in her rights, used its influence to aid the wrong. The law itself was invoked and misused. As a last resort, some friends of the mother laid the case before the editor of the Pilot, who investigated the matter personally, and compelled the charitable society and the rich man whose claim it had supported, to recede from their iniquitous attempt, and restore the child to its mother. There were other cases, many of them, which cannot be rehearsed without inflicting needless punishment upon those who had perpetrated the acts of intolerance, only to repent when called to account before the informal court of justice which was held in the Pilot editorial room.

O'Reilly made his first extended canoe cruise in July of this year. During the previous summer he had made a short trip down the Merrimac River, from Lawrence to Newburyport, Mass., thence through Plum Island and Anisquam rivers to Gloucester. Previous to that his boating had all been done in an outrigger on the Charles River. The canoe, unquestionably the most delightful of all pleasure craft, won his instant admiration. With his friend Dr. Guiteras, he started for the headwaters of the Connecticut River, on the 15th of July, 1883. They had made their preparations for a long and enjoyable voyage down to the mouth of the river; but they had not reckoned on the timber rafts, whose peculiarities he humorously describes in the account of his trip incorporated in his book of Athletics. The day after his departure from Boston, I received the following laconic telegram:

Spilled. Send two double paddles to Holyoke, first express. Don't mention.

Nobody, on this side of the water, has ever written such charming books about this charming sport as O'Reilly. English readers had learned something of its delights through the pleasant books of Mr. MacGregor, and Robert Louis Stevenson's incomparable "Inland Voyage" has made the sport immortal in literature. O'Reilly's enjoyment of canoeing was almost as intensely mental as physical. There only was he absolutely free; away from all the stifling conventionalities of life; divested of professional cares; joyful in the simplest of raiment; more joyful yet when he could shed even that for hours, swimming behind his canoe, or, as he called it, "coasting" down the long stretch of swift-running water; sleeping on the softest of all beds, the mossy carpet of a pine grove; basking bareheaded in the sun, half a day at a stretch, letting the tense nerves relax, and the overworked brain lie fallow; drinking in the pare air of the glorious country; living, in short, for a brief, sweet hour, the natural life which all sane men love. There is no other joy in life equal to this; neither honor, nor fame, nor riches; for to a properly constituted mind there is pleasure even in its discomforts. This, perhaps, needs a qualification; the pleasure is found only by those to whom the joys are a rare luxury.

O'Reilly canoed the Merrimac, the Connecticut, the Delaware, the Susquehanna, and the wild depths of the Dismal Swamp. He wrote of his adventures with what some thought poetic exaggeration; but this was an injustice. All canoeists feel the same delight, according to their capacity for feeling; but he had the gift of expressing it.

His Papyrus Club had another red-letter night in this year, when the ex-presidents held a memorial festival at the old place of its birth, Park's Tavern, on Saturday, May 19. O'Reilly read a poem, which he entitled "Alexander Young's Feast," beginning:

Why are we here, we graybeards? what is this?
What Faust among us brings this old-time bliss,

This dish of dear old memories long gone by,
And sets it here before us,—like that pie,
That dainty dish whose every blackbird sings.
Ah me! It minds us we have all been kings.

After some mock-heroic references to the Papyrian dynasty, he continues:

Aye, aye, we wander! we are garrulous grown!
How strange—in Billy Park's—we eight alone—
("Alon " is Irish for no more, to-night;
'Tis better to be Irish than be right.)

"All are here,"he says; then, as if remembering for the first time their well-beloved first president, Dodge, he says:

Hush! One
Is absent,—he the merriest, he the youngest. Where
Is that dear friend who filled this empty chair?
One vacant place! Alas, the years have sped!
That gulf was bridged with rainbow and 'tis fled.
Ah, boys, we can't go back! that chair forbids—
But to his memory now, with brimming lids.
We drink a toast,—"May he with genii dwell!"
And when we go may we be loved as well.


We have been generals, — what is now our style!
Old stagers we to form new rank and file;
Or have we any meaning, but to meet.
Like ancient villagers, with tottering feet.
Who love to sit together in the sun,
With senile gossip till their day is done?

And so the verses run on, through good-humored nonsense and banter, all of a personal character, and "not intended for publication," winding up with an absurd transition to plain prose.

On Friday, January 18, 1884, John Edward Kelly, one of the Hougoumont political convicts, died in the City Hospital, Boston, in the prime of his manhood. He was one of the Irish Protestants who had fought bravely in the brief Fenian uprising. A native of Kinsale, Ireland, he had emigrated with his parents to Nova Scotia in early youth, and, while still a lad, came to Boston. In 1863 he connected himself with, the Fenian movement in that city, and three years later went over to Ireland and, together with Peter O'Neil Crowley and Captain McClure, headed the revolt in the County Limerick. He and his two associates were at last surrounded by three hundred English soldiers in Kilclooney Wood, where Crowley was shot dead and the two others made prisoners. He was tried for high treason and received the barbarous sentence, which only one civilized country had retained on its statute books,—"to be hanged, drawn, and quartered,"—which meant to be drawn on a hurdle to the gallows, to be hanged, but not "hanged to death." The half -strangled man was to be cut down, disemboweled, and his entrails burned while he was yet alive, after which he was to be beheaded and his body cut into quarters. Kelly's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was sent with the other political prisoners to Western Australia. The hardships which he had to endure while working in the road-parties of the penal settlement broke down his health, and in March, 1871, he and other political prisoners were set free. The National League of Boston erected a monument, in the shape of an Irish round tower, over his grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery, and formally dedicated it on November 23, 1885. O'Reilly delivered one of his noblest orations on that occasion, the full text of which will be found elsewhere in this volume.

The death of Wendell Phillips, on Saturday evening, February 2, 1884, was a personal bereavement to O'Reilly. As the death of the Fenian hero, Kelly, was to evoke one of O'Reilly's greatest orations, so that of Wendell Phillips became the inspiration of a poem so full of tender feeling and noble eulogy as to rank among the best of its kind in the language. He wrote it within six hours. It came from his brain, or rather from his heart, full-formed and perfect, so that he made scarcely a single change in republishing it with his last collection.

The poem received well-merited praise from critics who had not unlearned the old-fashioned principle of deeming the poetic thought more valuable than its verbal clothing. Whittier wrote:

Danvers, February 7, 1884.

Dear Friend:

I heartily thank thee for thy noble verse on Wendell Phillips. It is worthy of the great orator.

Thine truly,

John Gr. Whittier.

Geo. W. Cable, the great Southern novelist, sent him his meed of praise from:

Hartford, Conn., February 11, 1884.

My Dear Mr. O'Reilly:

I am confined to a sick chamber, and for the most of the time to my bed, though daily recovering; but I cannot refrain from writing you to thank you for and to congratulate you on your superb poem on Wendell Phillips. I had the pleasure to see it this morning copied in the Hartford Courant and read it to Mark Twain, who was at my bedside,—or rather whom I called from the next room to my bedside to hear it. Once, while I was reading it, he made an actual outcry of admiration, and again and again interjected his commendations. I am proud to know the man who wrote it; he can quit now, his lasting fame is assured.[1]

I must stop this letter—have not much head as yet.

Yours truly,

Geo. W. Cable.

Judge Chamberlain, the scholarly librarian of the Boston Public Library, wrote at a later date:

Of "Wendell Phillips" I had formed a high opinion. The copy—a newspaper cutting—is ever by my side. The more I see it the more I think it a great poem.

It is an interesting fact that only one of Phillips's marvelous lectures had ever been fully written out. That was in its author's opinion "the best he could do,"—his great tribute to Daniel O'Connell. He gave the manuscript of it to O'Reilly, in 1875, immediately after its delivery at the O'Connell Centenary celebration in Boston. Perhaps the most remarkable tribute, in its way, paid to O'Reilly's poem on Phillips, was the invitation gravely extended to him by the city government of Boston to write another poem on the same subject for the memorial services held by the city in the following April!

A great mass meeting of Irish-Americans was held in the Boston Theater on Sunday evening, February 17, 1884, to hear an address from John E. Redmond, M.P. for New Ross, County Wexford. Rev. P. A. McKenna, of Hudson, Mass., opened the meeting and introduced John Boyle O'Reilly as chairman, who commenced his address by saying:

I am compelled to remember that the last time an Irish member of the English Parliament addressed a Boston audience, an illustrious man filled the place that I now occupy,—a man of true heart and eloquent lips, whom we looked upon dead in Faneuil Hall the other day. We laid flowers beside his beautiful dead face that evening; but from this, the first great meeting of Irish-Americans since his death, we can take another tribute and lay it on his grave in the Granary burial-ground, an offering that will be richer and sweeter than floral tributes—our love, our sorrow, and our gratitude. You remember, when he addressed the leader of the Irish National party on a Boston platform a few years ago, how he impressively said: "I have come to see the man who has made John Bull listen." One man needs men behind him to make John Bull listen, and Parnell has had a few men—but all of them true men and young men—from the beginning of his national agitation. A great man has said, "Give me nine young men and I will make or unmake an empire." Parnell has had less than nine men at a time, rarely more than twice nine, but they were all young men. Ireland is now showing the world that her young men cannot only lead regiments, but compel senates. It is remarkable that never before in the history of nations has there been a great political national agitation, a great intellectual movement against an oppressive government, impelled and controlled by young men. It is a wonderful thing that hardly a single man who leads or is foremost in the movement of the Irish National party has yet seen forty years, and many of them have not seen thirty years. An easy task, it may be said, they have undertaken; but not so. They have undertaken a task of ultimate statesmanship—that of winning with the minority, and they have won. Ireland has learned the golden lesson that what she lacks in the weight of her sword, she must put into its temper.

The presidential campaign this year was conducted with more than common vigor on both sides. The Republican National Convention, held at Chicago early in June, had nominated Blaine and Logan. O'Reilly warmly advocated the selection by the Democrats of General Butler as the head of their ticket. Mr. Blaine's popularity with Irish-Americans, though much overrated, was strong enough, as it seemed to O'Reilly, to make the nomination of any Democrat, not especially popular with that element, a dangerous thing for the party. Grover Cleveland had given offense to many people while Governor of New York; he had made powerful enemies in the local Democratic organizations; it was feared they would take their revenge should he be made the party's candidate in the general election. O'Reilly's preference was for Butler or Bayard, the latter statesman not having as yet appeared on any stage large enough to display his own littleness. The Convention nominated Cleveland, whereupon O'Reilly, who had opposed his selection up to the last moment, and still thought it an unwise one, accepted the situation frankly and loyally, saying:

We opposed the nomination of Cleveland, the candidate; we shall faithfully and earnestly work for the election of Cleveland, the Democratic standard hearer. The Democratic principle is the Democratic party; and this is infinitely greater than the men it selects or rejects. It involves much more than the personal likes or dislikes of individuals. Not the interests of present men alone, but the future of American liberty is bound up with the preservation of the Democratic party. Those who wish to abide by its principles must not follow wandering fires . . . . To the dissatisfied ones we say, as we have said to ourselves: "Look round and see where you are going if you leave the Democratic fold."

If his political prescience had been at fault, as it assuredly was in the case of Mr. Bayard, his party fealty was firm and sincere. He combated the efforts of Mr. Blaine's supporters to capture the "Irish vote" by representing that statesman in the role of "a friend to an Irishman." Mr. Blaine's besetting sin of indecision helped as much as anything else to avert the threatened stampede of Irish voters and insured his defeat at almost the last moment, when he did not dare rebuke the bigoted minister Burchard for his famous utterance concerning "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion."

Courage, moral and physical, was never lacking in the make-up of John Boyle O'Reilly. He had conscientiously opposed the nomination of Mr. Cleveland; he as conscientiously supported the nomination when made, and, as we shall see, no critic was more severe or outspoken in denouncing the mistakes and faults of Mr. Cleveland's administration. That which he wrote in the middle of the campaign of 1884 is a good explanation of why Irish- Americans are mainly Democrats in politics. The question of race had not been introduced into the contest by him nor by the Democratic party; but as the issue had been raised, O'Reilly justly defended the party to which his countrymen owed gratitude for past friendship.

"Irish-Americans have been Democrats," he said, "not by chance, but by good judgment. Tried in the fires of foreign tyranny, their instincts as well as their historical knowledge of Jeffersonian Democracy, led them to the American party that expressed and supported the true principles of Republican Government. Experience has shown them -that their selection was good. Every assault on their rights as citizens in this country has come from the Republican party and its predecessors in opposition, and in all these assaults the Democracy has been their shield and vindication . . . . We do not want to see Irish-Americans all on one side; but we want to see them following principles and not will-o'-the-wisps. We want to see them conscientiously and intelligently right, whichever side they take."

Intelligent Democrats everywhere admitted that to John Boyle O'Reilly and Hon. Patrick A. Collins was due the frustration of a very able attempt to turn Irish-American voters to the Republican party.

The regular Irish National League Convention was held in Faneuil Hall, on August 13, President Alexander Sullivan, of Chicago, presiding. Two Irish parliamentary delegates, Thomas Sexton and William E. Redmond, were present, both at the convention and at the monster meeting held on the 15th in the hall of the New England Manufacturers' Institute, where nearly 20,000 people assembled, O'Reilly took an active but unofficial part in the organization of both meetings. Patrick Egan was elected to succeed Mr. Sullivan as President of the League.

In the same month appeared a curious novel, from which I have quoted in the account of his prison life at Dartmoor, " The King's Men," written by four authors, John Boyle O'Reilly, Robert Grant, Frederic J. Stimson ("J. S. of Dale"), and John T. Wheelwright. The authors received $5000 for the work, which was said to have increased the circulation of the Boston Globe, in which it appears serially, to the extent of thirty thousand subscribers. The book was a literary curiosity, but so well had the several authors done their parts that a reader, not in the secret, would have failed to receive that it was not all the work of a single writer. It was published in book form by Charles Scribner & Sons, of New York.

Another if the delightful poems, unpolished and unpretentious, with which he used to entertain the Papyrus Club, was read at its regular meeting, on October 4 of the is year. It is entitled "The Fierce Light," and refers, of course, to that which beats upon the throne of Papyrus.


A town there was, and lo! it had a Club—
A special set, each hubbier than the Hub;
Selection's own survival of the fit,
As rubies ere gathered from the pit,
These rare one shone amid the outer horde
Till picked ad gathered for the club's bright board.

Oh! but they made a nosegay for the soul,
Tied with a silken

'Twould do you good with spiritual nose
To sniff the odor of the psychic rose,
Historic musk, and philosophic pea,
Poetic pansy, legal rosemary;
To smell the sweet infusion, pills and paint,
And law, and music, shaded with a taint
Of science, politics, and trade.

And so
It came to pass, they could no longer go.
Until from out their brilliant rank was led
A man to stand as capstone, ruler, head.
They cast their eyes around to choose them one;
But closed them quick, as they had seen the sun.
The faces of their fellow-members blazed
Till none could look, but all stood blind and dazed.
With thoughtful brows and introverted eyes;
And thus it was that each one in surprise,
Beheld himself the center of his sight.
And wrote his own proud name from left to right
Across his ballot, even as one inspired.

Then came the count of votes; a clerk was hired
To sort the ballots, while the members sat
In silent hope, each heart going pita-pat;
Swift worked that clerk till all his work was done.
Then called the vote: each member there had one!

They thanked each other for the compliment.
While round the room their gloomy looks were sent.
They knew that now a choice of one must come;
They asked for names ; but all the crowd was dumb.
At last one said: "Let's take no other test,
But vote for him whom each one loves the best!"

A moment later were the ballots cast:
Each wrote one name e'en swifter than the last;
The votes were counted, sorted, and the clerk
Was seen to smile when closing up his work.
"One name alone," he cried, "has here been sent,
And N. S. Dodge is your first president!"
Lord! how we cheered him, and how he cheered too,
The kindly soul—the childlike and the true;

The loving heart that fed the merry eye,
The genial wit whose well ran never dry.
Lord! how he ruled us with an iron rod
That melted into laughter with his nod!

Just hear him scold that ribald songster's note,
With fun all beaming from his dear "club coat,"
Just see the smiling thunder on his brow
At some persistent rebel. Hear him: "Now
This club must come to order. Boys, for shame!
I say there, Pascoe! I shall call your name."

Oh, dear old friend! Death could not take away
The fragrant memory of that happy day!
We speak not sadly, when we speak of you:
Nay, rather smile, as you would have us do.
We think you do not quite forget us here ;
We feel to-night your kindred spirit near.
We pray "God rest you, loving soul!" and pray
Such love to have when we have passed away.
Old joys, no doubt, are magnified through tears
But God be with those unpretentious years!

Fast spins the top! That golden time outran
Too swift, too soon. And now another man
To head the board must from the board be drawn.
Oh, varied choice! Some vote for brain, some brawn;
Some, skill to rule; some, eloquence to speak;
Some, moral excellence, some, zeal; some, cheek:
That one an artist wants—a poet, this;
And each proposal met with cheer and hiss—
Till from the table rose a sightly head,
A Jove-like dignity, white beard outspread.
He spoke for hours—and while he spoke they wrote.
Their choice unanimous—he got the vote!
Dear Underwood! they chose him for his beard:
He ruled for years, and each year more endeared.

Then came another gulf without a bridge:
And who shall stretch from annual ridge to ridge?
A sound was heard—the Club with searching stare
Beheld a figure standing on a chair:
'Twas Rogers— Henry M.; well posed he stood.
Head bent, lips pursed,—a studious attitude.

No word was said; but each man wrote his name,
And hailed him President with loud acclaim.
He stepped him down: "You know me like a book,"
He said, "I am the friend of Joseph Cook!"

While Rogers reigned the club climbed high in air;
Then paused to help O'Reilly fill the chair.
Selected he for neither gift nor grace,
But just a make-shift for the vacant place.

Twelve months the club considered then its choice,
And, like a trained Calliope, one voice
Announced that Alexander Young was Mayor ;
They chose him for his grave, benignant air:
"We want historians!" they proudly said:
"The Netherlands," by Young, they had not read.
Nor had he writ; but their prophetic rage.
Could see the writing in him, every page!

Then grew they weary of the serious minds.
As children long for candy's varied kinds.
They cried: "We want a man to please the eye;
A sensuous, soft, mellifluent harmony!"
And all eyes centered with direct accord
On Towle, the gentle wrangler of the board.
He swayed the gavel with a graceful pose
And wore a wreath of sweet poetic prose.

Wide swings the pendulum in one brief year:
The fickle-hearted Club cries: "Bring us here
A man who knows not poetry nor prose;
Nor art nor grace, yet all these graceful knows;
Bring us a brusque, rude gentleman of parts!"
They brought in Hovey, who won all their hearts.

Next year, the Club said: "Now, we cannot choose;
Goodness, we've had, and beauty, and the muse;
Religion's friend and Holland's guardian, too:
Go—nominate—we know not what to do."

And forth they brought a man, and cried: "Behold!
A balanced virtue, neither young nor old;
A pure negation, scientific, cold—
Yet not too cold—caloric, just enough—
Simple and pure in soul, yet up to snuff.

In mind and body,—doctor, artist, wit.
Author and politician,—he, and she, and it!"
"Enough!" they shouted: "Harris, take the bun!"
And all were sorry when his year was done.

Then with the confidence of years and looks.
The Club cried gayly: "We've had lots of books,
And beards, and piety, and science. Now—
We want a ruler with ambrosial brow—
A jovial tra-la-la! A débonnaire
A handsome blue-eyed boy with yellow hair!"

And forth stepped Babbitt, with a little laugh,
And blushed to feel the gavel's rounded staff.
He scored a high success—a fairy's wand.
The bright good nature of our handsome blonde.

And then the Club cried: "Go; we make no test.
They all are fit to rule. Give us a rest!"
So went they out, committee-like, to find
A likely candidate with restful mind.
They found him, weeping, hand on graceful hip.
Because a fly had bit a lily's lip.

They cheered him up, and bade him lift his eye:
"Nay, nay," he said, "I look not at the sky
On unæsthetic week-days! Go your way;
I seek a plaintive soul! Alack and well-a-day!"

They heard no more, but seized him as a prize,
And bore him clubwards, heeding not his cries.
Behold him now still looking in his glass.
Narcissus-like, not Bacchus; and, "Alas!"
He sighs betimes, "I would my lady were
Sitting with me upon this weary chair!"

And so we fill the album and the mind
With jokes all simple, faces true and kind.
And so the years go on and we grow old;
These are our pleasant tales to be retold.
These in our little life will have large place.
And fool is he who wipes out jest or face.
Men love too seldom in their three-score years,
And each must bear his burden, dry his tears;
But when the harvest smiles, let us be wise
And garner friends and flowery memories.

In the autumn of this year the exiled poet enjoyed a welcome visit from Father Anderson, of Drogheda, a typical Irish patriot priest. On the latter's return to Ireland, O'Reilly wrote him the following tender and touching letter:

November 7, 1884.

Dear Father Anderson:

God speed you on your home voyage. I am glad I have met you, and I hope to meet you again. I may never go to Drogheda, but I send my love to the very fields and trees along the Boyne from Drogheda to Slane. Some time, for my sake, go out to Dowth, alone, and go up on the moat, and look across the Boyne, over to Rossnaree to the Hill of Tara; and turn eyes all round from Tara to New Grange, and Knowth, and Slane, and Mellifont, and Oldbridge, and you will see there the pictures that I carry forever in my brain and heart—vivid as the last day I looked on them. If you go into the old grave-yard at Dowth, you will find my initials cut on a stone on the wall of the old church. Let me draw you a diagram. (Here follows a diagram of church, with place marked.) This is from the side of the church nearest the Boyne. I remember cutting "J. B. O'R." on a stone, with a nail, thirty years ago. I should like to be buried just under that spot; and, please God, perhaps I may be. God bless you. Good-by! Fidelity to the old cause has its pains; but it has its rewards, too—the love and trust of Irishmen everywhere. You have learned this, and you have it. I will send you photographs of all my girls when you get home. Always tell me what you want done in America and it shall be done if it be in my power.

I am faithfully yours,
John Boyle O'Reilly.

Rev. J. A. Anderson, O.S.A.

  1. The asterisk refers to the following foot-note: "Doubtless it was assured before, but this poem will always shoot above your usual work like the great spire in the cathedral town."