My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 4
A NATIONAL JOURNALIST
Debated with Davis the principles of the new journal, afterwards with Dillon and John O'Hagan—Success of the journal—National poetry in the Nation—Weekly suppers of the contributors, and Sunday excursions—The Father Mathew testimonial, and the purpose to which I desired to apply it—Letter from Father Mathew—Relations with O'Connell Success of the new opinions Testimony of Isaac Butt, Samuel Ferguson, Carleton, Lefanu, Lever, Lecky, and others—Notable men and women contributors—The "Spirit of the Nation" and its reception—Thackeray's squibs—Letters from Leigh Hunt, Thomas Carlyle, and Dr. M'Knight.
While the new journal was still on the anvil, Davis visited me at Belfast, and we debated the principles on which it ought to be conducted. I told him what the Vindicator had effected in the North, a work which was provincial, suitable to the condition of Ulster, where the Catholics had not asserted themselves since the Battle of Ballynahinch, but manifestly unsuitable to a National struggle. I reiterated my rooted opinion that education was the agency, without which we could accomplish nothing. Men with convictions alone were strong, but our people had only sentiments and sympathies. Davis said education was a resource sure indeed, but slow; we ought to be able to win the help of classes already educated. We wanted the help of the Protestant middle class. The best of them were friendly to every popular demand except the final one; our bitterest enemies among them were descendants of the men who surrounded Tone and Russell in Belfast fifty years ago. A National movement ought to embrace the whole nation, the door not being shut against any class because of their opinions on any subject except repeal of the Union. I told him I was confident generous Protestants in three provinces might be won, but not in Ulster in this generation. The men associated with Tone and Russell had no successors. The young men of the Church of England were mostly Orangemen systematically trained in the belief that their Church, and perhaps their personal property, would be plundered by the Catholics if they obtained power. The Presbyterians were not in general Orangemen, but there were settlements of Cameronians and Covenanters among them who kept alive a fierce enmity and contempt of "the Romanists," and knew no more of Tone and Russell than of the Gracchi. I had lived all my life in the province, and I never met a Protestant Nationalist of my own generation (although there were doubtless a few survivors of '98) except three one of my schoolfellows, another who was a man of letters in London, and the third who was a young attorney residing at Bannbridge, who came to see me at the time of the O'Connell dinner, and expressed warm sympathy with the Nationalist minority.
Of our promised colleagues in the journal Davis relied chiefly upon Dillon. Dillon, he said, was horrified at the condition of the peasantry in Connaught, and was impatient to take up the land question, which was doubtless of less interest in the North, where the farmers had security of tenure, and were tolerably content with their landlords. I assured him the tenants were not at all content, that the landlords violated the Ulster tenant-right as far and as often as they dared, and, like the Marquis of Londonderry, interfered in the management of farms with insolence which was wanton. In one memorable case the Marquis threatened immediate eviction to a tenant not in arrears of rent because he cultivated a whin hedge which offended the landlord's taste as a scientific agriculturist. I had brought some cases of this sort to light, and I was persuaded that there was a deep and widespread discontent among the Presbyterian farmers, likely some day to break out with the suddenness and force of an earthquake.
I visited Dublin shortly after these conversations and went over the same ground with Dillon. I found that, as the aims of all three were identical, there would be no difficulty in harmonising our methods.
With Dillon I met a youngster, in whom I was greatly interested. Like myself he was a Northern, and a law student who had trained himself in a provincial town chiefly by the aid of books. John O'Hagan was still under twenty, but proved surprisingly well informed on whatever subject turned up in conversation, and with this intellectual agility he united the repose and authority of more mature years. When you are interested in a man it commonly happens that you hear of him in unexpected places, and every one who knew O'Hagan had something pleasant to tell of him. One of my kinsmen, living in the Argentine Republic, who had been his schoolfellow, wrote to me a little later: "I owe my love of books to John O'Hagan. When we were boys together in Newry, not above ten years of. age I should think, we read Shakespeare together day after day in a hayloft, and I got a taste for reading which I trust will never leave me. I shall probably never meet him on earth, but he is fitted to go to heaven, and I trust to meet him there some day." John O'Hagan became my fast friend from that time to his dying day. Starting from a memorable youth, he constantly developed unexpected powers. The tranquil, sagacious talker surprised his friends by passionate poetry, and the poet amazed them by proving a profound dialectician. Such a man was an invaluable recruit, and naturally became one of the cabinet council of the new journal as soon as it got organised.
The story of the sudden rise and amazing growth of the Nation has been told elsewhere. In a few weeks it was read everywhere in Ireland, and read with a sympathy and confidence which had not been given to a newspaper within the memory of any man then engaged in public affairs. Its chief charm for the people was the frankness with which truths were uttered which had commonly been heard only in whispers. The case of Ireland was no longer (to borrow the metaphor of Moore) the lament of a beggar who showed his sores to excite compassion, but the remonstrance of an injured and angry partner, who insisted on fair play or a close of the partnership. The omnipotent landowners who controlled everything in the country, and could count for steadfast support from the courts and the Castle, were brought face to face with the first principles of public polity, and their misconduct habitually exposed. The Irish people amounted to nearly eight millions at that time, and the voice of haughty self-reliance was very welcome to them. The experiment commenced, as we have seen, in the Vindicator, of appealing to an old bardic people in passionate popular verse, I resolved to carry into the Nation; I invited my new friends to help, and set an example of the spirit which I desired to evoke. Davis, who had never published a stanza, John O'Hagan, who had as little practice, even Mangan, who was a genuine poet, but had not yet been kindled into a confident trust in the destiny of Ireland, wrote frequently, and volunteers soon came who matched the pioneers at their own weapons. Williams's "Munster War Song," Ingram's Memory of the Dead," De Jean Fraser's "Gathering of the Nation," Drennan's "Battle of Beal-an-Ath Buidhe," and Denny Lane's "Kate of Araglen," which came from volunteers, are not excelled in the whole circle of Irish song. It was Davis's habit to put his whole strength into any work he undertook; the new faculty he had developed delighted him, chiefly as another serviceable weapon to be employed in the war of deliverance, and for three years he poured out songs and ballads which inflamed and elevated the spirit of the country. The writers of the Nation lived much together, and educated each other by friendly discussion on every problem in the Irish case, for a man scarcely understands his own opinions till he has defended them in debate. A weekly supper on Saturday evening and Sunday excursions to historic places, to which sympathetic friends were invited, made the chief recreations of a busy life. The Nation was not a journal designed to chronicle the small beer of current politics, but to teach opinions, and this was a task never neglected. The ideal of an historic nationality embracing the whole people of whatever creed or origin was a topic to which Davis constantly applied himself. Dillon, to whom the practical side of life appealed most keenly, painted the desolate condition of the tenant-at-will, and analysed the exceptional laws under which he cowered. For my part I insisted over and over again on the need of systematised self-education, such as I had mooted to Father Mathew at Newry, and to Davis at Belfast. We interchanged topics, indeed week after week, but each man returned in the end to the theme which touched him nearest.
I aimed from the outset to stamp upon the Nation an individuality like that which distinguishes an honourable man, from whom it is instinctively felt that nothing underhand or unfair need be feared. Every line of the contents passed under my eye. No one was assailed for any offence except some public delinquency injurious to Ireland, and no one assailed was ever refused a hearing. The aim of the Nation was speedily understood by the best men in Ireland; they recognised almost instinctively that here was a journal which was not a commercial speculation, but the voice of men to whom the elevation of Ireland was a creed and a passion. The profits, which were considerable, were spent in improving and distributing the journal, and paying contributors on a scale unprecedented in Ireland.
A signal opportunity soon offered for promoting the adult education so much needed. It was proposed to commemorate the services of Father Mathew by a national memorial. The chief nobility, gentry, merchants, and eminent ecclesiastics of both Churches tendered their aid, and the project promised to be a notable success. I suggested that instead of erecting a stone and mortar or marble and bronze monument, the opportunity ought to be seized to complete and consolidate Father Mathew's noble work. If the money were expended in perfecting the Teetotal Societies, they would become the clubs, the adult schools, the lecture-rooms, the parish parliaments of a sober people. As their resources and opportunities expanded they might be encouraged to establish museums, public baths, public walks, bands, exhibition-rooms, benefit societies, and all the other agencies of popular enlightenment and comfort. Among a people so equipped a national literature would spring up—a literature not founded on the gasconade and gormandising of pseudo Irish dragoons or slang stories about the blunders of Paddy and Andy, but genuinely native, recalling all we love or hate in the chequered history of our country, and reviving a thousand memories which made her sons proud to call her mother. Though long servitude had left the mass of the people not only ignorant of the historic past, but ignorant of contemporary events beyond the narrow horizon of their personal experience, there was a generation issuing from college and from the National schools, and gathered into the temperance societies which would constitute a fit audience for lessons of more informed and generous patriotism. My proposal was well received, and seemed not unlikely to be adopted in whole or part. But when I considered the time come to ask the assistance of the committee, Peter Purcell, the honorary secretary, warned me that I was building in the clouds. The plans and specifications of popular colleges were fascinating, he said, but where were the ways and means? One half of the important personages who had joined the committee had never paid a penny of their subscriptions: the funds actually obtained were barely sufficient to defray the debt for medals which Father Mathew had incurred to Birmingham manufacturers. It is never easy to accomplish any good work for Ireland, and this attempt followed the common rule. But I had a more bitter illustration of this law in a painful communication with Father Mathew himself:—
"It was indeed good of you," he wrote, "to send your subscription direct to Cork, without the hesitation and diffidence displayed by many of my friends in Dublin. Nolens volens, they almost insist upon my surrendering myself into the hands of a self-elected committee, to unfold to them my most private affairs, allow them to arrange with my creditors, and receive from them whatever pittance they may deem sufficient to supply my daily wants. To this I will never submit. I would rather take a staff in my hand and walk to the Temperance Meetings, and depend for support on the affection of my poor teetotalers.
"I was solicitous to rebut the calumny of having amassed wealth by the sale of medals. The formation of bands, purchase of musical instruments, support of temperance rooms, &c., subjected me to vast expense. I hoped to get a part of the money received for medals, and I borrowed from my family in the expectation of being able to repay it. I was promised by an aged relative a large sum, but this promise was not fulfilled.
"If I had the half of what I voluntarily bestowed, not to include what is due to me, I need not now be a heavy tax on my friends. …
"Pardon these details, but I find relief from pouring my grievances into a sincere and sympathising breast. Yours affectionately, "Theobald Mathew.
- "Cork, Nov. 6, 1844."
A little later I aimed to accomplish a part of the same purpose through Repeal Reading-rooms, to which the journals and periodicals which came to the Nation office, and all the suitable books I could obtain from friends, were sent weekly. But O'Connell looked upon these reading-rooms as part of the machinery for collecting Repeal Rent, and only aided them so far as they served this purpose. The design of making them schools of nationality did not altogether fail, however, and when a contest arose between O'Connell and the Young Irelanders a few years later, over what was called the Peace Resolutions, the Repeal Reading-room played an important part.
From the outset we had to fear the leader's displeasure on many more dangerous issues. He insisted on the fantastic dogma that all countries struggling for freedom, under whatever rule, would find in peaceful agitation the right and sufficient remedy. We knew that it was not as sheep that any people had been led to freedom, and that his own sole victory, Catholic Emancipation, had been yielded to the fear of an insurrection; but so long as he did not insist on his opinions being adopted by his confederates, they were only a great man's whims to be smiled at in silence. During his long career the popular press commonly followed his guidance, criticising nothing and initiating nothing. A journal which broke new ground in every number, which criticised respectfully all his proposals, applauding or objecting, not as a matter of course, but according to the circumstances of the case, perplexed him. I was assured by O'Neill Daunt, who was a friend and occasional contributor of the new journal, that O'Connell was divided between satisfaction at the effective services rendered to the cause, and alarm at the temerarious novelties sometimes propounded. We knew he had ruined journal after journal which had crossed his path, and we were not ignorant that the Nation was about equally liable to founder in the Queen's Bench, or in the Corn Exchange. A prosecution for sedition was a constant probability, and denunciation by O'Connell for rashness and audacity was scarcely less imminent. He had driven a man of the conspicuous gifts of Richard Sheil from public life in Ireland, and a long array of popular agitators—from O'Gorman Mahon, whose picturesque personality won favour with the multitude, to Feargus O'Connor, whose demagogic vigour enabled him to contest the lead with the great Tribune for a season, and Richard Ronayne, who believed in William Cobbett, and Marcus Costello, who believed in himself. All of us, and I above all, who was proprietor of the menaced journal, had to count the cost, and at the close of life it makes my heart throb to remember that we determined to hold on our course at any risk; the Nation might be ruined, but it should not be intimidated or dishonoured.
The denunciation, though it came at last, was so long postponed that the aim of the journal was happily accomplished before it arrived. "The new soul which had come into Ireland" beat not only in the breast of the suffering majority, but began to flutter in the bosom of the triumphant minority. When the Nation was established, whatever could be called literature in Ireland belonged exclusively to the Tories. The Dublin University Magazine was read throughout the two islands, but it was more vehemently anti-Irish than the Times. The only university in the country was a fortress of religious and political bigotry. The Whigs regarded O'Connell's movement without sympathy and with feeble interest; the Tories regarded it with open scorn. They despised it, but did not fear it. The members for the metropolis, and for the metropolitan county, were Tories, and there was not one man of notable ability, and miserably few of reputable character, among the handful of members who followed O'Connell into the House of Commons. At such a time it seemed, to the vulgar rich, a waste of life to preach a nationality embracing the whole nation without regard to creed, class, or genesis. But this is what the Nation did; the merits of Irishmen were recognised without any relation to their politics; Irish interests were promoted to whatever class the interest pertained. The injustice of the land system was systematically exposed, and the necessity of religious equality insisted on; not for the benefit of a party but the tranquillity and prosperity of the Irish nation.
With what success were these new opinions taught? Half a century has elapsed since that era, and a widened horizon enables us to follow the policy of the young men to its results. Of the more conspicuous and generous of our opponents scarce one escaped its influence. Isaac Butt, who had been recently editor of the University Magazine and of the Ulster Times in Belfast, was still leader of the most extreme Orange party in the Dublin Corporation. His successor in the editorship of the magazine, Charles Lever, nursed a rage against O'Connell so preternatural that it overflowed into his novels. William Carleton, Joseph Lefanu, William Wilde, and above all, Samuel Ferguson, were among the chief contributors; and even Ferguson, who loved his country from the beginning, and revelled in Celtic poetry and Celtic art, sent to one of his friends (who showed it to me) the first collection of the poetry of the Nation with the prodigiously false verdict endorsed upon it "Some of these fellows long to stick their skeans in the bowels of the Saxon." The Evening Mail was the accredited organ of the Irish gentry, and its working editor was a clergyman of the Church of England named Halpin, and his principal colleague, who afterwards became editor, was Dr. Maunsell. One of the Tory members for Dublin was William Gregory, son of a former Under Secretary, imported from England; and the Grand Chaplain and leader of the Orangemen who desired to repeal the Emancipation Act and restore the naked despotism of Protestant Ascendancy was the Rev. Tresham Gregg. Before half a dozen years had elapsed, Samuel Ferguson was chairman of a Protestant Repeal Association, declaring in prose and verse that he shared the principles of the Young Irelanders. Before a dozen more years Isaac Butt was leader of a National movement to establish a Parliament in Ireland, surrounded by professors of the exclusive University, clergymen of the Church of England, members of all the learned professions, the leaders of the Tory opposition in the Dublin Corporation, and his old colleagues, Dr. Wilde and Dr. Maunsell. At one of Butt's meetings a Senior Fellow of the University read a paper in which Charles Lever advocated a Federal Parliament in Ireland. At an earlier date William Carleton declared himself a Nationalist and became a contributor to the Nation, and Joseph Lefanu, who could not be seduced out of the tranquil field of literature, wrote books and poems which are still read by Irish Nationalists with affection and enthusiasm. Mr. Halpin probably remained faithful to his narrow programme to the end, but his son when he reached manhood became the laureate of Irish-American Nationalists, while one of the professors of Trinity reared a nephew who was first a leader of the secret societies which sprung up, as we shall see, when the Young Irelanders were defeated, and who became in the end one of the Directory placed at the head of the Fenian movement in 1866. William Gregory wrote me an assurance of his sympathy and goodwill for the young patriots, and Tresham Gregg publicly estimated their writings as on a level with the acknowledged masterpieces of Irish genius; and there was not one of all these men who has not admitted that the Nation was the chief factor in the change he underwent. Mr. Lecky, the historian, remains a Unionist, but his testimony to the new propaganda is more significant on that account:—
"What the Nation was when Gavan Duffy edited it, when Davis, M'Carthy, and their brilliant associates contributed to it, and when its columns maintained with unqualified zeal the cause of liberty and nationality in every land, Irishmen can never forget. Seldom has any journal of the kind exhibited a more splendid combination of eloquence, of poetry, and of reasoning."
Professor Tyndal and Father Burke, the Dominican orator, who were students in Belfast and Galway at that time, admitted in mature manhood how deeply they were fascinated in youth by the generous opinions of the new school, and it is not rash to assume that they represented a considerable section of their class. It may be taken as a testimony of the permanence of their labours that the accepted leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, at the period these pages are being written, has declared that he and his colleagues are only reaping the harvest, the seeds of which were sown by the Young Irelanders, and from the Irish Party Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Morley took fire, carrying the succession from the middle of the century to its close. An altogether unprecedented force in Irish journalism was the passionate sympathy of women elicited by this struggle. That my kinswoman Margaret Callan should have written much might seem inevitable when a gifted woman belonged to such a society as the young journalists; but a more constant contributor was Francesca Elgee (in latter years Lady Wilde), the stately daughter of an archdeacon of the Established Church; and a constant counsellor watching the party as a mother does her beloved children, was Mary Macgee, the gifted and charming daughter of a Protestant clergyman whose name was synonymous with fierce and contemptuous antipathy to the Catholic majority. The ballads and songs of the Nation had been so well received that it was resolved to publish a collection of them, and the little volume had a marvellous success. It was made the subject of a debate in the House of Commons and of a Tory demonstration in Dublin. Wilson Croker assailed it in the Quarterly Review, and Macaulay, to whom I sent a copy, acknowledged the beauty and vigour of the verses, but reprobated their hostility to England. It was much debated in the British Press; the Times affirmed that O'Connell's sedition was tepid compared to the fervour of these young poets; but one London journal recognised the character of the phenomenon with more insight, I think, than any of its contemporaries:—
"The men of twenty-five have placed in the rear rank the men of fifty—and they come forward with all the energies and all the courage of their grandfathers—the Volunteers of 1782—to declare that they will not be content with a secondary position for Ireland amongst the nations of the earth. It may hurt our pride to find such a feeling avowed, but it would be a paltering with truth to conceal the fact. We see it; it is evidenced by every Irish newspaper that comes to hand, and in a collection of songs and poems it bursts upon us with all the suddenness, quickness, and force of the electrical spark from heaven. There is a soul— there is an energy in this collection of poems, such as are only brought forth in times when the hearts of men are moved, as if by a mighty convulsion."
The volume was republished in the United States, and largely translated in France and Germany. It is a fact of strange significance that half a century after its first appearance the people of Wales, bent on reviving and fostering their dormant nationality, have found an inspiration in the old "Spirit of the Nation."
Following the example of Robert Burns, who refused to make money by the songs of his country, we bestowed the copyright on the publisher. No one else ever made a penny by a book which ran through fifty editions, at prices varying from sixpence to a guinea.
Monckton Milnes, who had an appetite for whatever was stamped with individual character, sent for half a dozen copies of the brochure to be obtained in strict confidence, little foreseeing that his son would become a Lord Lieutenant in Ireland to carry out the national aims, which he feared it would compromise him to so much as recognise. He afterwards read some of the poems to a circle of friends at the Athenæum, who were divided in opinion whether the writers ought to be crowned with laurel or sent into penal servitude.
The literary and political notes, which are a feature in many modern journals, were anticipated in the Nation by the device of "Answers to correspondents," which covered a wide field of criticism and speculation. The correspondence of the journal, which was very extensive, was supplemented whenever it was convenient by inventing correspondents representing opinions which it was necessary to combat or enforce. An hour daily was usually occupied with this pleasant work, and my friends often contributed "Answers" better than the editors. Between us we made this column of the paper, commonly so insignificant, the one first and oftenest read in the journal.
This tide of suggestive correspondence, which was so attractive in the early numbers of the paper, did not diminish, as critics predicted it would, but increased with time. It seemed as if the spirit and vigour of a people long repressed and denied many outlets rushed into this new channel. We noticed with peculiar satisfaction that men who represented past services to Ireland gathered round the new banner William Drennan, son of the patriot poet of '98; Henry Grattan, the son of the man who had liberated Ireland in '82; Cornelius Keogh, grandson of the Catholic leader, who immediately preceded O'Connell; Count Condorcet O'Connor, and Colonel Byrne, resident in Paris, who had been themselves conspicuous among the United Irishmen, before they became staff officers in the grande armée of Napoleon. The survivor of the two authors of the "Tales of the O'Hara Family," the brothers of Gerald Griffin, the most gifted of Irish novelists; the eminent antiquaries, Curry and O' Donovan; the scions of historic houses, the O'Neills of Brefni, the MacDermotts of Coolavin, the O'Dohertys of Inneshowen; among others General Charles Wolsley and General Peronet Thompson, who had led generous movements for popular liberty in England, were among our contributors or counsellors. Colonel Thompson sent me some of his writings in the Westminster Review ten years earlier, which fell in completely with our design. He claimed to be, and I believe he was, an early and sincere friend of Ireland and the Irish, though in his political troubles he got from them in return "nothing but buffets." Finally O'Connell himself, facile princeps of his nation, and two of his sons were drawn into the irresistible current.
A little later I was agreeably surprised by receiving through a friend a couple of squibs lighted up with graphic illustrations by a young Englishman who had recently published a humorous and impudent book upon Ireland, with the signature of Michael Angelo Titmarsh. Thackeray did not love the Nation at that time, but he felt under obligations to Mr. Peter Purcell who had been very friendly during his Irish visit, and as Mr. Purcell was in conflict with the Government over a mail-coach contract, Thackeray came vigorously to his aid.
On my first visit to London as a law student, I gratified a hope long caressed in reverie, by visiting Leigh Hunt, comrade of William Hazlitt. Henry MacManus, then residing in London, proposed to provide me with a suitable introduction, but I preferred presenting myself as an anonymous admirer, who longed to shake the hand which had scourged the scandals of the Regency, and vindicated the genius of Shelley and of Keats. I was accompanied by a fellow-student named Martyn, whom I subsequently lost sight of in the mêlée of life. Mr. Hunt received us graciously, and spoke frankly of things which interested me, especially of Hazlitt, Lamb, and Shelley. Shortly after my return home he wrote to me:—
"Kensington, September 25th.
"Dear Sir,—When you and your friend Mr. Martyn were kind enough to visit me in Edwardes Square, I was not aware that I had a patriot in the room—one, too, of a nation whose blood my own veins partook of, and in whose cause I have had the honour, as well as yourself, of suffering. I have since learnt to know more of you; not only from the papers in general, but from extracts in them out of your own paper the Nation, and if I have been startled at the vehemence of these extracts, I have no less admired their trumpet-like music and poetical vigour. It is not for me to dictate to any man, much less to one like yourself j but you will, I am sure, permit a friend, now with a grey head, but not without a young heart, to wish that your writings would retain all their fire and generosity, with none of the vi et armis part of their spirit. I do not mean to say that nothing could justify an appeal to arms in Ireland, but I feel certain that nothing will render it necessary, so long as the horrible possibility is kept out of sight, and the justice of the cause is so admirably kept in it, as it now is. In all my life, nay, in all history, I have seen no such spectacle as the bloodless triumph your leader is achieving, and manifestly achieving, because of the bloodlessness. He convinces everybody at heart, and has set the example of a novel, beautiful, and most hopeful mode of warfare, which it would be a million pities if the world were to lose. Pardon me who has been an ardent spectator of human affairs for so many years; and try if you cannot content your intrepidity with this, its only want—a still braver endurance of immediate provocation.
"It galled me extremely, when you and your friend were here, not to be able to ask you to spend the day with me. Accept the accompanying little book, and beg him to accept the other, in lieu of my sorry hospitality, of which, I am afraid, their unbound outsides do but look like another symbol. But circumstances, over which I had no control, have conspired to keep me poor, and the shabbiness, believe me, is not in the heart of, dear sir, your most sincere well-wisher and humble servant,
A second letter shortly followed:
"Kensington, November 8th.
"My dear sir, I have been very ill (with an attack of liver) and work is pressing upon me, otherwise I should indulge myself with a long acknowledgment of the letter I received yesterday. Accept my heartiest thanks for it, particularly for what you are so good as to say in explanation of that ultra-vivacious tone in the Nation, to which I ventured to object. The number of it which accompanied the letter so interested me, that I read, forthwith, almost every word of it, except the advertisements, and what I had seen in other papers. By this you may judge of my zeal in Irish affairs, and how thankfully I shall receive your promised weekly copy, and so pass an hour or two with you every seventh day. I shall read, be sure, every article both of you and your friends, who, indeed, seem worthy of you, if I may judge in general from what I see, and from the estimable letter of Mr. MacNevin.
"How delightful to me is what you say about the Indicator. No approbation goes to my heart like that. But the tone you take in speaking of me is altogether most touching to my feelings, especially in one who so combines energy with delicacy. How can such a nature speak of ' intrusion '? I fear it was my confused dread of being thought inhospitable by the very kind of people I longed to entertain which put something in my aspect that made you dream it. …
"Dear Sir, I am most truly, your obliged and sincere friend,
I did not altogether lose sight of Mr. Hunt, but I took no measures to improve or consolidate my intimacy. A busy life might have been the cause, but a more cogent one will probably be found in an entry in my diary somewhat later:—
"I used to find Leigh Hunt's literary criticism just and sympathetic, and his literary gossip as pleasant and wholesome as that dainty can ever be made, but I fell in of late with his 'Lord Byron and his Contemporaries,' which acted like a douche bath of unclean water on my enthusiasm. The book is stuffed and larded with ungenerous criticism of sayings and doings of the poet while Hunt was practically his guest, and reported remonstrances from H. to B. which must have been exasperating. Byron was arrogant and selfish, I daresay, but Hunt, on his own showing, would have provoked a saint. There are some extracts from Hazlitt in the book of solid sense and sparkling style, which run through the text like a ledge of granite shining with mica through an Irish bog."
On my next visit to London I had the good fortune to make acquaintance with a man of genius and his gifted wife, which ripened into a steadfast friendship, only ending with their lives. Frederick Lucas proposed to introduce me to Thomas Carlyle, and I gladly acquiesced. How much I owed to Thomas Carlyle's counsel and instruction, and to his wife's gracious and affectionate offices, I have endeavoured to record elsewhere. We agreed in few opinions except au fond in the duty of living for ends which are not selfish or sordid; but his talk was as stimulating as the morning breezes in an Alpine valley. I must not repeat here correspondence or conversations which I have already published, but I cannot refrain from printing the first letter he sent me a few weeks after our acquaintance began:—
"Chelsea, May 12, 1845.
"My dear Sir,—I am happy to hear that there is at last a prospect of seeing your book, which I have been in expectation of since the night you were here. Certainly I will look into it; my distinct persuasion is that you must mean something by it a—very considerable distinction for a book or man in these days.
"I have likewise to thank you for your kind purpose of sending me the Nation, the first number of which, indeed, I find has safely introduced itself through the Rowland Hill slit in the door this day. As I have very little time, and especially at present hardly read any newspaper, it would be a further kindness if you now and then marked such passages as you thought would be most illuminative for me.
"I can say with great sincerity, I wish you well; and the essence of your cause, well—alas! if one could get the essence of it extracted from the adscititious confusions and impossible quantities of it, would not all men wish you and it right well?
"Justice to Ireland—justice to all lands, and to Ireland first as the land that needs it most—the whole English nation (except the quacks and knaves of it, who in the end are men of negative quantities and of no force in the English nation) does honestly wish you that. Do not believe the contrary, for it is not true; the believing of it to be true may give rise to miserable mistakes yet, at which one's imagination shudders.
"Well, when poor old Ireland has succeeded again in making a man of insight and generous valour, who might help her a little out of her deep confusions—ought I not to pray and hope that he may shine as a light, instead of blazing as a firebrand, to his own waste and his country's! Poor old Ireland, every man she produces of that kind, it is like another stake set upon the great Rouge-et-Noir, of the Destinies: 'Shall I win with thee, or shall I lose thee too—blazing off upon me as the others have done?' She tries again, as with her last guinea. May the gods grant her a good issue!
"I bid you, with many kind wishes, good speed, and am, very truly yours,
I maintained friendly relations with my Northern colleague, Dr. M' Knight, and, judging by his replies, probably strove to draw him into the National Party, but that goal was only to be reached by stages.
"… You are right in saying (he wrote at this time) that my fears of Catholic ascendancy constitute my chief, though not my only, objection to Repeal. I have other and serious objections, but upon these there is no use in entering in a letter intended not for controversial, but friendly purposes. I enclose you two pamphlets, the imputed authorship of which has cost me no little trouble. Whoever may have been their author, I am not disposed to controvert the position laid down by him, and you may conclude that while I regard Roman Catholicism as a very complete system of spiritual, and consequently secular, despotism, I am far from supposing that other denominations have not their theoretic intolerance in proportion to the liberality or illiberality of their ecclesiastical constitutions."
I came to learn from these pamphlets that there were two parties in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church—one resting on authority and traditional practice, the other preaching progress and reform—and I had good reason to know in the end, as we shall see, that my friend was an influential member of the latter section.
Eighteen hundred and forty-two brought the fulfilment of all my dreams of literary labour. In the long perspective of memory, that fruitful era looks like the occupation of a new territory by a strong immigration. Everybody was busy, everybody was hopeful, new fields were cleared daily, new seeds and saplings were planted, and new and engrossing hopes created which have not ceased, and which shall not cease.
- Wolfe Tone, half a century earlier, had for the first time formulated the principle upon which alone Ireland could be saved. "To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, or Dissenter these," he said, "were my means" (to win the independence of the country).
- Matt Trumble, John Fisher Murray, and John Mitchel.
- Don Juan Hughes.
- In later years Judge O'Hagan, head of the Irish Land Commission. He was not at all related to Lord O'Hagan, as was commonly supposed, though in the end he became his son-in-law.
- "Young Ireland," chaps, iii. and v.
- "Fag a Bealach," published in the third number, and previously sung at a supper of the contributors, was the first national poem in the new journal.
- I have published a memoir of Thomas Davis, in which his character and services, his genius and devotion to Ireland are described; these things can only be glanced at in the present volume. It is proper to say that Samuel Ferguson had been at work on Irish literature long before Davis or the other writers of the Nation, but the University Magazine, to which his contributions commonly went, circulated among a class who had imperfect sympathy with his labours. In National stories and ballads and charming essays on the resources and attractions of the country he had anticipated much that was afterwards done in the Nation. But he had not reached the people, who knew so little of Ferguson that when I printed his fine ballads "Willy Gilliland " and "Una Phelamy " in the "Ballad Poetry of Ireland," a few years later, I was asked by educated people if the author was still living.
- Davis, and after him Mitchel, received from the Nation more than twice as much as Macaulay received from the Edinburgh Review, or Southey from the Quarterly, these two being the only men who devoted their entire time to the journal. It is less by large and conspicuous transactions than by small obscure ones that the character of such a journal will be best understood. Quack advertisements universally seen in English and Irish journals, were altogether excluded. The proceedings of local meetings to collect the O'Connell Tribute were extensively published in national journals and paid for as advertisements. The Nation published as much as was legitimate news in a weekly paper and refused to accept any payment. Tickets for the theatre were purchased, and free admission declined. Nothing was done or permitted that might impair the dignity or independence of the journal. Its ultimate ends were well understood. Lord Plunkett, who presided in the Court of Chancery, and still took a certain interest in affairs, was discovered by a friend one morning in his robing-room reading the new journal. "What is the tone of the Nation to-day?" his friend demanded. "Wolfe Tone," replied the old man.
- Thomas Clarke Luby.
- Mr. Lecky, in "Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland."
- Mr. Justin M'Carthy.
- Mrs. Callan, who was wife to Dr. J. B. Callan of Stephen's Green, Dublin, was my cousin german and constant friend, and touches this narrative at many points past and to come. She was sister of T. M. Hughes, mentioned in the first and third chapters, and of Don John Hughes, mentioned in the first and fourth, and a sympathetic granddaughter of Judith Gavan, who flung the Pro-Union petition into the fire more than a hundred years ago.
- The Planet.
- For Thackeray's squib, see "Young Ireland," bk. i. chap, vii,
- "Conversations with Carlyle." London: Cassell and Co.