Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 15
Article in North American Review, "At Last"—Address before the Beacon Club of Boston—Defense of the Colored Men—The Five Dollar Parliamentary Fund—"The American Citizen Soldier"—"The Cry of the Dreamer"—Another Characteristic Letter.
THE general election in Ireland, toward the end of the year 1885, resulted in the return of eighty-six Nationalist, against seventeen Tory members of Parliament from that country. England, Scotland, and Wales had as yet hardly begun to consider Home Rule as a practical question, until it was brought home to them by this remarkable expression of Ireland's will.
To a keen observer and sanguine patriot like O'Reilly, its success now seemed to be only a question of time. In the North American Review for January, 1886, he wrote a graphic summary of Ireland's long struggle for nationality, with a prediction of its approaching success, under the heading "At Last." Reviewing briefly the conquest and spoliation of the country by Henry the Second and his successors, he showed how England, in putting the schoolmaster and the priest on an equal felonious footing, had struck at the brain and heart of the conquered people, in order the better to despoil their pockets:
Three hundred years ago, when Henry VIII. became a Protestant, he resolved that the Irish should be Protestant, too; and for the next hundred years the reforming process never rested—the chief means being the bullet, the rope, and the slave-ship.
A gentleman from Jamaica told me last year, as a curious fact, that the negroes in that country used a great many Gaelic words. No wonder; about 60,000 Irish boys and girls were sold to the tobacco planters of the West Indies 300 years ago, as Sir William Petty and other English historians of the time relate.
Two hundred years ago—and still the deathless fight, the Irish growing weaker, the English stronger. It had now become "the religious duty" of the Englishman to subdue the Irish "for their own sakes." Cromwell went over and slaughtered every man in the first garrisoned town he captured, Drogheda. "By God's grace," he wrote to the Parliament, "I believe that not one escaped," and he added that, when the officers capitulated and surrendered: "They were knocked on the head, too."
Cromwell "made peace and silence" in Ireland; his troopers ruled the whole country for the first time. Then came an unexampled atrocity in the name of "civilization"; four fifths of the entire island, every acre held by the native Irish, who were Catholics, was confiscated and handed over to Cromwell's disbanded army.
This was the beginning of the Irish Land Question, that Michael Davitt has been hammering at for years, and which he is going to see settled.
A hundred years ago, Ireland was in the most deplorable condition that any civilized nation ever descended to. Six centuries of a violent struggle had wasted her blood, money, and resources; her people were disfranchised—no man voted in Ireland except those of the English colony. For a hundred preceding years the teacher and priest had been hunted felons. There were only four million Irish altogether, and they were nearly all in Ireland, friendless, voiceless, voteless, landless, powerless, disarmed, disorganized, ignorant, forgotten by the world, misreported and misrepresented by their rich and powerful enemy, and held up in English books, newspapers, schools, at home and abroad, as a race of wild, weak, witty, brave, quarrelsome, purposeless incapables.
But in his blood, and mud, and rags, and wretchedness, the Irishman was still unsubdued, still a free man in soul and a foeman in act. The Irishman then was, as he still is, the most intense Nationalist in the world.
Grattan abolished the Poyning's Law; and the Irish Parliament, from 1785 to 1800, made the laws for Ireland. In that time the country advanced like a released giant. Lord Clare said in 1798: "No country in the world has advanced like Ireland, in trade, manufacture, and agriculture, since 1782."
Then England began to fear the Irish revival, and the demands of the English mercantile, manufacturing, and shipping classes were marvels of cowardly and jealous feeling. (See Lecky, "Public Life in England in the Eighteenth Century.") They demanded that Ireland be destroyed as a competing power. "Make the Irish remember that they are conquered," were the words of one petition to the English Parliament.
The rebellion of '98 was fomented by the English Government, and a fearful slaughter of fifty thousand Irishmen ensued. This was the pretext wanted. The English colony in Ireland were instructed to raise the cry of "Our lives and religion in danger!" A majority of the Anglicans who composed the "Irish Parliament" were bought off by Castlereagh, who paid them, as the Irish red and black lists show, nearly £3,000,000 for their votes; and so the union with England was carried.
Three years later another rebellion broke out, organized and led by a Protestant gentleman, Robert Emmet, who was "hanged, drawn, and quartered," and the dogs lapped his blood, as an eye-witness relates, from the gallows-foot in Thomas Street.
Then the pall was pulled over the face of Ireland, and she lay down in the ashes and abasement of her loneliness and misery. She had no earthly friends; she was weak to death from struggle, outrage, and despair. Even God had apparently forgotten her in the night.
But a new voice called to her in the darkness, and she listened—Daniel O'Connell, a strong man, full of courage and purpose. After thirty years of agitation he won with his minority. He had trained them superlatively. He won the franchise for the Catholics.
For eighteen years more he worked to get the Act of Union repealed; but England, when he touched that point, arrested and imprisoned him. This stopped the agitation. The people had no leader and no outside moral support. It was O'Connell and the Irish people; not the Irish people and O'Connell.
The Young Ireland party in 1848, impatient, maddened, broke into premature rebellion—were crushed, condemned, banished.
Then the famine, and the swelling of the Irish emigration stream into a torrent! Thousands died on the soil, and literally millions fled to other countries—to England, Scotland, America, Canada, Australia, South Africa, the Argentine Republic.Twenty years later, 1865-67, the first warning movement of the exiles—Fenianism; a marvelous crystallization of sentiment, heroism, and sacrifice.
Again, the abrogation of law in Ireland—the rule of the dragoon, the glutted prison, the crowded emigrant fleets, the chained men on convict ships; and again, "silence and peace in Ireland."
England had now realized the important fact that the commercial development of the Western World had placed Ireland in an objective position of the highest value. She lay in the high stream of progress. Her western and southern shores were indented with deep and safe bays and harbors. A ship-canal from Gal way to Dublin would capture every ship on the Atlantic bound for Liverpool, saving two days in sailing time; and the Irish were bent on cutting such a canal. The great fall of the Irish rivers was an inestimable treasure, greater even than the mineral wealth of the island and the fisheries on the coast.
Every ship going through an Irish canal was in danger of forgetting the southern English ports, Bristol and Southampton. Every mill built on an Irish stream would deduct from the profits of Lancashire. Every ton of coal or other mineral dug in Ireland lowered the prices in Nottingham, Sheffield, and the Black Country. If the Irish farmers' children could get work in mills and mines and shops, their earnings would make their parents independent of the landlords, and rents would have to be lowered.It was clear that Ireland's advance must be stopped, or she would become a dangerous competitor and a democratic example for Great Britain.
After the abortive Fenian rising, fruit of oppression's seed, followed the advent of Parnell, "fresh from Oxford, with his cold English training, his Yankee blood, and Irish patriotic traditionary feeling." His wonderful success had made it clear that England must either grant Home Rule or send a new Cromwell to do the work of extermination more thoroughly. But before the latter could be done England would have to reckon with the Irish outside of Ireland, and:
In conclusion, he said:
Parnell, with fifteen or twenty votes, was not a power; he was only a voice, an emphasis, an appeal. He was an agitational influence. With eighty-six votes he is a controversial force. "He has compelled John Bull to listen," as Wendell Phillips said of him.In 1889, I predict, the legislative stage of the Irish question will have arrived; and the union with England, which shall then have cursed Ireland for nine tenths of a century, will be repealed.
Ere this article had appeared, the London Times, in its issue of Christmas Eve, advised the alternative of a Cromwellian policy, the expulsion of the Irish members from Parliament, and the proclamation of martial law in Ireland. O'Reilly commented:
Ireland has won by England's own laws: and now if England trample on her own laws, and outrage Ireland with violence and lawlessness, she is a revolutionist and a criminal, to be treated by the Irish as a pirate and robber on land and sea.
Cromwell had to deal with less than four million Irishmen, who were all in Ireland. Gladstone has to deal with five millions in Ireland, five millions in Great Britain, and thirty millions elsewhere.
Let martial law be proclaimed in Ireland, and at once the Irish in America, Canada, and Australia are a solid body in retaliation. Their vast organizations would merge into one tremendous will, to boycott everything English.
If to martial law and disfranchisement be added imprisonment and murder of the people in Ireland, England will surely find a violent answer from Irishmen. She will not be allowed to break all laws of God and man with impunity. She will have to watch and defend with a knife every parcel of property she possesses. Her ships will be avoided by all travelers, for they shall be in danger on every sea. Her aristocrats will have to stay at home, or risk reprisals on their treasured lives for the slaughter of humble people in Ireland.
Men who are conservative and law-abiding, who love peace, and desire good-will between Ireland and England, will be compelled to agree with those who are sure to urge the policy of desperation and despair.
In a word, England will wantonly and stupidly and criminally create a condition of things which cannot possibly be for her good, and which will insure the endless detestation of Ireland.
Martial law will not settle the Irish question, and no wise Englishman would advise it.
"The Irish question is mainly an Irish-American question," says the London Times, sneeringly. And is it not all the more significant? The Irish in America send millions on millions of dollars a year to pay the rents and feed their suffering kindred in Ireland. This is reason enough, without the natural desire for freedom.
If England dream that the Irish in America can be tired out she makes a woeful mistake. For every thousand dollars sent to-day, we can send Ireland a million for the next ten years if she need it.The Irish demand for Home Rule must be granted. If it be refused, and if the London Times dictate the English policy, the evil-doer will suffer more than the victim. And in the end, Ireland will have Some Rule.
Parliament met in January, and the Queen, a stuffed simalacrum of royal authority, read the message written for her by an intelligent secretary, advising coercion as a panacea for Ireland's woes. In the debate that followed, Mr. Sexton, M.P., announced that the member for Midlothian, Mr. Gladstone, had expressed his approval of a Home Rule measure, and the announcement was greeted with an affirmative nod from the great English Liberal. This simple motion of Gladstone's head caused those of all England to wag in approval or denial. By the friends of Home Rule it was justly interpreted as a sign of unqualified adherence to their cause. "Mr. Gladstone's nod," wrote O'Reilly, "was more potent than the Queen's speech, and the royal Tory flummery. Ireland has scored her highest mark during this week." But the Tories had more than one arrow in their quiver; they had the barbed shaft of bigotry, and the poisoned one of treachery. Lord Randolph Churchill was to discharge the first, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain the second, Churchill, a free lance and freebooter in politics, went over to Ireland in February to sow in the blood-clotted Orange brain the seed of civil war. Churchill was a light weight, a "Sim Tappertit" in religious warfare, but O' Reilly scented the more serious danger in the disaffection of Chamberlain. He said:
There was a "bread riot" in London, in January, and some people thought they saw in it the beginning of the long-delayed English commune. O'Reilly knew the British animal better. He wrote:
The masses in England are, with all the boasted freedom of England, more deficient in the spirit of liberty, in the dignity of humanity, than the common people of any other country. In France, in the last century, and in Russia and Germany in this, the people knew that the luxurious, immoral, overbearing aristocrats had more than a just share of the national wealth. In England, the aristocrat, though greedier and more intolerant than all other "noblemen," is accepted, fawned upon, almost worshiped by the whole landless, shop-keeping, pend-riving, hard-handed community.
But the worm will turn at the cruel foot. Where oppression fails to provoke rebellion, scorn may succeed. Oppression is the heaving of the sea; insult the breaking of the billow. Oppression is the whip that bruises; scorn the lash that cuts. "Drive over the dogs!" cried a titled lady to her coachman, in the beginning of the late London riots. She was allowed to pass. But a few hours later the carriage of a great lady, sister of the Duke of Abercorn, was stopped in Piccadilly, and when the Countess showed her imperious temper (men do not act like this without provocation), one of the mob, says a correspondent, advanced to the side of the carriage and deliberately slapped her face, exclaiming, "We will hang you yet!"
But, after all, the symptoms are only premonitory, even if they be indeed earthquakes of society and not the mere shivering of the social skin. To the lower-class English mob a riot is as natural as a boil on a half-starved beggar. It is a constitutional sign, meaning poverty of the blood,—and ignorance.
We hear of no demands by the rioters—except for bread. No word has been said about the extravagances of royalty, the vast robbery of hereditary pensions, the limitless plunder of the land of Great Britain by a few thousand titled and untitled lords of men, the sale of the daughters of the poor to wealthy debauchees. Bread, bread, bread,—and to the dogs with liberty and dignity and manhood!There is no man to lead in England. Where was the atheist Bradlaugh and the philistine Chamberlain? Where was Arch, the pure-minded, tenant-helping insect? At the head of the 50,000 were only a few blatherskites who had nothing to demand, nothing to reform!
The broad-minded humanity of the man made him sympathize even with the poor-spirited heir, of traditionary servility, but his patriotic pride forced him to add:
The ancients were right when they held the words poet and seer to be synonymous. John Boyle O'Reilly was a man so many-sided that it was hard for one who knew but one or two of those sides to understand the others which they did not know. I have considered chronology rather than affinity in presenting the varied aspects of his life. To attempt anything else would be to assure failure. He was too great and versatile to be classified and labeled as common men may be, and I have chosen to show him as he was, from day to day, yet always feeling how painfully deficient is that panorama of his life. For, this man, who could be at one moment absorbed in dreamy poesy, at the next fired with patriotic fervor, and again boyishly interested in athletic sport or social enjoyment, was throughout all, and above all, a thoughtful, earnest student of social and even of industrial problems. To-day he would delight his gay comrades of "Bohemia" with playful wit and wild fancy; to-morrow he would attract the admiration and compel the conviction of a group of grave business men by his forcible presentation of an industrial question, behind which lay the ruling aspiration of his life—the welfare of his native land.
To make a paradox, those who knew him best thought they knew him least when, as constantly happened, he surprised them anew by some fresh revelation of his wonderful versatility. "He is a poet, a dreamer," said the prosaic people, impatient when his honesty stood like a stone wall before this or that political scheme. "He talks eloquently of Ireland's sufferings," said others; "but what has he to say about Ireland's real needs?" He had this to say, and when he said it before the Beacon Club of Boston, shrewd, practical business men that they were, they listened entranced to his masterly, sensible plea, couched in the language of cold truth.
The occasion was the regular monthly dinner of the club at the Revere House, on Saturday, February 21, 1886; his subject: "The Industrial and Commercial Aspects of the Irish Question."
Three hundred years ago, the illustrious English poet, Spenser, who had lived for years in Ireland, thus described the country:
"And sure it is a most beautiful and sweet country as any under heaven, being stored throughout with many goodly rivers, replenished with all sorts of fish abundantly; sprinkled with many very sweet islands and goodly lakes, like little inland seas, that will carry even shippes upon their waters; adorned with goodly woods; also filled with good ports and havens; besides the soyle itself most fertile, fit to yield all kind of fruit that shall be committed thereto. And lastly, the climate most mild and temperate."
Two hundred and fifty years ago, Sir John Davies, another eminent Englishman, wrote about Ireland as follows:
"I have visited all the provinces of that kingdom in sundry journeys and circuits, wherein I have observed the good temperature of the air, the fruitfulness of the soil, the pleasant and commodious seats for habitations, the safe and large ports and havens lying open for traffic into all the west parts of the world; the long inlets of many navigable rivers, and so many great lakes and fresh ponds within the land, as the like are not to be seen in any part of Europe; the rich fishings and wild fowl of all kinds; and, lastly, the bodies and minds of the people endued with extraordinary abilities by nature."
In Brown's "Essays on Trade," published in London in the year 1728, this is the report of Ireland:
"Ireland is in respect of its situation, the number of its commodious harbors, and the natural wealth which it produces, the fittest island to acquire wealth of any in the European seas; for, as by its situation it lies the most commodious for the West Indies, Spain, and the Northern and Eastern countries, so it is not only supplied by nature with all the necessaries of life, but can over and above export large quantities to foreign countries, insomuch that, had it been mistress of its trade, no nation in Europe of its extent could in an equal number of years acquire greater wealth."
"Ireland," says Newenham, writing seventy years ago, on industrial topics, "greatly surpasses her sister country, England, in the aggregate of the endowments of nature England, abounding in wealth beyond any other country in Europe, cannot boast of one natural advantage which Ireland does not possess in a superior degree."
All this has been said about a country that is so poverty-stricken and so unhappy, that the like of it is not seen in any part of the world. I sent reporters to four houses in Boston, a short time ago, to ask how much money they had sold on Ireland during the month of December, and from the 1st of December to the 20th, those four houses had sold over $100,000, in sums averaging $35. Now, in three weeks, four houses in one city sold that much, and I can assure you that there is not a city in the United States, not a town or hamlet, whence that drain is not constantly going away to Ireland. It is going from the mills, from the mines, from the farms, from the shops, from the servant girls. The only advantage from that terrible loss—a loss which must reach from $50,000,000 to $70,000,000 a year, which is the lowest computation you can put on it,—the only value we have in return is in the devoted and affectionate natures that could spare from their earnings so much to their poor relatives in Ireland—for they sent it to save their people from eviction and starvation; not to make them happy and comfortable, but to pay the rents to the English aristocrats, for whom England has legislated. The landlords have a mortgage on the Irish in America, through their affections. This question has never been between the; people of the two countries, but always between the Irish people and the English aristocrat, the idle, profligate fellow who owns the land and stands between the two peoples. For him and by him has all the legislation for Ireland been made, and for England, too. When the people of the two countries come to settle the question between them, depend on it, they will find a solution. It was only last year for the first time in England that the common people became a factor in politics, when 2,000,000 working men were admitted to this franchise; and it was only by their exercise of that power that the Tory government was prevented from putting another coercion act in force in Ireland, when Lord Salisbury threatened, four weeks ago, to introduce another coercion act for a country which was in peace, without any reason whatever but the will of the landlord class. The only issue for Ireland, if the Tories had remained in power and Lord Salisbury had carried out his intention, would have been rebellion. Unquestionably, Ireland would have been driven into another hopeless rebellion, the meaning of which it would have been hard to explain to the outer world. I believe that when the two peoples can settle this question between themselves they are going to work out the morality of their relations, and that the Irish people have nothing to fear, but everything to hope, from the common people of Great Britain. It is not the sea, but the separated pool that rots; and so it is not the common people, but the separated class of humanity that rots—the aristocrat, the idle man, the man on horseback, the fellow who has ruled Europe for centuries.
Now, let me go into detail over that statement as to the industrial possibilities of Ireland. The soil of Ireland is so fertile that it is absolutely unparalleled. Labor and skill are the only things necessary to produce all over the country. The soil needs no fertilizer that is not at the hands of the farmer all over the country . In many extensive parts of the country fertilizers applied to the soil kill the crops, for the soil will only bear a certain amount of nutrition, and beyond that it refuses to grow, unless left fallow for a year.
The climate is so mild that the cattle, in the winter, are pastured in the field, even in the north. They are not taken in, probably, an average of seven days in the year.
There are 136 safe and deep harbors in the island, a number not possessed by any other country.
The rivers are so deep and numerous that almost every parish might enjoy the advantages of internal navigation. Ireland has nineteen navigable rivers, with which none of the English rivers can compare.
The fisheries are probably the richest in the world; and to-day the fishermen of the western coast are kept from death by starvation by American charitable subscriptions.
With regard to mines and minerals, this sentence from Mr. Carey, grandfather of Henry Carey Baird, of Philadelphia, will suffice: "There is probably not a country in the world, which, for its extent, is one half so abundantly supplied with the most precious minerals and fossils as Ireland."
"In Tyrone, Waterford, Cork, Down, Antrim, and throughout Connaught," says an eminent British authority, Mr. T. F. Henderson, writing a few years ago, "are immense stores of iron that remain unutilized." The same writer says that from what can be seen, Ireland has at least 180,000,000 tons of available coal, from which she raises yearly only 130,000 tons. Yet she imports over 3,000,000 tons yearly from England.
Ireland has 3,000,000 acres of bog-land, which supplies an enormous quantity of admirable fuel. The average depth of peat on this is twenty-five feet—in some cases over forty feet.
The following summary of Irish mineral treasures is made from official and other surveys and reports. The figures prefixed to the different minerals and fossils denote the number of counties in which they have been discovered:
|9||Clays of various sorts.||1||Porphyry.|
|5||Fuller's earth.||1||Sillicious sand.|
|2||Garnites (decayed granite||6||Slate.|
| used in porcelain)||1||Soapstone.|
A century ago, Mr. Lawson, an English miner, stated in evidence before the Irish House of Commons that the iron-stone at Arigna lay in beds of from three to twelve fathoms deep, and that it could be raised for two shillings and sixpence a ton, which was five shillings cheaper than in Cumberland; that the coal in the neighborhood was better than any in England, and could be raised for three shillings and sixpence a ton, and that it extended six miles in length and five in breadth. He also stated that fire-brick clay and freestone of the best qualities were in the neighborhood, and that a bed of potter's clay extended there two miles in length and one in breadth. Mr. Clark, on the same occasion, declared that the iron ore was inexhaustible. And a distinguished Irish authority on mineralogical subjects, Mr. Kirwan, affirmed that the Arigna iron was better than any iron made from any species of single ore in England.
There is not a pound of iron dug out of the earth in Arigna, and there never will be till Ireland controls her own resources and can protect them by a proper tariff till they are in full productiveness.
As to water power—Dr. Kane, of the Royal Dublin Society and other eminent scientific bodies, summarizes the surveys and reports: "The water from the rivers of Ireland have an average fall of 129 yards. The average daily fall of water (falling 139 yards) into the sea is 68,500,000 tons. As 884 tons falling 24 feet in 24 hours is a horse power, Ireland has an available water power, acting day and night, from January to December, amounting to 1,300,000 horse power—or, reduced to 300 working days of 12 hours each, the available waterfall for industry represents over 3,000,000 horse power."
But remember, there is hardly a wheel turning in Ireland. All this must go to waste, the people must starve and the land decay, that the mill-owners of Lancashire may thrive. What would the world say of New England, had we the power, were we to suppress all manufacturing and mining industry in the Southern States? New England would earn the execrations of the country and the world for her avaricious selfishness.
So marvelous is the water power of Ireland, that windmills are unknown. A hundred years ago, immediately after the freeing of her Parliament, there sprang up on all the falling streams mills of various kinds—among them, according to Dr. Kane, 240 flour mills. There was not one windmill erected during all this time.
The Parliament of Ireland was free from 1782 to 1801—and during this short period the country advanced like a released giant in every field of industry and commerce. Then the selfishness of England was appealed to by the landlords and the traders, the former leading, and demanding that Irish industry be stopped, suppressed, murdered by act of Parliament. The landlords wished no resource for their rack-rented tenants. If the children of the farmer could go into the mills and shops to work and earn, the father would become independent of the landlord and agent.
In 1729, there were, according to evidence given before the Irish House of Commons, 800 silk-looms at work in Ireland. An act was passed in that year in favor of English silks; and thirty years after, there were but fifty looms in Ireland. When the Union was passed, the silk manufacture was utterly killed.
One hundred years ago the Irish found that they could reclaim their peat land by cutting a ship canal through the country from Galway to Dublin. They have shown since that the cost would be more than four times repaid by the price of the land. They showed that they could save sailing ships seventy hours in passing to and from Northern Europe, and save them from the dangers of the Channel. They showed that ships sailing from the West of Ireland obtained an offing so soon that they often reached America before vessels, leaving England on the same day, had beaten their way out of the English channel. But the merchants of the Southern ports of England—Bristol, Southampton, and London—said that that canal, if cut, would be disastrous to them, and the Parliament refused to allow it to be done. Nineteen times the Irish people have tried to cut that canal; but the Irish people cannot build a wharf or do anything else that a civilized community usually does at its own option, without going to the English House of Commons for permission to do it.
In the last century Ireland made the best woolen cloth in Europe. It was said they competed with England, and the Parliament put it down. The same law was enacted against the leather trade, and then against the trade in raw hides. Ireland obtained prominence in the manufacture of glass. English glassmakers petitioned Parliament, and an act of Parliament was passed stopping the glass trade.
Every means of industry in Ireland has been killed by act of Parliament. Every means of honest development in the country has been suppressed by act of Parliament or by the possession of the land given silently into the hands of English capitalists. The coming question in Ireland is purely commercial and industrial. The absentee landlord wants no alternative but one—pay the back rent or emigrate. Men like Hartington, a Liberal in name but a Whig at heart, a man of hereditary possession and no hereditary production, will be joined by others, and depend on it they will appeal to the worst passions and prejudices and the worst interests of the middle classes of trading Englishmen.
There are about forty-six thousand owners of land in Ireland. They own the whole country. They are largely Englishmen who live out of Ireland and have never seen it. They obtained possession in the main by confiscation; In the County of Derry, fourteen London companies, such as the vintners, drysalters, haberdashers, etc., obtained from King James most of the land of the country. These companies of London traders have never seen the land; they have kept their agents there, though, to raise the rents, generation after generation, as the poor people reclaimed the soil from moor and mountain. In two centuries the rental has been raised from a few hundred pounds a year to over a hundred thousand pounds a year, the people doing all the improvement and losing in proportion to their labor, and the avaricious corporations in London drawing all the profits.Ireland asks for the moral support of all good men of all nations in her effort to secure Home Rule. Surely, the Government that has no other answer to give to an industrious, moral people, living in so rich a land, than starvation or emigration, is arraigned and condemned in the sight of God and man, and ought to be wiped out. The Government of England ought to be taken from the hands of the cruel and senseless aristocracy that has misruled so long; and it ought to be passed into the hands of the English and Irish people, to whom it belongs.
Mr. O'Reilly closed his address amid applause, followed by the whole company rising and drinking a toast to "The success of the industrial and commercial questions of Ireland, and their great exponent, John Boyle O'Reilly."
On April 8, Mr. Gladstone introduced his Home Rule Bill in the British House of Commons. On the following night, Mr. Chamberlain sealed his treason by bitterly attacking the measure and its author. O'Reilly did not give an unqualified approval to the bill, which deprived Ireland of representation in the Imperial Parliament, and kept the excise and the constablery under the control of the latter. "It is full of faults and dangers," he said; "it is Home Rule only in name as at present developed. The marks of conceding and temporizing in Cabinet council are on every clause outlined. It says Life, and it enacts Death." But it gave the grand central idea of Home Rule, and, "for this inestimable boon Irishmen are willing to accept imperfections with the hope of ultimate reform. For this offering and the eloquent admission of its moral right. Irishmen throughout the world return to Mr. Gladstone their profound gratitude, admiration, and respect."
The bill was defeated, on its second reading, in the House of Commons, on June 17, by a vote of 341 to 311, whereupon the Gladstone ministry was dissolved and went to the country for its verdict.
In championing Ireland's cause, O'Reilly did not forget that of other oppressed peoples. "The color line" had been drawn offensively at the same time in different parts of the United States. Policemen in New York had threatened to strike if a negro were appointed on the force. A High School in Indianapolis had dispensed with commencement exercises, because eight girls of the graduating class refused to appear on the platform with a colored girl. "To insult and degrade a free man and tie his hands with social and statute wires, that cut and burn as well as restrain," wrote O'Reilly, "is worse than to seize him bodily and yoke him to a dray as a slave . . . . The girls who have disgraced themselves and their city ought to be marked with a scarlet letter.
"Every fair-minded man and woman and child in America ought to seize these shameful facts as a reason to make up their minds on the negro question. They ought to say that every policeman in New York or elsewhere, who dared to say he was better than his colored fellow-citizen, was unfit to wear the uniform of an American city; and that every school-girl who was so un-Christian and so unladylike as to ostracize a fellow-student because her skin was dark, was utterly unworthy of a diploma from the public schools."
The massacre of colored men at Carrolton, Miss., in April, called out an indignation meeting of the colored citizens of Boston, who assembled in the Phillips Street Baptist Church on the evening of April 12. O'Reilly vented his righteous indignation at the perpetrators of the atrocity, and uttered this timely word of sympathy and encouragement to his colored hearers:
But the thing that most deeply afflicts the colored American is not going to be cured by politics. You have received from politics already about all it can give you. You may change the law by politics; but it is not the law that is going to insult and outrage and excommunicate every colored American for generations to come. You can't cure the conceit of the white people that they are better than you by politics, nor their ignorance, nor their prejudice, nor their bigotry, nor any of the insolences which they cherish against their colored fellow-citizens.
Politics is the snare and delusion of white men as well as black. Politics tickles the skin of the social order; but the disease lies deep in the internal organs. Social equity is based on justice; politics change on the opinion of the time. The black man's skin will be a mark of social inferiority so long as white men are conceited, ignorant, unjust, and prejudiced. You cannot legislate these qualities out of the white—you must steal them out by teaching, illustration, and example.
No man ever came into the world with so grand an opportunity as the American negro. He is like new metal dug out of the mine. He stands on the threshold of history, with everything to learn and less to unlearn than any civilized man in the world. In his heart still ring the free sounds of the desert. In his mind he carries the traditions of Africa. The songs with which he charms American ears are refrains from the tropical deserts, from the inland seas and rivers of the dark continent.
At worst, the colored American has only a century of degrading civilized tradition, habit, and inferiority to forget and unlearn. His nature has only been injured on the outside by these late circumstances. Inside he is a new man, fresh from nature,—a color-lover, an enthusiast, a believer by the heart, a philosopher, a cheerful, natural, good-natured man. He has all the qualities that fit him to be a good Christian citizen of any country; he does not worry his soul to-day with the fear of next week or next year. He has feelings and convictions, and he loves to show them. He sees no reason why he should hide them.
The negro is the only graceful, musical, color-loving American. He is the only American who has written new songs and composed new music. He is the most spiritual of Americans, for he worships with his soul and not with his narrow mind. For him, religion is to be believed, accepted, like the very voice of God, and not invented, contrived, reasoned about, shaded, altered, and made fashionably lucrative and marketable, as it is made by too many white Americans. As Mr. Downing, who preceded me, has referred to the Catholic religion, I may be pardoned for saying that there is one religion that knows neither race, nor class, nor color; that offers God unstintedly the riches and glories of this world in architecture, in painting, in marble, and in music and in grand ceremony. There is no other way to worship God with the whole soul; though there are many other ways of worshiping him with the intellect at so many dollars an hour, in an economical church, a hand-organ in the gallery, and a careful committee to keep down the expenses. The negro is a new man, a free man, a spiritual man, a hearty man; and he can be a great man if he will avoid modeling himself on the whites. No race or nation is great or illustrious except by one test—the breeding of great men. Not great merchants or traders, not rich men, bankers, insurance mongers, or directors of gas companies. But great thinkers, great seers of the world through their own eyes, great tellers of the truth and beauties and colors and equities as they alone see them. Great poets—ah! great poets above all—and their brothers, great painters and musicians and fashioners of God's beautiful shapes in clay and marble and bronze.The negro will never take his stand beside or above the white man till he has given the world proof of the truth and beauty and heroism and power that are in his soul. And only by the organs of the soul are these delivered; by the self-respect and self-reflection, by philosophy, religion, poetry, art, sacrifice, and love. One poet will be worth a hundred bankers and brokers, worth ten presidents of the United States to the negro race. One great musician will speak to the world for the black man as no thousand editors or politicians can.
Toward the middle of February of this year a number of Boston citizens, interested in the cause of Irish Home Rule, had formed a committee for the purpose of soliciting subscriptions for a parliamentary fund to aid the Irish members in their political battle. Subscriptions were nominally limited to five dollars. Other cities and towns in the State joined in the canvass with such good effect that when the Boston committee held its final meeting on July 17, John Boyle O'Reilly presiding, they were able to report a total sum collected of nearly $24,000. Men and women of all classes and creeds contributed generously to the fund. A large part of its success was due to the untiring efforts of O'Reilly, who addressed meetings night after night in various towns and labored without rest for the cause, until even his sturdy health broke down. While speaking at a meeting at Watertown, in June, he was seized with vertigo and compelled to leave the platform. His physician forbade him to continue the incessant and exhaustive work.
His reputation as a public speaker had steadily enhanced. As a lecturer he had always many more offers of engagements than he could possibly accept. His duties as editor and manager of a great paper prevented him from giving more time to the platform. When he did accept an offer to deliver an oration he, threw his whole soul into the work, and the result was both original and striking. "You are the orators of Decoration Day, no matter who may be the speakers," he began his address to the Grand Army veterans at Everett, Mass., on May 31. Who but this clear-sighted prophet could have so well discerned the sophism of the Secession argument. "Secession was a national and constitutional right," said Jefferson Davis, twenty years after the death of the Confederacy.
"When men talk so much about rights," answers O'Reilly, "they must be willing to go to the foundation. The bottom right is the right of a man, not of a State. If the general Government had no right to oppress States,' States had no right to oppress men."
"The Cry of the Dreamer," one of the most touching of all his poems, was first published on May 8, 1886. It is a veritable cry of a natural man for the natural life, "heart-weary of building and spoiling, and spoiling and building again." By a strange coincidence there has come to me, at the moment of writing about this heart-touching poem, a copy of a letter written by the poet, eight years ago, to his friend, Charles Warren Stoddard, then a happy dweller and dreamer by the summer seas of the far-away Hawaiian Islands. It anticipates almost the very words of his poet's cry:
The "Pilot" Editorial Rooms,
Boston, June 31, 1882.
Your letter was kind, and sweet, and welcome. Thank you. It came like a smile, when I was in a turmoil of work and care. I envy you the laziness, and the islands, and the sun, and the vague future.
Men who dream can be tortured by the clear-lined definitions that make the paradise of the business Philistine.
I am not any longer a poet; I am a city pack-horse, with an abstract, sun-bottled attachment. I long to go and lie down in the cloverfields of my boyhood. I long to be listless and dreamy, and idle, and regardless of conventionalism. I long to sit down and let the busy world go past. But this longing must be meant as a chastening influence. It can never be. I am chained to the wheel. I shall never lie down in the sunny grass till I lie in the churchyard.
Never come back, if you can help it. Stay where men live, and raise your hands forbiddingly against business, and thrift, and shop respectability.
Good-by to you; but write to me now and again. I have your little book of idyls. I send you a poem I read last week which was rather successful. I am,
Yours very truly,