My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 7

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BOOK II


CHAPTER I


THE SECOND YOUNG IRELAND PARTY


The death of Davis followed by the maladies of Dillon and MacNevin, and absence of John O'Hagan—The original Young Ireland Party being disbanded by death and disease, I recruited a new one—M'Gee, Meagher, Mitchel and Reilly—Position of Smith O'Brien—Peel declares for Free Trade, but fails to form a Government—Lord John Russell sent for, and O'Connell promises him the help of the Irish members—Secret compact witn the Whigs—Slanders of the Pilot against the party and against Archbishop Crolly—Opinion of Frederick Lucas on the Pilot—M'Gee becomes a regular contributor to the Nation—I retire to the country to write the Great Popish Rebellion—Interrupted by visits from Frederick Lucas and Thomas Carlyle, and finally by a Government prosecution—O'Connell points out the Nation as guilty of sedition, and forbids any sympathy to be expressed with it in Conciliation Hall—John O'Hagan on the management of the Nation in my absence—"The Railway Article"—My justification of it—Letter from Samuel Ferguson (note)—Speeches of O'Brien and Grattan—I am called to the Bar.


Troubles, says the German proverb, come not singly but in flocks, and when I returned from the graves of my wife and my friend to the editor's room I found a formidable flock on the wing. Up to the day of Davis's death he had been assailed in the journals which Mr. John O'Connell could inspire, and in the gossip of malicious enemies, and not infrequently of honest simpletons, who believed whatever they were told. I could not, from the warnings that reached me, doubt that an attempt would be made to silence the Young Irelanders, and if that proved impracticable to destroy the Nation. I found friends full of sympathy, some of them ready to attempt a little amateur journalism to secure me a few tranquil hours, but the men who had made the Nation a great power and a trusted counseller of the people were stricken with sudden and unexpected paralysis. Dillon and O'Hagan were the men whose advice I had always sought in trouble; MacNevin was the friend who could be counted on whenever promptitude was necessary to do any literary work in the Nation, or submit an opinion to the Association on the briefest notice, and at the moment I lost Davis these three friends were lost almost simultaneously. Dillon was languishing under the effects of the ruptured blood-vessel, of which the reader has heard, and was under orders to winter in a warmer climate, under penalty of speedy death. He attempted to come to Dublin on receiving the news of Davis's death, but his doctor and family absolutely prohibited him. He wrote something for the Nation, but the stamp of his malady was on it, and for the first time, and when his aid was most needed, he found himself a rejected contributor, and thanked me for rejecting him. MacNevin complained that he was suffering from an unaccountable lethargy which made work a torture. He would always do what he could for the Nation, but never again enter Conciliation Hall. He did not know and none of us suspected the cause of this mysterious trouble. The spirit so gay and loving, the large heart and large intellect were soon stricken with the most painful disorder under which a human creature can suffer, and after a brief eclipse of his faculties he followed Davis to the grave. John O'Hagan had made the preliminary arrangements to enter a pleader's office, and he and his comrade, John Pigot, were about to start for London when Davis died. No distance, I was well aware, could break his affectionate ties to the Nation, but he would no longer be at hand ready, as of old, for every emergency. MacCarthy and Barry wrote only verse and occasional criticism, and counted for little in the political counsels of the party. Doheny, who had remarkable power of popular oratory, was a speaker rather than a writer, and, moreover, belonged to an elder generation, and Richard O'Gorman was exclusively a speaker, having never written in the journal before or after. O'Neill Daunt gave us sympathy and good-will, but he could not be counted on to pursue any policy not previously sanctioned at Conciliation Hall. The defamation with which Davis had been assailed was now directed against his comrades, and it might well seem, in this disabled condition, they would be an easy prey; but it proved otherwise.

It will be obvious that the question of submission or resistance to O'Connell's policy of lowering our national flag must be answered primarily by me. I was the editor and proprietor of the recognised organ of the party, and the sole representative of the men who had founded it, and gathered adherents around it. If I resisted it was plain it would be a struggle for existence. But if I did not resist the National cause would disappear from Conciliation Hall, the men of integrity and intellect who still remained would retire, the surrender of 1834 would be renewed, and again we should see the shameful transmutation of national tribunes into sleek officials of the Castle.

After consultation with the few friends who remained I determined to accept the struggle, and to spare no pains to make it a stubborn one. It looked a forlorn hope, but in the Federal controversy the leader had found it necessary to submit to public opinion, and by the favour of Heaven this result might befall us again.

But there must be men who could speak the opinions- of the party in the Association, from which I was excluded by one of its new rules, and writers to replace those who were withdrawn from the Nation, or the contest could not be successfully maintained. I promptly sought for recruits, and before the Association commenced serious work in January there was a second Young Ireland Party as uniform in opinion and united in policy as the first. Their opinions and policy were the same as those of their predecessors, that the National cause must not be sacrificed to any intrigue, and that if little could be done to promote it during the lifetime of O'Connell it must at any rate be kept pure and above suspicion for an inevitable future. My tour in the previous autumn with Mitchel in Ulster and M'Gee in Wicklow suggested two recruits, and inquiry brought me others.

When Thomas D'Arcy M'Gee came across the Atlantic he was drawn back to his native country chiefly by electric sympathy with the young men of the Nation. He possessed rare intellectual gifts, which were only partially developed, for he was still a boy; but it was already possible to discern the rudiments of a poet and an orator, and in the end no one but Thomas Davis brought such splendid faculties to the National cause. But there were drawbacks which long masked the depth and range of his powers from his associates. In the midst of a group of self-confident, somewhat dandified young men, he looked ill-dressed and underbred, and till the exercise of authority much later gave him self-reliance, he seemed painfully deferential. By some strange freak of nature his features were almost African in cast, and scoffers parodied his name into Darky M'Gee. He was as uncomely as John Philpot Curran, but almost as liberally endowed with powers, which made one forget his defects. When I thought of him as a recruit, M'Gee was in London revelling in Irish annals in the British Museum, and I found that he had entered into an engagement with the Freeman's Journal, from which there was no honourable escape. He sent from time to time letters to the Nation, chiefly of historical criticism, but a closer connection was impossible at the moment.[1]

The eldest son of the popular Mayor of Waterford had contributed some verses of no great merit to the Nation, and I knew him only as a partisan of our opinions. But he wrote me a letter on Davis's death, so generous and elevated in spirit, that I was greatly touched, and made the young man's personal acquaintance. He was in his twenty-second year, and he had an English manner and accent which perplexed me. This was Thomas Francis Meagher, destined in a brief space to make a reputation like Vergniaud's, the inspired spokesman of a nation, able to sway the popular mind against the greatest and most trusted of his elders. When I launched the Library of Ireland, I had invited John Mitchel, as we have seen, to contribute a volume, confident he would produce an effective one, which indeed he did. He was trained by his profession to systematic work, and I bethought me of him as one fit to aid me in managing the journal, the complicated correspondence of which consumed much of my time. I made him an offer which induced him to abandon his professional clientèle for ever, and take up the perilous pursuit of a National journalist in Ireland. When he settled down to work, his character and faculties became familiar to his associates, to nearly all of whom they were before unknown. He was a man of prompt and receptive intellect and lively fancy. He was abundantly endowed with pluck, which, indeed, none of his comrades wanted. He had an imperturbable temper, and a love of business fostered by the habits of his life.[2]

Thomas Wallis was amongst Davis's trusted friends; he had been his college tutor, and sometimes suggested the audacious hypothesis that it was he who had made Davis a Nationalist. He was a man of remarkable capacity and extensive reading, but of uncertain disposition, and disposed to believe that the world owed him much more than it was ever likely to pay. He had not written in the Nation hitherto, but O'Hagan and Pigot brought him to me as an important volunteer. In the end he did not do much service to the cause, being always readier to write a letter of ten pages of admirable speculation and piquant gossip, to justify himself for having neglected to send a promised article, than to be moderately punctual, but he could be confidently counted on as a caustic and not altogether useless critic of the men who were neither idle nor negligent. It is not an uncommon habit, indeed, of men who do nothing in life to employ themselves in showing those who do everything how they ought to have done better.

Smith O'Brien had hitherto held a neutral position in National politics; he was neither an Old Irelander nor a Young Irelander. But his integrity and his fearless character and perhaps his historic descent predetermined the side to which he would turn when a choice must be made. He was a dozen years older than me or the average of my comrades, but he was in the prime and vigour of life, and his generous nature kept him young. After Davis's death he showed himself disposed to honour me with the confidence he had given to my friend, and an intimacy commenced which only ended with his life. From that time I desired and aimed to make him the leader of the earnest and resolute men in the movement.

Richard O'Gorman had never written in the Nation and spoken infrequently in the Association, but he was now determined to speak often, and do his full share of work as one who embraced the whole creed of the party. When a modern writer alludes to the Young Irelanders, it is commonly one of these men he has in view, yet no one of them had any share in founding the party or giving it a creed.[3] But they came in a day of disaster, almost of desperation, to take up the task from which so many of the original workmen had been withdrawn. In the Nation I worked incessantly and kept the tone high on behalf of those who would not assent to any lowering of the National flag.[4] Meanwhile O'Connell, under the malign influence of his feeble son, was drawing closer to his old allies, the Whigs. It was beginning to be whispered that he would renew the submission of 1834, and declare the Repeal experiment at an end, and justice to Ireland substituted. And this would assuredly have befallen had there not been a second Young Ireland Party in the accustomed place as determined and inflexible as the first. The new men became members of Committee of the Association, and spoke from time to time in Conciliation Hall, where O'Connell received them with formal courtesy, recognising at a glance what a formidable impediment they constituted to his secret designs.

At the beginning of the new session of Parliament, Peel announced that he had come to the conclusion that the Corn Laws ought to be repealed. Some of his colleagues refused to support him in this precipitate change of policy, and he had resigned office and advised the Queen to send for Lord John Russell. Here was the very danger long foreseen and dreaded. The party O'Connell had supported to the eve of their downfall were once more about to assume office. I sounded an alarm bell in the Nation, and Smith O'Brien wrote to the Association declaring that if the people were not faithful to their pledge never to abandon Repeal, he would regret that he had ever announced himself a Repealer—his motto was Repeal and no surrender. O'Connell declared that it was superfluous to insert this letter on the minutes; it would be engraved on every Irish heart. His own motto also was Repeal and no surrender. After a glance at current affairs the leader came to the real purpose of his speech, the duty of the Irish party. "The new Administration will be wanting us," he said, "and they shall have us if they do good work for Ireland." The good work required of them was specified and was not onerous. "They must repeal the Corn Laws"—to repeal the Corn Laws being the precise work for which they were called to office, and in which Ireland, a granary of cereals, had not a shred of interest—"they must facilitate the construction of Irish railways, and have the evidence sifted by a Commission in Dublin instead of by a Parliamentary Committee; they must improve the tenure of land and restore the magistrates who had been dismissed or had resigned under Peel." If Lord John performed these services (the popular tribune announced) he would have to transfer his green cap over to the Whig Minister. The achievements of a green -capped agitator it was manifest would no longer resemble the labours of Hercules or Fin M'Coul. The Whig journals in London declared that with the assistance of the Irish members Lord John would form a new Administration, and some of them predicted that in twelve months Repeal would be a thing of the past.

The consternation and wrath which his speech, though only partly understood at the moment, produced on the young men will, perhaps, be best understood by the language of one of the most moderate of them. John O'Hagan wrote me from his pleader's office in London, declaring that resistance had become inevitable:—

"I saw O'Connell's speech in to-day's Times. What the infernal devil does he mean? If he meditates betraying the cause, I would appeal to the country against him without a moment's hesitation. However, you on the spot know, of course, far better what is going on and how to act than I can here. But will you send me true accounts? I have just heard from a gentleman who mixes with Whig coteries that Lord John will take office now that Dan says the Irish members will come over, the doubt of which was his difficulty before. What it is to be engaged in a holy cause with a ——" An open conflict seemed near at hand, but accident postponed it. Lord John Russell proved unable to form a Government, and Peel returned to office with a Cabinet purged of Protectionists and determined to repeal the Corn Laws. But in Ireland we had a warning, not to be misunderstood, that the surrender of the National cause to the Whigs was only postponed, not abandoned.

It need not be repeated how painfully we shrank from a contest with O'Connell. We had grown up, most of us, in love and reverence of his name, and such a contest would split up the Association, on which we relied for the deliverance of Ireland; but there was an unanimous consent that whatever the consequences might be we would not allow the cause so proudly proclaimed at Mullaghmast and Mallow to be again bartered for any official mess of pottage. We now know from evidence under his own hand the painful fact which was then only surmised, that he had entered into a second compact with the Irish Whigs, represented by D. R. Pigot and Richard Shell, to secure their Irish seats against the competition of Repealers, to support the party in the House of Commons, and, as of old, to dispose of the patronage of the Irish Government at his discretion. From this time the two parties in the Association worked side by side in a concert which might be described as an armed neutrality. But vague rumours of a great calamity which threatened the country began to prevail, and created alarm and uncertainty. It was predicted that there might be a famine on a prodigious scale.

While the truce in the Association continued, the agents of Mr. John O'Connell were not idle; they still disparaged the young men, chiefly in private talk. Our most systematic assailant in public was the Pilot, and a happy circumstance spiked for a time the guns of that battery of slander. Some time earlier, in the letter of an American correspondent, there appeared a calumny on the young Irelanders of more than usual audacity. The correspondent, who was well known in Dublin and did not choose to be made a cat's-paw, wrote assuring me that he had never written a word of the slander in question, which was doubtless composed in the Pilot office and interpolated into his correspondence. He authorised me to publish his denial, and it enabled friends at a distance from Dublin to estimate the value of Mr. Barrett's evidence. In Dublin it was sufficiently known already. Not warned by this mishap, Mr. Barrett fell into a more rash and dangerous one at the period which we have now reached. Dr. Crolly, the Catholic Primate, did not agree with the attacks of the O'Connells on the provincial colleges, which he thought might be rendered safe and most useful. This was an offence to be signally punished, and Mr. Barrett only knew one way of punishing an opponent. He announced that the Primate was unable to attend a conference of bishops at Maynooth, being unhappily subject to an attack of lunacy, the Primate being in fact at that moment chairman of the conference in question, and in perfect health. It is not a safe sport in Ireland to belie an archbishop, and Mr. Barrett was immediately subjected to a cannonade of fierce and contemptuous contradictions by the clergy of the Archiepiscopal diocese, under which a sensitive man might have expired. Frederick Lucas, an acknowledged authority on questions of morals, who was on the same side as O'Connell on the colleges question, declared that Mr. Barrett, who was guilty of forgery in the case of the Nation, and a falsehood in the case of the Archbishop, was a disgrace to the Catholic cause, and he hoped so good a cause might be speedily purged of so shameless an ally. Thus we were disembarrassed for a time of our most persistent slanderer, and almost the only one heard in public; but no word of censure on the offender was ever uttered in Conciliation Hall.

A recruit whom I greatly desired was now at liberty to join the Nation, and I welcomed him cordially. M'Gee sent me this letter some months after my original application to him:


"No. 7, Agar Street, Strand, London. "April 13, 1846.

"My dear Duffy,—I have ceased, from Saturday night last, to be connected with the Freeman. When Dr. Gray came here a fortnight ago he asked me if I knew who wrote the 'Letters from London' in the Nation, which I at once told him I did. In a note to me on Saturday evening he announced that he and his 'co-directors' considered that fact sufficient cause to 'determine our connection.' I must tell you that when he first spoke to me on the subject I told him that I wrote the letters in question. He expressed astonishment, on which I said, 'If you think I have wronged you, or broken any engagement given or implied, in making this use of my leisure, I have only to add that I do not, and I would wish from this moment to resign all connection with you, supposing you think as I say.' He then said something of a violation of 'the etiquette of the Dublin Press,' and so dropped the subject until Saturday, when his note renewed it. As you are our literary Mentor, I wish to know whether you think I acted as became an Irish writer and a man of honour?

"I breakfasted on Sunday with Pigot and O'Hagan, no one in London or elsewhere knowing from me what has occurred except O'Hagan. We talked of your projected School History,[5] when the former said he thought we ought to wait until we see what the Repeal Prize will produce. However, a month will determine that. Meantime, I may see you in Dublin, or, if I continue here, will certainly not lose sight of that work, so long wanted, and so necessary now. Believe me to be very truly yours,

"T. D. M'Gee."


In reply I invited M'Gee to return to Dublin and become a regular contributor to the Nation, which he did.

The Library of Ireland claimed constant attention, and to aid me in corresponding with contributors and others I appointed as sub-editor Thomas Devin Reilly, a townsman, whom I had known from his infancy. But he was still a boy, though a boy of remarkable ability, and he soon reported to me that the contributors would not accept him as a substitute for the editor, and the plan had to be relinquished, and in compensation I placed him on the permanent staff of the Nation. Another trouble I had with the Library must be mentioned. I had promised to write a second volume for the series, and had selected a subject in the untrodden places of history—untrodden, at any rate, by Irish students. The Rising of 1641, which I proposed to name, after the habit of its disparagers, "The Great Popish Rebellion," was announced to appear at a period only four or five months distant, and I had not written a line of it. Early in the new year I put Mitchel in temporary control of the paper and took up the book. I procured country lodgings at Dundrum, and resolved to live secluded and tranquil for two or three months, till the book was completed. I worked steadily for a couple of weeks, but to discount the coming time is a rash operation. When the Emperor of Ethiopia decreed a week of general enjoyment, in which it would be treason to fret or grow sulky, we know what came of it. I find in a diary of the period that during these two months stringent engagements rained on me. The printers of the Nation threatened a strike if they did not get concessions altogether inordinate; it became suddenly necessary to prevent the collapse of the Library of Ireland by a large loan to the publishers by William Eliot Hudson and myself. Frederick Lucas arrived in Dublin and was entitled to receive prompt personal attention. A more important visitor followed him, Thomas Carlyle, and during the week of his stay in Dublin work was impossible. These claims were met to the best of my ability, but "The Great Popish Rebellion" got neglected. To write history in such an imbroglio indeed was like trying to play a sonata of Beethoven amidst the perpetual din of a quartz mill. When the need arose I rushed into town, and when it was over I rushed back again, but the current of thought was often fatally interrupted. To crown all these perplexities I was suddenly warned that the Nation was, in popular parlance, " losing its head." Wallis, who did not mince matter, assured me that Mitchel was dealing with financial questions in the Nation with a recklessness which was appalling, and with foreign politics in a way that moved the laughter of experts. John O'Hagan, whose opinion was weightier, suggested a more serious alarm. He thought we were misleading the people who trusted us so thoroughly.


"My dear Duffy (he wrote, April 6, 1846),—I sent Mitchel a long essay, and John Pigot sent him one twice as long, upon and against the excessively violent tone of the Nation of late. I can assure you when J. P. and I are unanimous on such a point we are all but certain to be right. I was very glad Pigot wrote, and I think it very likely Mitchel and he agree more in general ways of looking at things than either of them does with me, and I thought he put the case admirably well. But do you agree or differ with us, that is the question? I do assure you I was never more convinced of anything in my life than this, that that tone does no service at home or abroad, does vast disservice with many, and if you look before you, and look at anything but a bloody issue, is not the path to success—but for our views in detail I must refer you to the above-mentioned despatches. I will only add that the last Nation is not much of an improvement. The leader was extremely good, but John Murray's article, though very clever, was shockingly coarse, false, too, in some things (e.g., pretending to cull the phrase 'surpliced ruffians' out of the two or three last weeks' numbers of the Times). Again, Mitchel (I presume) in his article on the Sikhs speaks of the blow which is to destroy the English Empire in the East as likely to -be struck ' nearer home.' Heaven and earth, what is the meaning of this? With about as much practical prospect at present of achieving our liberty by arms—I won't say as of bringing over Stonehenge to the Curragh—but weigh the amount of probability yourself. Are we to vapour in this way? Besides the character it gets us, which materially lessens our utility in other things, it is suggestio falsi to our own people and calculated to mislead and confuse them.

"But what I want specially to say to you is this- You don't write enough yourself. What is that you say? 'You have been busy at your book, and have been out of town.' No excuse, Mr. Caudle; at least, though an excuse for not writing much in the Nation, it is none for omitting it altogether. There was a great deal to be said of a kind which no one could say as well as you. Do you remember me speaking to you when you were here about keeping perpetually hammering at the famine, and the remedies which ought to have been and were not applied? I think there was an opportunity for you of putting the Nation at the head of public opinion in Ireland on that question. Gird yourself to the work and come out with one or two of your most forcible articles.

"You are doing remarkably w r ell in poetry; Mangan is sticking to you like a brick. I think that little translation from the French in the 'Answer to Correspondents ' excessively clever, though the rhymes are somewhat too forced. Apropos of rhymes, MacCarthy in that long poem of his about Ceiman eich, some stanzas of which were exceedingly beautiful, fell into a great mistake in trying to ride Mangan's phooca. In the original himself there is a curious felicity which prevents us from being annoyed at his forced rhymes, but in any one else it does not do at all.

"Send me True Thomas's letter, and send me a letter from C. G. D. touching the Nation, and stating how far he agrees with P. and me. Yours ever faithfully,

"John O'Hagan."


This was my reply:—


"Mitchel has shown me your letter, and I agree with every line you have written. In fact I said the same sort of thing a week ago when I saw him last. To wit: 'Why, Mitchell, mon ami, where are you going? This is not 1843, but 1846. We are not in the tropics, but in the frigid zone. You write of insurrections as if they were made to order in the back office of a newspaper. Have we the priests, as in '43? Have we even the people? If we had, have we military leaders with skill and knowledge for such an enterprise? We have not, and what will come of feeding the people with false hopes?' Or, in the vein ironic, in relation to his recent perambulations among foreign politics—'I congratulate you on your expanding philanthropy and growing indifference to mere Irish interests almost in rivalry with the Head Pacificator. The Sikhs, the Armenians, the Poles, have had full share of your attention, but one might as well look for Ireland in a Queen's Speech as in your articles of late.'

"Now, I confess the shameful laxity of all this badinage. I should have said, ' Halt, this is a road we must not travel.' But the fact is that while I was working at my book I read the Nation as I did the Freeman—for news, and without any strong feeling of responsibility. Moreover, I calmed my conscience, now and then, by a vow that I would never again put the helm out of my hand for an hour while I commanded the ship. I have still over a month's hard work to do, and, that done, I will be anchored at my post. Meantime Mitchel, who feels the force of your remonstrances (I have not yet seen Pigot's) will act accordingly. I will write something even during the month of work. I have reviewed John O'Connell's Memoir of his father for next number."

But even a month's leisure proved impossible, for a new and serious trouble had suddenly sprung up. Before the month approached its close, Mitchel came to me on the eve of publication, bringing the proofs for next day's Nation, and with them the news that O'Connell had returned from London in a fury, real or affected; and Mitchel predicted that if I did not drop the book and return to the editor's room I should find, when it was completed, the Nation engaged in a conflict with O'Connell in which it would possibly perish. I wrote no more history in that era. The grounds of O'Connell's wrath were a pronunciamento in the Nation famous in that period as "The Railway Article." Apropos of some food riots, which the threatened famine had provoked, the Morning Herald, then a Government organ, announced that it had become necessary to declare the agitation for Repeal high treason, and to shut up Sedition Hall; and the official journalist triumphed in the ease with which the thing could be done by despatching troops to every dangerous district by the new railways, which were very handy for the purpose. Mitchel replied that if the new railways were to be applied in suppressing public opinion in Ireland the people were not without a remedy—a cutting could be filled up or an embankment levelled without much trouble. Hofer received the invaders of the Tyrol in a memorable manner. When the enemy appeared in a narrow pass his soldiers seized upon rocks and roots of trees, and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, discharged them on the enemy. "But," he added, "'tis a dream. No enemy will put us to realise these scenes. Yet let all understand what a railway may and what it may not do."

This answer seemed to me a natural and seasonable one in reply to a threat of suppressing by force an agitation for a perfectly lawful purpose. It was such an answer as the Nation would have given to such a menace at any period of its existence. But Mitchel, knowing that O'Connell was watching for a favourable opportunity to assail us, committed a serious mistake in tactique when he associated the Repeal Association with his menace.

"For actual measures of coercion," he said, "all Ireland laughs at them. The military uses or abuses of railways are tolerably well understood; but it might be useful to promulgate through the country, to be read by all Repeal wardens in their parishes, a few short and easy rules as to the mode of dealing with railways in case of any enemy daring to make hostile use of them."

On consultation, Mitchel frankly admitted his mistake and strove to remedy it,[6] but O'Connell was not to be placated. The safety of the Association, he declared at the next meeting, was endangered by such rash counsels, and he must separate himself from them publicly. Next day, when his speech was read, there was a wide feeling that O'Connell had pointed out the journal for prosecution, for the Conservative Attorney-General could not venture to be less solicitous for the public peace than the democratic Agitator. In a few days I received notice of trial for seditious libel, and was held to bail accordingly, and O'Connell issued strict instructions that no reference to the prosecution should be made in the Association. We had sinned very grievously, it might be assumed, when even a word of friendly sympathy was forbidden. These precautions were strangely perplexing to the people, who did not know that the original design to coalesce with the Whigs and abandon the National question was now completed by the kindred design to cow, or if they could not be cowed, to destroy, the men who would naturally oppose this policy.

Neither O'Connell's wrath nor legal penalties disturbed me so much as a vicious outcry, echoes of which reached me in the editor's room, that the Nation advised that the national railways should be destroyed. I did what I had always been in the habit of doing in such an emergency—I accepted the responsibility in my own person. In a letter published as a leading article, I examined, explained, and justified the impugned article, and defended my colleague. The defence must have answered its purpose effectually, for men so widely separated in opinion as Thomas Carlyle and Frederick Lucas expressed their satisfaction with it, and the Irish Press almost without exception denounced the prosecution.[7] Even the Mail, the leading Conservative journal, declared there was no excitement in Ireland to justify such a proceeding. O'Connell's precaution to shut out the subject from the Association was not altogether successful. In a private letter (which I have seen) he urged James O'Hea to advise O'Brien to be silent. But on questions of public duty O'Brien's conscience and judgment were his counsellors. He attended the next meeting and opened up the subject in a manner I must describe from a former account of the transaction.

"O'Brien said he did not think it necessary to inquire whether the article was a discreet or politic one, but he was prepared on his individual responsibility to declare that it was morally and legally justifiable. It was a reply to offensive diatribes in English journals, announcing that railways would be exceedingly useful in effecting the subjugation of the Irish people. Maurice O'Connell, who had been placed in the chair as another measure of precaution, interrupted O'Brien to suggest that it was not quite in order to discuss a subject which did not immediately affect the Association, and that he was perhaps treading on dangerous ground. O'Brien said he would bow to the chair, but, as an appeal had been made to his discretion, he continued of opinion that it was not only discreet, but most advisable, that the topic should be treated in that place. The chairman rejoined that he individually agreed with Mr. O'Brien in the premises, but his business was to prevent the discussion of anything which did not relate to the Association. Mr. O'Brien sat down, but many persons continued to think that the prosecution of a Repeal journal for defending the honour of the country against a threat to shut up Conciliation Hall, and declare the agitation for Repeal to be high treason, was as nearly related to the Association as the character of Monsieur Thiers, or the proceedings of German dissenters from the Catholic Church, or the treatment of tenants in Darrynane Beg—O'Connell's estate—which had all been elaborately discussed without let or hindrance. At the ensuing meeting Mr. Henry Grattan took up the subject. He warned the Orangemen of Ulster that if they attempted to meet and express their constitutional opinion against the. new-fangled commercial policy of Peel, the Government might send troops from Dublin to Armagh; and if any independent journal suggested that if they were sent by railway for such a purpose the result might be hazardous, he would be prosecuted for exercising that constitutional right. The Head Pacificator jumped to his feet to save the Association from manifest danger. He told Mr. Grattan, in the prodigious rhetoric for which he was distinguished, that 'from the lips of O'Connell himself, whose profound legal wisdom had been Ireland's palladium of safety for so many years, he heard as his parting words aboard the packet, that he considered the introduction of this subject while the case was pending in the Court of Queen's Bench as deeply and dangerously calculated to imperil the safety of the Repeal Association of Ireland.' Mr. Grattan yielded to this impassioned appeal; but O'Brien, who began to be impatient of the manifest injustice, declared that he had consulted legal friends since the last meeting, and they were of opinion that the subject might be discussed with safety and propriety. He would postpone it, however, till the return of Mr. O'Connell."

We refrained from comment in the Nation, though it would not be difficult to find pertinent criticism. It was not always an unpardonable sin to invoke the aid of Repeal wardens. It had been proved on O'Connell's trial that he had reminded the people at one of the monster meetings that they could follow and obey Repeal wardens as well as if they were sergeants, and march after a band as well in their grey coats as if they wore red jackets.

In Michaelmas, '45, I was called to the Bar. Mr. Waldron Burrows, grandson of one of Grattan's comrades, reminds me of an incident which happened at our call. The practice at that time was to impose an additional oath and an additional fee on Catholic barristers; the oath being some obsolete absurdity about the Pretender. I took the oath but refused to pay the fee (only half a crown), regarding it as a remnant of the penal laws, and left the Court to its remedy. I heard no more on the subject, and the practice, Mr. Burrows informs me, was discontinued.

  1. Sir Samuel Ferguson, an eminently competent judge on such a question, regarded M'Gee as the most gifted of the Young Ireland poets. I quote his language from the graphic memoir of Sir Samuel by his wife. Personally I would place M'Gee, not as Ferguson does, but after Davis and Mangan, and before all the rest:—

    "Other young spirits," says Sir Samuel, "came into contact with me at this period, destined afterwards to be poetically famous as the singers of the Nation, and politically conspicuous as the leaders of the party known as Young Ireland." Here was the spark destined to kindle the souls of these tiery young men who thought to guide the destinies of Ireland by making her ballads. Davis and Duffy, Mangan and MacCarthy, and later on Thomas D'Arcy M'Gee, the greatest poet of them all, burst into song, and while I followed up the endeavour to elevate the romance of Irish history into the realm of legitimate history in the "Hibernian Nights' Entertainment "in the University, awoke the whole country to high and noble aspirations through their fine enthusiasm in the "Spirit of the Nation."

  2. Among the ungenerous criticisms which in Irish politics are too plentiful, nothing is more unjust or more egregiously inconsistent with his earlier declarations than what John Mitchel wrote of me in his later years in his "Jail Journal." His brother-in-law, John Martin, declared, as we shall see, and the facts of this narrative emphatically declare, that he would have lived and died a village attorney if I had not drawn him out of his obscurity and enlisted him in the national cause. For Martin's letter see page 308.
  3. It is a curious evidence of this misapprehension that when Mr. Justin M'Carthy first wrote a sketch of the Young Ireland Party in his "History of Our Own Times," the name of Thomas Davis was not mentioned.
  4. John Dillon, who was anxiously watching the labours he could not share, wrote to me of one of my articles at this time: " The Nation has surpassed itself in the last two numbers. The one before the last was amongst the very best, and the article headed 'Another Year' in yesterday's, in my judgment, has never been surpassed in the Nation or elsewhere. It was a trumpet blast. While I read it my heart bounded with hope for the first time during many weeks. Who wrote it? It is not like your style, and yet I do not know where else to look for its strength and extreme clearness of thought. It is replete with manliness, sound sense, and strong genuine feeling, without the slightest tinge of obscurity or fustian. It vexes me much that I can do nothing at this time to lighten the load of your labour and sorrow. I would have gone to town if the state of my health did not absolutely forbid it. I have got a return of that ugly cough which brought on me some startling symptoms before I left. I am combating it with the sharpest remedies I can. While I write I have two troublesome blisters on my neck and breast. I trust, my dear Duffy, you will make a brave stand against this affliction. It requires no little fortitude to pursue an occupation every act of which calls to your mind the remembrance of one you loved so well."
  5. I had proposed to M'Gee to write a School History of Ireland, a work then greatly wanted, and unfortunately still greatly wanted.
  6. Mitchel in the next number mentioned that Mr. O'Connell had remonstrated on the subject, and that it must be clearly understood that the Nation "had neither connection with nor control over Repeal wardens."—"Four Years of Irish History."
  7. My watchful friends in London kept me informed of the impression created by my vindication of the Nation in circles far away from party influence. " Now, ad publica negotia" (O'Hagan wrote); "your letter was beyond praise. There is not a sentence in it that did not win Pigot's and my own heartiest approval. If anything can set you right with the country that will. … They (Thomas and Mrs. Carlyle) had strong sympathy with you about this prosecution affair, and liked your letter extremely. Lucas feels about it in the way you see by the Tablet." Ferguson, who was in England at the moment, sent me friendly counsel, which altogether coincided with my intentions:—

    "My dear Duffy,—I hear in all directions an expression of horror at something that has been said in the Nation about destroying troops in railway transit.

    "It seems from what I see in London, that the provocation came from the other side.

    "If so, perhaps it would be possible to mitigate the feeling (which, believe me, is fearfully strong) among the class I mean, whose good-will I think, ought to be of very great value to you, by something explanatory, showing the provocation, and putting the matter on the ground of being no more violent than the threat. I express myself imperfectly, but you will know what I mean. What right have one set of the Queen's subjects to threaten another with troops? The troops are ours as well as theirs. The Legislature and the Executive alone ought to threaten and punish. When the Herald says our party will crush your party by troops in a railway, it is not so unreasonable (it is very deplorable I think) to reply, 'Your instrument of intimidation is as good for resistance as for Coercion.—Most sincerely yours,

    "S. Ferguson."