Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 8
His Public Life—Editorial Condemnation of Bigotry—He Speaks for the Indian and the Negro—"Songs of the Southern Seas"—Death of Captain Gifford—Poem on the Death of John Mitchell—Controversy with Dr. Brownson—His Poem for the O'Connell Centenary—O'Reilly Becomes Part Owner of the Pilot.
EARLY in February, 1873, the Orangemen of Boston, with the flexible loyalty which has ever distinguished the order, became suddenly and vociferously American, and announced their intention of celebrating Washington's birthday by a parade. Whether they paraded or not is a matter only of small-beer chronicles. O' Reilly, true to his principles of tolerance and conciliation, wrote:
He was just as prompt to condemn the introduction of foreign issues into American politics by Catholics as by Protestants.
Announcements had been made in various papers that a convention of a proposed "Irish" party would be held at Cleveland, O., in July of the same year. Quoting these announcements O'Reilly commented:
The Irishmen who would form or join such an order as that described above, stand in the same relation to us as the members of the O. A. P. or O. U. A. M., or any other order of Know-nothings in the country; nay, the Irishman who would join such a party is even more our enemy than they are, for not only does he adopt their shameful course, but he throws the discredit of his conduct on the people to whom he belongs.
The Irishman who would proscribe a native American, and the native American who would proscribe an Irishman, are guilty of the same crime against the principles of the Constitution. But the Irishman is guilty of more than the other: when he joins a secret society he is recreant to his religion; when he joins a prescriptive society he is recreant to his citizenship.
All that was good and beautiful in our dear native island, we should cherish forever. We have her faith and her honor to preserve and to make respected. We have sympathy with her trials and her efforts to be free. But we cannot, as honest men, band together in American politics under the shadow of an Irish flag.
Reviewing the editorial work of John Boyle O'Reilly during twenty years, and understanding, as only newspaper men can understand, the difficulties under which such work is performed, especially the necessity which it involves of deciding quickly on matters, often of gravest importance, the unerring instinct with which O'Reilly decided rightly in almost every case is little short of marvelous. The editor of the ordinary weekly paper is supposed to have abundance of leisure for forming and expressing his opinions. Such was not the case with O'Reilly. He preferred writing his articles at the last moment; he was as scrupulous as the most enterprising of "night editors" in getting the latest news, and in supplying the final editions of his paper with everything of importance chronicled up to the moment of going to press.
Yet, reading through those editorials of twenty years, with the light of subsequent events to guide, I am amazed at the sureness of his instinct, the accuracy of his judgment, and the terse vigor of his pronouncements on every event of more than ephemeral interest. His political forecasts were often as erroneous as those of other editorial prophets; but his instincts never once failed on a definite question of right and wrong. There he was infallible.
When the treacherous murder of General Canby by the Modoc Indians, in the lava beds of Oregon, aroused a clamor for vengeance throughout the country, he took the part of the poor savages who had no newspaper organ to advocate their cause, saying:
He was a Democrat, imbued with the best spirit of his party, but he was never a blind partisan. On the negro question he stood beside his friend, Wendell Philipps, on the platform of Daniel O'Connell. Here is one of his early pleas in behalf of the Southern negro, written at a time when the rascally rule of the carpet-baggers in the South had made even the Republicans in the North lose much of their sympathy for the freedmen.
The year 1873 saw the practical inception of the movement for Irish Home Rule. O'Reilly, wise from experience, advised the Fenians to give the new scheme a fair hearing. "They," he said, "had done their work. Their movement, whatever its faults, aroused the national sentiment and forced the people into the study of their country's position. Nobody in the world has clearer grounds of objection to Fenianism than we have: we have known it all through, root and branch, its faults, its weaknesses, and its virtues: but we are not quite sure that had it not been at all, there would be no such hopeful movement as there is in Ireland to-day."
He, of all men, might have been justified in declaring war to the knife against the oppressors of his native land, but he did not think of his own wrongs when the best interests of his country were to be considered. He sincerely espoused the cause of Home Rule, and urged the wisdom and charity of forgetting past grievances. "That measure once attained," he said: "Let both neighbors combine for every neighborly purpose, and pull together, if need be, against the rest of the world, as good neighbors should; but let each give up, once for all, the arrogant, mischievous pretension of lording it over the hearthstone and dictating the domestic economy of the other. Thus will be combined national freedom with national strength."
Thenceforward, and to the end of his life, he remained an unwavering advocate of the pacific policy, an unshaken believer in its ultimate success. In his sanguine way he made, in 1886, one of the predictions which failed of fulfillment, that Home Rule would be achieved in the year 1889. He had not reckoned on the treachery of Chamberlain, and the selfish ambition of the English Unionists.
In March, 1873, the Catholic Union of Boston was founded, with Theodore Metcalf as President, and John Boyle O'Reilly as Recording Secretary. He remained a member of the organization until his death.
Two interesting events marked this year in the poet's life. The first, a pleasant one, was the appearance of his book of poems, "Songs of the Southern Seas," published by Roberts Bros., of Boston. The second, a sad one, was the death of the man to whom that book was gratefully dedicated. Captain David R. Gifford died on board his ship, off Mahe, Seychelle Islands, on August 26, without having seen the tribute paid him by the Irish exile whom he had befriended.
The "Songs" were favorably received by American readers. Most of them had appeared in the weekly or monthly publications of the country. Two had first seen the light in the Dark Blue Magazine, of Oxford his trumpet-toned tales of war," said the Chicago Interocean. "The 'Dog Guard,' leaves an impression on the mind like Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner,' " said the Boston Advertiser. R. H. Stoddart, in Scribner's Monthly, wrote: "William Morris could have spun off the verse more fluently, and Longfellow could have imparted to it his usual grace; still, we are glad it is not from them but from Mr. O'Reilly that we receive it He is as good a balladist as Walter Thornbury, who is the only other living poet who could have written 'The Old Dragoon's story.' "The Atlantic Monthly commended especially the discretion with which inanimate nature is subordinated to human interest in the "King of the Vasse": "The Australian scenery, and air, and natural life are everywhere summoned around the story without being forced upon the reader. Here, for instance, is a picture at once vivid and intelligible—which is not always the case with the vivid pictures of the word painters There are deep springs of familiar feeling (as the mother's grief for the estrangement of her savage-hearted son), also, touched in this poem, in which there is due artistic sense and enjoyment of the weirdness of the motive; and, in short, we could imagine ourselves recurring more than once to the story, and liking it better and better. The 'Dog Guard' is the next best story in the book,—a horrible fact treated with tragic realism, and skillfully kept from being merely horrible.", England, where the new contributor was welcomed, until his political status became known, when the magazine, like a loyal Conservative, declined to accept further contributions from the rebel poet. The press and scholars of America, having no such scruples, took his work at its just value, and their verdict was indorsed in due time by the best critics of England. The modesty of the young poet, and the spontaneous and unconventional spirit of his verse, won immediate appreciation and praise. Edwin P. Whipple, profound scholar and judicious critic, commended the "Occasional Poems" in the book as "very tender, fanciful, earnest, individual, and manly, claiming nothing which they do not win by their inherent force, grace, melody, and 'sweet reasonableness,' or, it may be at times, their passionate unreasonableness. Nobody can read the volume without being drawn to its author. He is so thoroughly honest and sincere that he insists that his imaginations are but memories." The versatility of his work invited comparisons, which were seldom aught but favorable, with many older and more distinguished poets. "There is the flow of Scott in his narrative power, and the fire of Macaulay in
The "Songs of the Southern Seas" were subsequently incorporated in a volume, published in 1878 and entitled, "Songs, Legends, and Ballads," which reached a seventh edition, and will have attained its eighth in the present compilation.
It was dedicated as follows:
My Dear Wife,
whose rare and loving judgment has been a standard
i have tried to reach.
i dedicate this book.
In the Pilot of July 11, of the same year, O'Reilly printed a poem of about sixty lines, into which he had compressed all the pent-up fierce democracy of his nature. In it he reaches his highest point of thought, if not of expression. It is the poem, "Bone and Sinew and Brain." His figures are bold and strikingly original; Manhood is its theme—Manhood, and its corelative. Womanhood—before which all else must give way in the battle for the survival of the fittest. Inveighing like a Hebrew prophet against the effeminacy of the time, and the cant of the "march of mind,"—
Till the head grows large and the vampire face,
Is gorged on the limbs so thin—
and still more fiercely against "the sterile and worthless life" of the childless woman, he cries out:
Ho, white-maned waves of the Western Sea
That ride and roll to the strand!
Ho, strong-winged birds never blown a-lee
By the gales that sweep toward land!
Ye are symbols both of a hope that saves,
As ye swoop in your strength and grace,
As ye roll to the land like the billowed graves
Of a suicidal race.
You have hoarded your strength in equal parts;
For the men of the future reign
Must have faithful souls and kindly hearts,
And bone and sinew and brain.
On the 20th of March, 1875, John Mitchell, the sturdy Irish patriot, breathed his last at Dromolane, County Down, Ireland. O'Reilly's poem on the dead patriot was published in the following week. It contains this striking figure, among others:
Dead! but the death was fitting:
His life to the latest breath,
Was poured like wax on the Chart of Eight,
And is sealed by the stamp of Death!
Within twenty days Ireland lost three of her most loyal sons, John Mitchell, John Martin, and Sir John Gray. Of them O'Reilly wrote: "All three were Protestants: and their death draws attention to the truth that no people in the world are so utterly without religious bigotry as the Irish. These three Protestants were the most beloved and trusted men in Ireland, and by the Irish Catholics and Protestants throughout the world. The only question Ireland asks her public men is—Are you true to my cause? England has tried with inhuman cunning to put the wedge between Protestant and Catholic in Ireland: she planted the seeds of Orangeism and Ribbonism, and watched and watered them to make them grow. But, thank God! the weed of religious hate will not spread on Irish soil. It is never the difference of religion that makes the bad blood; it is the taint of English money and English sympathy."
To this broad-minded editor nothing was more odious than the narrow bigotry which would array sect against sect, especially when displayed by Catholics. In this year, 1875, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr. Peter Paul McSwiney, issued a circular calling for the formation of an "Irish Catholic party," saying: "To make a united Ireland, our motto must be 'Faith and Fatherland.' "The Irish Catholics indignantly repudiated the bigoted appeal, which O'Reilly stigmatized as "Catholic Know-nothingism."
He crossed swords with a foeman more worthy of his steel when Dr. Orestes A. Brownson, a convert to Catholicity, and, as converts sometimes are, one rather more zealous than discreet, took exception to the Pilot's honorable praise of the Irish Protestants who had served their country with a loyalty that redeems their class from the disgrace even of Orangeism. O'Reilly's answer to Brownson is eloquent with the indignation of a man who had suffered from intolerance enough to detest it in every form. He says:
"Mr. McKenzie is a man of considerable literary ability and reputation, and, though a Protestant, we believe a genuine Irishman. Perhaps, we ought not to say though a Protestant, for our poetical friend of the Boston Pilot—a high authority in such matters—assured the public, not long since, that the truest and best Irishmen going are Protestants. Why, then, complain of 'Protestant ascendancy,' and denounce the Irish parliament of 1800, that sold the Irish nationality for British gold, every member of which was a Protestant? Grattan, Flood, Plunkett, Curran, and a few others, were, no doubt, able and eloquent, and regarded Ireland as their country, but they were powerless against the mass of their Protestant countrymen; and we have never seen, and never expect to see, any good come to Catholic Ireland from following Protestant and infidel leaders. We have much more confidence in the Catholic bishops and clergy than in Protestant and infidel 'head centers.' We have no confidence in those Catholics even who sink the religious in the national question, for no nation can be really free and independent that is not Catholic."Protestant Irishmen are for us neither more nor less than the Protestants of any other nationality; and Catholic Ireland has suffered far more from Protestant Irishmen than from Englishmen. Our interest is in Catholic Ireland; and Irish politics, save so far as they affect the Church, are no more to us than the politics of any other foreign nation. We have very little respect for those Irish patriots who think they can serve their country by leaving their religion in abeyance and acting under the lead of its enemies. If the Boston Pilot insists in glorying in 'our element,' let it visit our prisons, penitentiaries, almshouses, etc.; above all, let it look into the reports of our police courts and mark the frequency with which 'our element' is brought up for drunkenness, and husbands of the same element for brutally beating and kicking their wives, not seldom even to death. It may also count the 'street arabs,' belonging to. the same 'element' that swarm in our cities and live only by begging and stealing— chiefly by stealing. There it can find 'our element,' as also in the emigrants from remote Irish districts, who have never been instructed in the first principles of religion and morality, and hardly know how to bless themselves."
To this intemperate onslaught O'Reilly replied:
Church of England Protestants.—Thomas A. Emmet, barrister; Arthur O'Connor, barrister; Eoger O'Connor, barrister; Thomas Russel, John Chambers, Mathew Dowling, Edward Hudson, Hugh Wilson William Dowdall, Robert Hunter, Matthew Keogh, Joseph Holt, Thomas Corbett, William Corbett, Hon. Simon Butler, A. H. Rowan, James Napper Tandy, Lord Edw. Fitzgerald, Henry Sheares, barrister; John Sheares, barrister; Oliver Bond, Leonard McNally, B. B. Harvey, barrister; William Weir, John Allen, Thomas Bacon, Anthony Perry, Theobald Wolf Tone, Barthol Tone, Thomas Wright, Wm. Livingstone Webb, William Hamilton, Richard Kernan, James Reynolds, M.D., Deane Swift, barrister; Robert Emmet.
Presbyterians.—William Tennant, M.D., Robert Simms, Samuel Nellson, George Cumming, Rev. Mr. Warwick, Joseph Cuthbert, Rev. W. Steele Dickson, William Drennan, M.D., William Orr, Samuel Orr, William Putnam McCabe, Rev. William Porter, Henry Monroe, James Dickey, attorney; Henry Haslett, William Sampson, barrister; Henry Joy McCracken, Rev. Mr. Barber, William Sinclair, J. Sinclair, Rev. Mr. Mahon, James Hope, Robert McGee, M.D., Gilbert Mcllvain, Robert Byers, Henry Byers, Rev. Mr. Birch, Rev. Mr. Warde, S. Kennedy, Robert Hunter, Robert Orr, Rev. Mr. Smith, Rev. Mr. Sinclair, Hugh Grimes, William Kean, Rev. Mr. Stevelly, James Burnside, James Green, Rowley Osborne, Mr. Turner, Rev. Mr. McNeil, William Simms, John Rabb, Rev. Mr. Simpson, Israel Milliken.
It may interest Dr. Brownson to know that eighteen of the above named Protestants loved Ireland so well that they were hanged for their affection. It was to these men, when speaking to Irishmen who understood him, that "our poetical friend" alluded.
Shall Irishmen forget these men because they were Protestants? Dr. Brownson says he takes no interest in anything but Catholic politics and Catholic leaders. In the name of God he is preaching the devil's own doctrine—the old English doctrine of dissension. Are the Catholic citizens of this country to repudiate the deeds of all Protestant Americans, and scout the memory of the Protestant Washington? Are Irish Catholics, at Dr. Brownson's bidding, to forget the name and fame of such a Protestant Irishman as Edmund Burke, who was addressed by Pope Pius VI. as a "noble man" and a benefactor to the world? Dr. Brownson, we suppose, would reject the services of Warren and Putnam at Bunker Hill because they were Protestants; he would depose Washington, Clay, Henry, and the others from their high place in the national memory; he would reject Grant, Sherman, and Thomas, because they were Protestants, and fling Sheridan after them because he was only a middling Catholic. Dr. Brownson mixes too much religion in his politics. His intolerant meddling can bring nothing but discredit on Catholicity. He has made a reputation for literary pugilism by knocking his own straw men to smithereens; but now, in his old age, he forgets himself and strikes at living men, with other results. When Dr. Brownson says that Ireland suffered more from Protestant Irishmen than from England—he is doting. Irishmen know better. They remember whole centuries of wrong—
"Strongbow's force, and Henry's wile,
Tudor's wrath, and Stuart's guile,
Iron Stafford's tiger jaws.
And brutal Brunswick's penal laws;
Not forgetting Saxon faith.
Not forgetting Norman scaith.
Not forgetting William's word,
Not forgetting Cromwell's sword."
Such a spirit as that shown by Dr. Brownson in this article is scandalous and abominable.As to the Irish in the prisons, and the Irish children in the penitentiaries, it comes with a bad grace from a converted Anglo-American Protestant to cast them in our teeth. They were prepared for prison and penitentiary by English law that enforced generations of ignorance on Ireland. There is no blame attached to the Irish "street arabs" for their poverty,—not an atom. Nobody but an exasperated and impotent old man would scoff at them. God help them, and God pity their forefathers, who lived under the penal laws, who could not help leaving after them a legacy of poverty and crime!
When Brownson's Review passed out of existence in the following October, with some sharp denunciations of the Pilot, in its valedictory, O'Reilly, always generous to a foeman, Avrote:
"I give glory to God for our battles won
By wood or river, by bay or creek;
For Noma who died ; for my father Conn;
For feasts and the chase on the mountain bleak.
I bewail my sins, both known and unknown,
And of those I have injured forgiveness seek.
The men that were wicked to me and mine
(Not quenching a wrong, nor in war nor wine)
I forgive and absolve them all, save three,
And may Christ in his mercy be kind to me."
Nobody could better appreciate a vigorous antagonist than Dr. Brownson himself, of whom a characteristic anecdote is told, during his early life, when he was a Unitarian minister. Being in a bookstore on a certain occasion, he had a controversy with Mr. Trask, the famous anti-tobacco apostle. Mr. Brownson became irritated at some remark of Mr. Trask, and promptly knocked him down. The by-standers protested earnestly, and Mr. Brownson as promptly made a humble and complete apology for his loss of self-control. The apology was accepted and the conversation resumed, but Mr. Trask overdid his magnanimity by saying, once or twice afterward, "I forgive you." At last Brownson became enraged a second time and said, "I have knocked you down and I have apologized for it. If you say anything more about forgiving me, I will knock you down again." Dr. Brownson should not have been so severe on the Irish people, with whom, as this anecdote shows, he had a very kindred spirit. Another good anecdote was told of him by the late Bishop Fitzpatrick. Brownson had a marvelous memory, and a corresponding fluency in presenting facts with which his mind was so richly stored. Added to this was "a certain dogmatic way of enlightening the company on every subject. The Bishop, who was known to have been fond of a quiet joke, agreed with the rest to take him, for once, off his guard. They decided to study well some subject which Brownson would be least apt to think of, and accordingly fixed on Iceland. At the next gathering they caused the conversation gradually to slide into Iceland, directing it in a manner to set forth all their knowledge of the subject, and quietly ignoring the doctor as one out of his latitude. The latter, however, soon broke the ice, set them right on various points, and wound up with an elaborate array of facts. He afterward disclosed that he had recently been studying an extensive work on the subject, just issued; and the company despaired ever after of overshadowing Brownson on any subject whatever." The venerable controversialist died in April, 1876, heartily regretted even by those with whom he had broken lances in many a sharp encounter.
On the 6th of August, 1875, the centenary of O'Connell's birthday was celebrated by the Irish people throughout the world. In Dublin it was especially commemorated by the inauguration of a noble statue to (the Liberator, from the hand of the Irish sculptor, John Henry Foley, R.A. The celebration in Boston was a notable event. Wendell Phillips was the orator, and John Boyle O'Reilly the poet. Fully four thousand people crowded Music Hall; Patrick Donahoe presided. Governor Gaston, William Lloyd Garrison, General Banks, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and leading clergymen of all denominations, with white and colored citizens, occupied the platform. Whittier, who could not attend in person, sent a letter in which he recalled the fact that:
"More than thirty years ago, in an elaborate and carefully prepared paper, I defended him from the unjust attacks of some of my countrymen and I have seen no reason since to retract a word of the very high praise which I then awarded him.
"He was a consistent Christian reformer. To use his own words, 'He hated all tyranny and intolerance, social, political, or ecclesiastical.' By birth and conviction a faithful member of the ancient Church, he asked nothing for Catholics which he was not ready to ask for Protestants. He was no reactionist. He believed it his privilege to co-operate with Divine Providence in making the world better and happier; and held with his brother religionist, Lamartine, that to oppose the progress of civilization and humanity was to sin against the Holy Ghost. His philanthropy was logical, and therefore universal."
The oration of Phillips was worthy of orator and subject. O'Reilly's poem was entitled "A Nation's Test." Nothing truer has been said in panegyric of the great Liberator than is conveyed in these four lines:
Races and sects were to him a profanity:
Hindoo, and negro, and Celt were as one;
Large as Mankind was his splendid humanity,
Large in its record the work he has done.
The poet was unconsciously foreshadowing the world's verdict on his own life. On October 20 of this year he read his grand poem "Fredericksburg," at the inauguration of the armory of the Second Regiment, Illinois State Guards, Chicago, taking as his text the words of General Meagher—"The Irishman never fights so well as when he has an Irishman for his comrade. An Irishman going into the field has this as the strongest impulse and his richest reward, that his conduct in the field will reflect honor on the old land he will see no more. He therefore wishes that if he falls it will be into the arms of one of the same nativity, that all may hear that he died in a manner worthy of the cause in which he fell, and of the country which gave him birth."
O'Reilly's reputation as a poet was fully established by this time. The Atlantic Monthly for December, 1875, contained his poem "Macarius the Monk." Scribner's for the same month had "The Last of the Narwhale," a nautical story in his old vigorous vein.
All this time, amid the press of daily editorial duties, the manifold calls of public life, and the steady pursuit of. literature, O'Reilly had time to listen to any story of wrong done to the humblest of his countrymen, and to espouse the cause of the wronged man until the injustice was repaired. Was it a sailor refused enlistment in a government ship "because he was an Irishman," or a victim, half of circumstances and half of prejudice, like Thomas Cahill, extradited from Ireland on a false charge of murder in Massachusetts, or a shop boy confronted with the offensive shibboleth, "No Irish need apply" —O'Reilly was ever ready to take up as a personal quarrel the cause of the injured one. And when he did so, the quarrel did not end until the offender had amply repented. He literally followed his own creed of the brotherhood of mankind, and carried out his mission of helping the helpless ones among his brothers.
Early in February, 1876, Mr. Donahoe's misfortunes forced him to suspend. He had lost a fortune in the fires of 1872. The failure of insurance companies prevented his partial recovery from that disaster. He. had, furthermore, indorsed heavily for a friend, who failed in business, leaving him responsible for the sum of $170,000. The paper was prosperous, but its gains were insufficient to meet those tremendous losses. Property which he held had sadly depreciated in value, and business depression prevailed everywhere, until the shrinkage on his real estate left no equity beyond the mortgage. He was indebted to the extent of $300,000, of which some $73,000 was due to poor depositors. In this crisis he was compelled to make an assignment. The trustees of the property decided that the Pilot should be kept intact, and accordingly disposed of it by sale to the Archbishop of Boston, and John Boyle O'Reilly. In announcing this transfer the Pilot made the further gratifying announcement:
"The Most Rev. Archbishop Williams and Mr. O'Reilly, the future proprietors, hope to be enabled to prevent this terrible loss from falling too heavily on the poor people. With continued success for the Pilot, the purchasers intend to pay the depositors every dollar on their books."
This voluntary obligation was carried out to the letter, the $73,000 being paid, in ten annual installments, to the depositors.
- Here O'Reilly makes a curious lapse, according to the testimony of a relative of his own, and, like himself, a direct descendant of Patrick Allen; of whom the John Allen above mentioned was the grandson and a steadfast Catholic; in fact, the Colonel Allen of Napoleon's army, referred to in Chapter I. of this biography.