Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 14
O'Reilly's Case in the House of Commons—Refused Permission to Visit Canada— Slander about "Breaking Parole" Refuted—A Characteristic Letter in 1869—His Editorial "Is it Too Late?"—Bayard, Lowell, and Phelps—Another Speech in Faneuil Hall—Hanging of Riel—"In Bohemia"—Farewell Poem to Underwood—"Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered."
THE case of the "self-amnestied" convict became the subject of diplomatic correspondence and parliamentary discussion in the winter of 1884-85. The circumstances were as follows: In December, 1884, O'Reilly was invited to deliver an oration in Ottawa, Canada, on the following St. Patrick's Day, being assured of protection from arrest in that part of her Majesty's Dominions. The assurance, though verbal, was doubtless sincere and valid, so far as the Dominion authorities were concerned, but how far it would go in protecting him from the Imperial Government, should anybody choose to denounce him as an escaped convict, was very uncertain. He, consequently, declined the invitation, but sent the letter to Secretary of State Frelinghuysen, asking if his citizenship would protect him from arrest, in case he went to Canada. Mr. Frelinghuysen offered to send the question to the English Government through Minister Lowell. O'Reilly then wrote to Mr. Sexton, M.P., acquainting him with his action, and asking his advice and that of the other Irish Nationalist members. They advised him to write his request directly to the English Home Secretary, alluding, of course, to the action of the American Secretary of State. This he did; and the matter rested for several weeks.
Meanwhile the St. Patrick Society of Montreal, through its President, Mr. D. Barry, had sent a deputation to Ottawa, to interview the members of the Government. Their report showed that Sir Alexander Campbell, the Minister of Justice, and Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier, saw no reason why O'Reilly should not visit Canada. They promised that the Government would take no action against him. On receipt of the news, O'Reilly accepted the invitation to speak in Montreal on St. Patrick's Day.
Subsequently, however, he received the following reply to his letter to the English Home Secretary:
Whitehall, January 29, 1885.
Sir: With reference to your letter of the 19th inst., asking permission to visit Canada, England and Ireland, I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that he has already received an application to a like effect from the American Minister, to which he has replied that having regard to the circumstances of your case he cannot accede to the request.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
The following is the official dispatch sent by Minister Lowell to Secretary Frelinghuysen:
London, January 39, 1885.
Sir: Referring to your instruction, No. 1046, of December 16 last, I have the honor to acquaint you that immediately after its reception I went to see Lord Granville, and inquired formally, as directed by you, whether this Government would molest Mr. J. B. O'Reilly, in the event of his entering the British Dominions. Lord Granville promised to bring the matter before the Home Secretary, and to send me an answer as soon as possible.
I have just received his Lordship's reply to my inquiry, and lose no time in transmitting to you a copy of same herewith. You will observe that the British Government do not feel justified in allowing Mr. O'Reilly to visit the British Dominions.
I have the honor to be, etc.,
Lord Granville's letter to Minister Lowell was as follows:
Foreign Office, January 27, 1885.
Sir: I referred to Her Majesty's Secretary for the Home Department the request which you made to me personally when calling at this office on the 9th inst., in favor of Boyle O'Reilly, one of the persons convicted for complicity in the Fenian Rebellion of 1866.
I have now the honor to acquaint you that a reply has been received from Sir W. V. Harcourt, in which he states that application had already been made from other quarters on behalf of O'Reilly, which had been refused, and, having regard to the circumstances of the case, he regrets that your request is one which cannot safely be granted.
I have the honor to be, etc.,
In February, 1885, Mr. T. Harrington, M.P., introduced a petition in the British Parliament asking amnesty for James Stephens and John Boyle O' Reilly. The petition was supported by Mr. Sexton in an able speech. He called attention to the fact that not only had every civilian, sentenced at the same time as O'Reilly, been released, but every military offender had also secured his liberty; that many civilians had been set free on condition they should never return to the Queen's Dominions, while similar conditions had not been imposed upon the military offenders. Whatever else might be alleged, he said, it could not be maintained that there was any moral distinction between the case of John Boyle O'Reilly and those members of the British army tried, convicted, and sentenced at the same time:
Sir William Harcourt.—I should have been shot by the sentries.
Mr. Sexton.—If Mr. Boyle O'Reilly was shot they would not have been considering his case. The point was that his guilt was not increased by his effort to escape. Mr. Boyle O'Reilly, whom he had the pleasure to meet lately at Boston, was a gentleman of very high personal qualities and of the rarest intellectual gifts, and during the years of his residence in America he had made such good use of his powers that he now filled the position of co-proprietor with the Archbishop of Boston and some other prelates, of one of the most important journals in the United States. Mr. O'Reilly was one of the most influential men in the State of Massachusetts, and one of the most honored citizens in the United States, and might long ago have occupied a seat in Congress if he could have spared from his literary labors, and the duties of journalism, the time to devote himself to public life in that capacity. He (Mr. Sexton) might go so far as to say that one of the English gentlemen who met him lately in Boston, Sir Lyon Playfair, who occupied the position of chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of this House, was so impressed with the personal qualities and gifts of Mr. O'Reilly that he was one of the gentlemen who pressed upon the British Government the propriety and the duty of extending to Mr. Boyle O'Reilly the terms freely given to the men convicted under similar conditions. In December last, the Irish residents of the city of Ottawa, intending to hold a celebration on St. Patrick's Day, invited Mr. Boyle O'Reilly to join them. The celebration of St. Patrick's Day was held in so much respect that it was the custom for the Parliament of the Dominion to adjourn on St. Patrick's Day, so as to allow the members of Parliament of Irish birth or sympathy to attend the celebration. Mr. O'Reilly replied to the invitation that he did not feel at liberty to accept it, in consequence of the uncertainty which he felt of what the action of the British Government might be toward him. He put himself into communication with the American Secretary on the matter, and such was the sense entertained by the American Secretary of the position of Mr. Boyle O'Reilly that he put himself into communication with the American Minister in London, who had an interview with Lord Granville, and on the part of his government put the matter before the Queen's Minister in due form. At this stage the matter dropped for some time, and he (Mr. Sexton) received a letter from Mr. O'Reilly informing him what had been done and asking his advice. He (Mr. Sexton) conceived that the case was one in which the Government would have no hesitation in granting the request. The interest of the Government so clearly lay in wiping out any violent or vindictive memories of the time of Mr. O'Reilly's trial, that he had no doubt that the case was one in which there was no necessity for diplomatic circumlocution, and he advised Mr. O'Reilly to address himself directly to the Home Secretary if the application to the American Minister did not immediately result in a satisfactory decision. The interview of the American Minister with Lord Granville took place on January 9, and on the 29th Lord Granville's decision was communicated to those concerned. Lord Granville wrote: "Your request is one that cannot safely be granted." Mr. O'Reilly was a public politician in America, who freely and frankly expressed, in the press and on the platform, his opinions on the Irish political question, and on any other question that came within the range of his duty, and his public position alone would surely be a sufficient security for his conduct. The first error the Government committed in the matter was that through vindictiveness against a man because he happened, nearly twenty years ago, to escape from their custody, they had refused a request made in true diplomatic form by the Minister of a great government with which they claim to be on friendly terms. He was bound to describe that as a gross diplomatic error. Mr. Lowell, the American Minister, in his letter to the American Secretary, said: "The British Government do not feel justified in allowing Mr. O'Reilly to visit the British Dominions." Whereas the Foreign Secretary appeared to believe that the safety of the realm was concerned with the question of whether Mr. O'Reilly went to Canada, the American Minister appeared to think that Lord Granville thought there was some moral objection. What was the language of the Home Secretary himself? He wrote on the 29th of January, to Mr. Boyle O'Reilly's application, saying that he had already received a like application from the American Minister, and had replied that having regard to the circumstances of the case he could not accede to his request. Here it was not a question of the safety of the realm, or of moral justification, but merely the word of the right honorable gentleman. Meanwhile, what was happening in America in the interval between Mr. O'Reilly's application and the reply of the right honorable gentleman? The Irish residents of Montreal gave an invitation to Mr. O'Reilly to visit them, and Mr. O'Reilly replied that he would be unable to go, in consequence of the action of the British Government. Thereupon the Irish residents sent a deputation to the Government of Canada, at Ottawa, and upon their return made a public report that Sir A. Campbell, the Minister of Justice, and Sir John Macdonald, the Premier, saw no reason why Mr. O'Reilly should not visit Canada. Did the right honorable gentleman know more about Canada than its Premier and its Minister of Justice? One Government decided in one way, and the other in a different way. Which decision was right? A constitutional question of the gravest import was involved. If a Canadian Government allowed a man to visit the Dominion, did the Home Secretary mean to say that the Home Government could interfere? Then, again, the prerogative of the Crown in England was the prerogative of mercy. The Crown sometimes interfered for the purpose of releasing a man, but it was new to him (Mr. Sexton) that the Crown should interfere to imprison a man whom the right honorable gentleman and the Government had determined not to molest. The right honorable gentleman betrayed an indifferent knowledge of the correspondence of his own department. Here was a letter signed "Godfrey Lushington," and dated the 29th of January, which said that the Home Secretary had received an application, but could not accede to the request.
Sir Wm. Harcourt.—I could not give him leave to go to Canada.
Mr. Sexton.—But the right honorable gentleman has assumed to himself the right to refuse leave. His (Mr. Sexton's) object was not to appeal on behalf of Mr. O'Reilly, who would probably never repeat his request—indeed, it was doubtful if he would now accept the permission if it were offered to him. He (Mr. Sexton) wished to protest against the course which the Home Secretary had pursued, and to point out to the Government that they were exposing themselves to ridicule and contempt throughout America. They were worse than the Bourbons, for they learnt nothing, forgot nothing, and forgave nothing. He would ask the right honorable gentleman for his decision on the constitutional question.
Sir Wm. Harcourt said that he had never heard of O'Reilly before, and his case certainly could not be dealt with in any exceptional way. The case had come before him as that of a man who had committed the offense known as "prison, breach," and he could only deal with it on the ordinary line of prison discipline. He (the Home Secretary) had not interfered with the Government of Canada. O'Reilly might be a very much respected and distinguished person, but that would not prevent him from being, in regard to his offense, dealt with as any other prisoner.Mr. T. P. O'Connor said that in politics there was nothing so good in the long run as a forgiving temper, but the Home Secretary, after an interval of twenty years since the conviction of Mr. O'Reilly, could only speak of that gentleman's case in so far as it concerned "prison discipline." The member for Stockport, in bringing forward his plea for the establishment of a court of criminal appeal, had not supported his arguments by reference to any Irish cases, though there were many that would have served his purpose much better than those English ones of which he had availed himself. The honorable gentleman had gone back to some very ancient cases, but he need not have looked further than a case which was only six or twelve months old, namely, that of Bryan Kilmartin. He might have pointed out as an argument for his court of appeal, that though this man was quite innocent of the offense with which he was charged, he was allowed by the Lord Lieutenant to remain under an atrocious and undeserved stigma. Alluding to the treatment of Irish political prisoners, the honorable member said that it was the treatment which was largely responsible for the maintenance of that temper between the two races which was such a constant cause of alarm. The Home Secretary had said that he knew nothing of Mr. O'Reilly. Well, the right honorable gentleman was the only educated man in the world who did not know that gentleman. He heard derisive cheers, but right honorable gentlemen opposite should recollect the proviso that he had made. He had said the right honorable gentleman was the only "educated" man. Mr. O'Reilly was one of the best known, most respected, and most eminent citizens of the United States. He (Mr. O'Connor) complained of Mr. O'Reilly being constantly referred to as "O'Reilly." It was the tone of insolence, of arrogance, of mean and snobbish contemptuousness which in a great measure accounted for the acrimony which unfortunately characterized Irish discussions in that house. The Home Secretary would live in history, but what would be thought of him, the honorable member, if he were constantly to describe the right honorable gentleman as "Harcourt," or as "William Harcourt," or as "the man Historicus." Then, with reference to the right honorable gentleman's observations on prison breach, he complained again of that style of speech. Would the Ambassador of the United States interest himself on behalf of a common burglar? This was a diplomatic question in which a great government addressed another great government, and the attempt of the right honorable gentleman to reduce it to the contemptible proportions of a common law matter was really not worthy of him. In conclusion he said it would do no harm to any great government to show that it could forget and forgive offenses. As a colleague of the right honorable member for Midlothian he (Mr. O'Connor) would ask the Home Secretary to remember that but for men like John Boyle O'Reilly Liberal governments would not have had the glory of passing measures for the benefit of Ireland. If the application should be renewed, he hoped that the right honorable gentleman would have learned to have some regard for the feelings of Irishmen, and some admiration for those who had done and suffered in their country's cause. These sentiments animated all governments and all peoples, except in the single melancholy instance of the demeanor of England toward Ireland.
Mr. Harrington had included O'Reilly's name with that of Stephens in the petition for amnesty, at the request of the Drogheda National League, but when that body, through its executive, communicated the fact of its petition to O'Reilly in the previous December, he had at once telegraphed back, "Kindly withdraw my name."
The debate in the House of Commons attracted much attention on both sides of the ocean. Sir William Vernon Harcourt's reference to his escape as a crime of prison breach, seems to have furnished the very flimsy foundation for a slander which, in keeping with its character, did not find voice until the subject of it was dead; it was that in escaping from the penal settlement as he did, O'Reilly broke his "parole." Searching inquiry has failed to discover anybody willing to stand sponsor to the lie; but the nameless and fatherless foundling was received on terms of social equality by some in whom envy or prejudice outweighed respect for the dead. They did not stop to inquire into the inherent absurdity of the statement that a criminal convict, for that was O'Reilly's status in the eyes of the British law, would have been likely to be put upon his word of honor, not to effect his escape. Such a preposterous charge should be sufficiently answered by the negative evidence that there is no corroborative testimony supporting it. Happily, however, there are those living who, of all men, are best qualified to speak positively on the question. They are honorable men whose word will not be doubted by men of honor; men of the other kind it is not necessary to address. In reply to a direct question on the subject. Captain Henry C. Hathaway, of New Bedford, Mass., the rescuer of O'Reilly, writes:
New Bedford, November 11, 1890.
Dear Friend Roche:
Yours at hand and noted, and in answer will state that the people who are talking against my dear old departed friend, John Boyle O'Reilly, were either strangers to him, or else through jealousy or cowardice seek for means to destroy the reputation of a man against whom, while living, they could not or did not dare to utter such a charge. O'Reilly was a true and a brave man; this I have always said of him while living, and now that he is dead I say the same without fear; for no one, in my judgment, can point his finger to a mean act that he ever did. Perhaps no one in America knew him (outside of his own immediate family) better than I. We roomed seven long months together on board the good old bark Gazelle; we had every confidence in each other, and would stake our lives for each other. The story of his escape, he often told me, was that he used to deal out provisions to the chain-gang; he never was on parole. This he told me, and it was so, for John Boyle O'Reilly never lied to me.
Yours very truly,
The other witness writes in equal indignation against the slanderers, and specifically refutes the slander itself. It is the priest, Rev. Patrick McCabe, through whose good services O'Reilly made his escape. Father McCabe is now a resident of the United States; his letter is as follows:
November 19, 1890.
My Dear Mr. Roche:
I have your letter of the 6th inst. Absence from home prevented an earlier reply. John Boyle O'Reilly never broke his parole, never having one to break. From the day that he landed from the convict ship Hougoumont, in Fremantle, up to the day of his escape from Bunbury, he had been under strict surveillance, and was looked upon as a very dangerous man and treated as such. No man living knows this better than I do. Silence the vile wretch that dares to slander the name of our dear departed friend, and you will have my blessing.
As illustrating the character of the young fugitive from British justice, I will here introduce a letter (received since the first chapters of this book went to press), written by him to an Irish paper at a time when he was in danger of recapture; and when his chief fear was lest the generous American who had befriended him might never be repaid for that kindness:
To the Editor of the "Irishman":
Dear Sir: I doubt not that your readers will be glad to hear that one of their countrymen who had the honor to suffer for Ireland, had also the good fortune to escape from his Western Australian prison and the terrible perspective of twenty years' imprisonment.
On the 18th of February I escaped, seized a boat and went to sea, but had to return to land in the morning. I then lived in the "bush" for some time, and eventually put to sea again, and before long was picked up by an American whaler. The captain knew who and what I was, and installed me as a cabin passenger, and as he was on a six months' cruise for whales, I remained on board for that time, and every day had a fresh instance of his kindness, and that of the officers, and all on board. I had some very close escapes from being retaken when on board, but the officers determined I should not. In one English island at which we touched the governor came on board and demanded me to be given up, as he had instructions that I was on board. The chief mate answered him by pointing to the "Stars and Stripes," which floated at the "half-mast" (in sign of mourning), and said, "I know nothing of any convict named O'Reilly who escaped from New Holland; but I did know Mr. O'Reilly who was a political prisoner there, and he was on board this ship, but you cannot see him—he is dead." And he was forced to be content with that. Since then I have received help in money, when it was found that I could not escape without it, and now, sir, I presume to ask that should anything happen to me, that gentleman who assisted me shall not lose his money. (I give his name, but not for publication.) I know my countrymen will not misconstrue my motive in writing this. I send this to England by a safe means, where it will be posted for you. The captain's name is Captain David R. Gifford, Bonny Street, New Bedford, Mass. I am not in his ship now.
Thanks for publishing my "Old School Clock." I saw it a day or two since. I am making my way to America. I am hurried in writing. Good-by! God speed you all at home in the good cause.
Ever truly yours,
John Boyle O'Reilly.
I am going where I am unknown and friendless. Please let me have an introduction through your paper to my countrymen in America,
To return to chronological sequence, the year 1885 opened with a renewal of so-called dynamite outrages in London. Westminster Hall, the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower of London were the three points of attack. Buildings were shattered, but not a human life was lost; the dynamiters had selected a day and hour, two o'clock Saturday afternoon, when few people would be likely to be visiting those places, O'Reilly thus commented on the outrages:
The world cries out indignantly against the destroyers, the passionate rebels against injustice who would reduce all order to chaos in their furious impatience. But the world should at the same time appeal to the oppressor to lighten his hand, to remember that the harvest of wrong is desolation.
If England's pride is too great to yield under compulsion, what shall be said of Ireland's pride? Are the scourgings, exile, starvation, misreport of nearly a thousand years to be obliterated at the order of an act of Parliament? The nations that prize civilization and appreciate the force and limit of human statutes should urge justice and amity on England as well as Ireland. The evil cannot be stamped out; it must be soothed out by Christian gentleness and generosity. The social dangers of our time can only be averted by a higher order of law. The relations of men and nations must be made equitable or they will be shattered by the wrath of the injured, who can so readily appeal to destructive agencies hitherto unknown.
Since the Phoenix Park assassinations England's course in Ireland has been, as before, persistently and stolidly tyrannous. The most virtuous and peaceful country in Europe, by England's own showing, is ruled by armed force. Its chief governing officers are abominable criminals, exposed by Irish indignation and shielded by English arrogance. The Irish population is disarmed and gagged; popular meetings for discussion forbidden. Paid magistrates and English police-chiefs govern, instead of the natural authorities, among the people themselves. The cities and towns are wasting away. The farmers on the lands of English absentee landlords are bankrupt, and there are no industries on the rushing streams to employ their children. The fertile country, unsurpassed in the world for natural wealth, supports a miserable, unhappy, rebellious people, whose children are scattered in all lands.Ireland is a victim in the hands of its destroyer. While we condemn the dynamiters who trample under foot the laws of God and man, we ask all who have power to speak to urge justice on the strong as well as forbearance on the weak.
A few days afterward, on January 31, an Englishwoman, giving the name of Yseult Dudley, called on the famous "dynamiter," O'Donovan Rossa, at his office in New York, and professed herself anxious to help along his operations against England. Meeting him by appointment the following Monday, she walked with him along Chambers Street, then suddenly drawing a revolver, stepped behind him, and fired five shots, one of which took effect in his back. When asked why she had committed the crime, she answered, "Because he is O'Donovan Rossa." The exploit evoked admiration from the Englishmen who had just been raving over the dynamite outrages. The London Standard advised Mr. Parnell to take the shooting of Rossa well to heart: "Stranger things have happened than that the leader should share the fate of the subordinate." The Times compared Mrs. Dudley to Charlotte Corday. She was in danger of becoming a national heroine; but she was sent to a lunatic asylum, and soon afterward released.
It was while this frenzy of race hatred was at its height that O'Reilly, always ready to speak the wise word in the right time, wrote a strong appeal—"Is it Too Late?"
The madmen are at the helm yet. When thirty million English people wildly cheer a half insane and wholly disreputable murderess, and thirty million people of Irish blood half sympathize with the desperate lunatics who would burn down London—it is time for both sides to pause.
It is time for both England and Ireland to answer this question: Is it too late to be friends?
In the present hour of her calamity and grief, we say to England that she can steal the exultation out of Irishmen's hearts by granting the justice that they now ask, but will soon demand, from her. A hundred years ago, when she had to grant Ireland a free Parliament, the position of England was not so perilous as it is now, nor had the Irish people then one tenth of their present strength.
One magnanimous statesman in England, one leader with the courage and wisdom of genius, would solidify the British Empire to-day with a master stroke of politics. He would abolish the Union, and leave Ireland as she stood eighty-five years ago, a happy, free, confederated part of the Empire.
Such a policy would silence the dynamiters and radicals, satisfy and gratify the Irish people throughout the world, strengthen the British Empire, and make America thoroughly sympathetic. There are twenty million people in the United States who as kindred feel the rise and fall of the Irish barometer; and the policy of America must largely respond to their influence in the future.
It is only a question of a few years till Ireland obtains all that she now asks, and more, without England's consent. Nothing can stop the wave of Irish nationality that is now moving. At the first rattle of the conflict in India or Europe, Ireland's action may mean the ruin or salvation of the British Empire.England may think that an offer of friendship from her would now come too late. She knows her own earning in Ireland, and may well doubt that her bloody hand would be taken in amity by the people she has so deeply wronged. But let her offer. She is dealing with a generous and proud and warm-hearted race. We know the Irish people; we gauge their hatred and measure their hope; and we profoundly believe that the hour is not yet too late for England to disarm and conquer them by the greatness of her spirit, as she has never been able to subdue them by the force of her armies.
Again, a fortnight later, he wrote, "It is not too late," expressing his belief that the people of England were even more ready for the word of peace than those of Ireland, only that the selfishness of their rulers stood in the way. "Send an olive branch to Ireland, Mr. Gladstone," he said, "before it is too late. Let the end of a great life become sublime in the history of Great Britain and Ireland by a deed of magnanimity and wisdom. It is not too late to win Irish loyalty for a union which leaves her as free as England—the only union that can satisfy Ireland and make the British Empire more powerful than ever."
England did not heed the warning of Irishmen at home and in America. They asked for the bread of justice, and she sent them a stone idol, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The answer came in the action of the Parnellite members voting with the Conservatives in the House of Commons on the 8th of June, and so turning the scale against the Gladstonians.
O'Reilly advocated Home Rule for his adopted home as vigorously as for the land of his birth. When the Legislature of Massachusetts in May, 1885, passed a bill taking away from the city of Boston the appointment of its own police, he condemned the act as a departure from the old Puritan system of the town meeting, the greatest safeguard of public representation . . . . "Their descendants were of the same mind; but they are destructive, while the fathers were constructive; the men of old made the town meeting, the men of to-day would destroy it. . . . . The Puritan element proves itself unworthy of life by attempting to cut its own throat!" This nucleus of all liberty, the town meeting, he subsequently glorified in his great poem at the celebration of the Landing of the Pilgrims.
Mr. Bayard, who had been appointed Secretary of State by President Cleveland, was the conspicuously weak element in the new administration. James Russell Lowell had made himself obnoxious to every patriotic American by utterly ignoring the rights of citizens unjustly imprisoned by the British Government during his term of office as Minister to England. On his return to America in June, he was represented as having said to a newspaper interviewer: "There is nothing but English blood in my veins, and I have often remarked that I was just as much an Englishman as they were;" and that he thoroughly approved of the treatment given to Ireland by the Gladstone administration. "We had earnestly hoped," says O'Reilly, "to see Mr. Lowell come back to America to be honored as a great American poet and a man of letters; and we now as earnestly protest against his new character of a shallow English politician. We want his other self, his old self, his higher self, redeemed from this weak and bastardizing influence. Let him love England; it is right that Americans of English blood should love their kindred so far as their kindred deserve. But spare us the sight of a great American poet singing his love for the hoary evils of English social classification, which true Englishmen mean to cure or cut out; and the atrocities of English misrule, which honest Englishmen condemn and apologize for . . . . O Mr. Lowell, you of all men to speak lightly of an oppressed race! Do you remember these lines addressed to the terrible sisters, 'Hunger and Cold,' and when you wrote them?
"'Let sleek statesmen temporize;
Palsied are their shifts and lies
When they meet your blood-shot eyes
Grim and bold;
Policy you set at naught,
In their traps you'll not be caught,
You're too honest to be bought,
Hunger and cold.'"
The successor of Mr. Lowell in the English mission was a Vermont lawyer, Mr. E. J. Phelps, who excelled the former in love for English institutions, and by his conduct abroad succeeded in alienating a large section of the Democratic party from the administration. This and other appointments of Mr. Bayard, coupled with his singular disregard of American interests wherever they conflicted with those of England, aided largely in the defeat of President Cleveland in 1888.
The death of General Grant, on July 23, called out another fine poem by O'Reilly, who admired the simple straightforward conduct of the soldier, although he had frankly opposed the hero's policy as a President.
A soldier of a very different type, and another race, died in October of the same year. His title was Lord Strathnairn, his name Hugh Rose. Rose had been a general in the English army at the time of the Indian mutiny; he was subsequently commander-in-chief of the forces in Ireland, at the time when O'Reilly was a soldier in the Tenth Hussars. Of him O'Reilly wrote:
A great meeting was held in Paneuil Hall on October 20, in aid of the Irish Nationalist cause, Governor Robinson, Mayor O'Brien, Hon. F. O. Prince, and several other distinguished citizens making speeches. John Boyle O'Reilly delivered a spirited impromptu address as follows:
If I believed, sir, that the words of Mr. Chamberlain were meant by England, if I believed it to-day—and I am a citizen of America and my children will be always American people—I say, if Mr. Chamberlain's words were true, that Ireland would never get what she wanted, I would not only subscribe to dynamite, I would be a dynamiter.
I want to say, for my own self-respect, and for the self-respect of my countrymen, that behind all their constitutional effort is the purpose to fight, if they don't get what they now ask for.
I believe now, to come down from that sort of talking to a quieter sort, that our process here is purely American; that our purpose here is as purely and practically American as Irish; and that we have here a terrible reason for continuing this Irish fight in this State and over all the Union, and this Boston merchant's letter suggests a word to me. Here is a man employing hundreds of men and women, and he says that nine tenths of them are Irish or Irish-Americans, and he says that they have to give, sir, a large proportion of their earnings to pay rents in Ireland, and save relatives there from eviction and starvation.
We complain with reason that the Chinese go back to China when they save money. Ah, there is a pathetic and a terrible truth in the fact that the same charge might be made against us—that we send millions upon millions of American money, earned by our hard work, to Ireland. We send it year after year to Ireland, to pay the landlords, to save our kindred; and it ought to be kept here; Ireland ought to be able to support herself.There is another American reason why we should continue this Irish agitation. The elements of our population are mainly in the East descended from England and Ireland, and they inherit a prejudice, an unfriendliness—an unnatural, artificial, ignorant antipathy on both sides. That unnatural condition of distrust and dislike should cease in America, and we should amalgamate into one race, one great unified, self-loving American people; but that condition will never come until peace is made between the sources of the two races. Their descendants in this country will always be facing each other in antagonism, discontent, and distrust, until England sits down and shakes hands freely with Ireland.
Louis Kiel, the French-Canadian "rebel" of the Red River country, was hanged at Regina, N. W. T., on November 16. O'Reilly, who sympathized with the half-breeds in their brave resistance to injustice, and who had met Riel after his first outbreak, some fifteen years previously, could not believe that the Government of England would be unwise enough to make a martyr of him. But when the cowardly deed was done he said:
There was much virtue in that "if." The French Canadians took their only revenge by burning their enemies in effigy, the Orangemen with equal dignity fighting to prevent the harmless cremation, and all the national anger seemed to have oozed out in the smoke and stench of burning rags.
In March of this year O'Reilly wrote the poem, which has had perhaps more admirers than any single lyric from his pen, "In Bohemia." He first read it to his brothers of the Papyrus Club, who only anticipated the verdict of all readers in accepting it as the national anthem of the boundless realm of Bohemia. In the Outing magazine for December appeared his best as well as his shortest narrative poem, "Ensign Epps, the Color Bearer." The humble hero of the "Battle of Flanders" had been commemorated in prose by some musty chronicler, but his fame will last as long as that of the poet who has embalmed his deed in such noble verse:
Where are the lessons your kinglings teach?
And what is the text of your proud commanders?
Out of the centuries heroes reach
With the scroll of a deed, with the word of a story
Of one man's truth and of all men's glory.
Like Ensign Epps at the Battle of Flanders.
Another ex-president, the distinguished author, Mr. Francis H. Underwood, had been appointed United States Consul to Glasgow, and his departure was celebrated by a dinner at "Taft's," in Boston Harbor, on August 5. O'Reilly wrote an amusing farewell poem for the occasion, of which a few extracts will show the character:
When men possess one secret or one creed,
Or love one land, or struggle for one need,
They draw together brotherly and human—
(Those only fly apart who love one woman).
So we, with one dear picture in our heart
Draw closer still with years, and grieve to part.
And now, old Glasgow totters to its fall,
And Underwood is called to prop the wall.
We smile to him—and we congratulate
The Nation that has stolen a march on Fate.
We say to him: O Brother, go ye forth,
And bear good tidings to the misty North:
Show them to write a book or taste a dish,
To sell a cargo or to cook a fish:
Teach them that scholars can be guides of trade,
When men of letters are our consuls made;
That those who write what all acknowledge true
Can act as well when duty calls to do.
And when they cry with wonder: "What a man!"
Answer: "Go to! I am no other than
A simple citizen from out the Hub,
A member of the quaint Papyrus Club!",
Some dreamer called the earth an apple—well,
The Celt dares all the cycles have to tell:
To call the globe a fruit is rash and risky;
But if it be, its juice is Irish whisky!
Stick well to this, old friend, and you will take
With graceful ease the Consul's largest cake.
Good-by! God speed you! On the other side
We know that you will take no bastard pride
In aping foreign manners, but will show
That Democrats are Gentlemen, who know
Their due to others and what others owe
To them and to their country—that you will.
When years bring out our Mugwumps, turn your face
Toward home and friends to fill your old-time place
The same old-time Papyrus-Yankee still.
O'Reilly's speech at the dedication of the monument to J. Edward O'Kelly, on November 23, attracted wide attention, and provoked a brief but spirited controversy. A rash critic, who yet was not rash enough to write over his own name, wrote to the Boston Herald, informing "the editor of the Pilot that long before his day the sentence of hanged, drawn, and quartered was done away with; and, although it may not be a matter to be pleased about, the writer can to-day say where are to be found the 'gallows-irons' in which hung the corpse of the last man so condemned in Great Britain. That was long before Mr. John Boyle O'Reilly became a Fenian . . . . Such an unchristian style of sentence as that of the culprit being hanged, drawn and quartered had ceased to exist before Mr. O'Reilly was born; and I can only say that I believe he indited that epitaph for the same purpose he addressed the audience at the meeting of the National Land League recently, that is, to stir up dissent, if his power could do it, between the two greatest countries upon the earth."
O'Reilly replied very conclusively to this critic, who had signed himself "Mancenium":
To the Editor of the Herald:
A writer in your paper of to-day questions the accuracy of my definition of the English capital sentence for high treason. The writer is evidently ignorant of the question, and is only filled with a desire to defend England from the charge of brutality which such an execution illustrates.
Allow me to give your readers some facts bearing on the matter. Many Boston readers were shocked by the meaning of the sentence as stated by me in a speech at Edward Kelly's grave—a man who, in 1867, with other Irishmen, was convicted of "high treason," and sentenced to be "hanged, drawn, and quartered," according to English law.
I did not state the sentence fully, I admit: I shrank from speaking the words to American ears, or writing them for American eyes. The whole horrible truth is dragged out now by the challenge of a zealous champion.
The person adjudged guilty, by English law, of high treason forfeited his property to the crown, was drawn on a hurdle to the gallows, there hanged, then cut down, disemboweled, and his entrails burned before life was extinct; and the body was then beheaded and quartered. This sentence has never been changed since it was passed and perpetrated on Robert Emmet, in 1803.
In the thirtieth year of George III., when the American "rebels" were guilty of high treason by wholesale, it was enacted that the execution for this offense might be carried out without the full perpetration of these enormities. But the horrors were by no means abrogated or forbidden, nor were they always discontinued in practice, as we shall see.
The procedure at a rebel's execution under this sentence is briefly but clearly recorded in an English official paper, the Dublin Courant, published at Dublin, in 1745. Three Scottish rebels of that time were executed in London. This official organ says:
"Yesterday, between eleven and twelve o'clock, the three rebels, Donald McDonald, James Nicholson, and Walter Ogilvie, were drawn in one sledge from the new jail in Southwark to Kennington Common. Alexander McGromber, who was to have suffered with them, received, the night before, a reprieve for twenty-one days. When they came to the gallows they behaved with decency and composure of mind. Before they were tied up, they prayed nearly an hour without any clergymen attending them; and when the halters, which were red and white, were put on them and fixed to the gallows, they prayed a few minutes before they were turned off. Walter Ogilvie delivered a paper to the officers of the guard, though none of them spoke to the populace, but referred to the accounts by them delivered. After hanging fourteen minutes, Donald McDonald was cut down, and, being disemboweled, his entrails were flung into the fire, and the others were served in a like manner; after which their heads and bodies were put into shells, and carried back to the new jail."
Twenty years later than the execution of these three Scottish patriots, two Irish gentlemen, relatives, one of them a Catholic priest. Rev. Nicholas Sheehy, parish priest of Newcastle, Tipperary, and Edmund Sheehy, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. On the 15th of March, 1766 (nine years before the Battle of Bunker Hill), Father Sheehy underwent this barbarous sentence at Cloumel. The head of the murdered priest was stuck on a pike and placed over the porch of the old jail at Clonmel, and there it was allowed to remain for twenty years (till 1786)—ten years after the declaration of American independence; till at length the dead priest's sister was allowed to take it away and bury it with his remains at Shandraghan.
On the 3d of May, in that year (1766), Edmund Sheehy, James Buxton, and James Farrell underwent the same sentence at the town of Clogheen. Some of the vile details were omitted, however. In the Gentleman's and London Magazine of May, 1766, there is an account of their execution, evidently written by an eye-witness. I take this extract:
"Sheehy met his fate with the most undaunted courage, and delivered his declaration (of innocence of crime) with as much composure of mind as if he had been repeating a prayer. When this awful scene was finished, they were turned off upon a signal given by Sheehy, who seemed in a sort of exultation, and sprang from the car. He was dead immediately. They were cut down, and the executioner severed their heads from their bodies, which were delivered to their friends. Sheehy left a widow and five children; Buxton, three children; Farrell, one."
To prove that the barbarous sentence has long been abandoned, the writer in the Herald says rashly, that "there have been men put to death," within recent years, for "offenses against the crown," but they were not "hanged, drawn, and quartered." He says he can, to-day, say where are to be found the "gallows irons" in which hung the corpse of the last man so condemned in Great Britain.
The nameless gentleman is thinking of men who were "hanged in chains"—a totally different sentence and execution, and for a wholly different crime.
There were no "gallows irons" needed when a man was only to be hanged a few minutes and then cut down and carved. Gallows irons were used not to kill but to suspend the corpse, sometimes for weeks, on the gallows, so that it could not be cut down by friends of the criminal. This was the punishment of robbers and pirates; but no man condemned for high treason was ever "hung in chains." Indeed, no man "in his day or mine" has been put to death for high treason in Great Britain or Ireland. No man in those countries received the capital sentence for high treason between Robert Emmet in 1803 and Edward Kelly, Gen. Thomas Francis Bourke, now of New York, and other Irishmen of the revolutionary movement of 1867.
In the year 1798 two Irish gentlemen, brothers, distinguished members of the bar, named John and Henry Sheares, were tried for high treason, and sentenced to be "hanged, drawn, and quartered." In the Cork Evening Post, July 23, 1798, there is a graphic account of their execution. On the gallows, standing hand in hand, both declared that they had only tried to reform the oppressive laws which bound Ireland. The report says:
"After hanging about twenty minutes, they were let down into the street, where the hangman separated their heads from their bodies, and, taking the heads severally up, proclaimed, 'Behold the head of a traitor!' In the evening the trunks and heads were taken away in two shells." The complete enormity of the sentence, if not actually omitted, is not further described in this case.
In the case of Robert Emmet the details are left out of the official report, with the significant words, "after hanging until he was dead, the remaining part of the sentence was executed upon him."
Between Robert Emmet and Edward Kelly the sentence for high treason was never used, and never altered.
Let us see how Robert Emmet was killed. An eye-witness, Mr. John Fisher, of Dublin, a well-known man, wrote the following words: "I saw Robert Emmet executed . . . . The execution took place at the corner of the lane at St. Catherine's Church, in Thomas Street, and he died without a struggle. He was immediately beheaded upon a table lying on the temporary scaffold. The table was then brought down to market house, opposite John Street, and left there against the wall, exposed to public view for about two days. It was a deal table, like a common kitchen table." A short time after the execution, within an hour or so, Mrs. McCready, daughter of Mr. James Moore, a well known Dublin citizen, in passing through that part of Thomas Street, observed near the scaffold, where the blood of Robert Emmet had fallen on the pavement from between the planks of the platform, some dogs collected lapping up the blood. She called the attention of the soldiers, who were left to guard the scaffold, to this appalling sight. The soldiers, who belonged to a Scottish highland regiment, manifested their horror at it; the dogs were chased away. "More than one spectator," says Dr. Madden, repeating the words of eye-witnesses, "approached the scaffold when the back of the sentinel was turned to it, dipped his handkerchief in the blood, and thrust it into his bosom."
The official English report of the execution of Robert Emmet, published in the Dublin Freeman's Journal of September 22, 1803, says: "After hanging until dead, the remaining part of the sentence of the law was executed upon him."
If the question of these atrocities be one of humanity, and not of mere technical knowledge, I may here quote the words on another, but kindred subject, of an eminent Protestant historian of Ireland, Robert R. Madden, F.R.O.S. of England, M.R.I.A., etc., who is still living, describing the tortures inflicted on Annie Devlin, the faithful servant of Robert Emmet, to make her betray the patriot leader. Dr. Madden says: "Annie Devlin, the servant of Robert Emmet, was half hanged from the back band of a car, the shafts being elevated for the purpose of making a temporary gallows—a common contrivance of terrorists of those times. The account of her sufferings I had from her own lips, on the spot where those atrocities were perpetrated. When she was taken down, her shoulders and the upper parts of her arms were pricked with bayonets, the cicatrized marks of which I have seen and felt."
I can give, if necessary, hundreds, yea, thousands, of instances of legal murder, maiming, mutilation, and torture, perpetrated by English officials and their subordinates in Ireland. My object in mentioning the sentence of Edward Kelly was historical and humanitarian. I should expect the sympathy and indorsement of every honest man, and especially of every independent and manly Englishman. In his name, and the name of his race, these abominations have been committed by a government of aristocrats and royal rascals, who have misused and impoverished the people of their own country as well as of Ireland. The Englishman who thinks it his duty to defend or deny these things must choose one of two despicable positions.
Edward Kelly, Gen. T. F. Bourke, and other Irishmen, in 1867, were tried for high treason, and received exactly the same legal sentence as that passed on William Orr, the brothers Sheares, Thomas Russell, and Robert Emmet, in 1798 and 1803—"to be hanged, drawn, and quartered."
In the year 1798, the following Irishmen, all of the class of gentlemen, were "hanged, drawn, and quartered" for what England called high treason.
I separate them according to their religious beliefs:
|Henry Sheares,||Bartholomew Tone,|
|John Sheares,||Matthew Keough,|
|B. B. Harvey.|
|William Orr,||Henry Byers,|
|Henry Monroe,||Rev. Mr. Warwick,|
|James Dickey,||Rev. Wm. Porter,|
|Henry J. McCracken,||Rev. Mr. Stevelly.|
|William M. Byrne,||John McCann,|
|J. Esmond, M.D.,||William Byrne,|
|Walter Devereux,||Esmond Ryan,|
|Felix Rourke,||S. Barrett,|
|Col. O'Doude,||John Kelly,|
|John Clinch,||Harvey Hay,|
|Rev. Moses Kearns,||Rev. John Murphy,|
|Rev. Mr. Redmond,||Rev. P. Roche,|
|Rev. Mr. Prendergast,||Rev. J. Quigley.|
On the whole, I am obliged to the writer in the Herald who has drawn out these facts, every one of which deserves—not the destructive sentence for high treason, but its English sister monstrosity—"to be hanged in chains."
I am respectfully yours,
John Boyle O'Reilly.
Boston, November 26, 1885.
- Mr. Vere Foster's memory was evidently at fault when he reported the poet as having said that he had not known of the publication until informed by Mr. Foster.
- From A. Shuman, Esq., inclosing a contribution of $100.