Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/337

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297
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES

fortune. Poor Ireland is a fruitful mother of genius, but a barren nurse. Irishmen who write books must gravitate to London. Ireland deplores her absentee landlords; but she has reason as deep to deplore her absent men of genius. England has gathered brilliant Irishmen as she would have gathered diamonds in Irish fields, and set them in her own diadem. She left no door open to them in Ireland. She threw down the schools and made the teacher a felon, in the last century, to insure that Irishmen should read and write English books, or give up reading and writing altogether. She frowned the name of Ireland out of Goldsmith's " Deserted Village "; she emasculated Tom Moore; she starved out Edmund Burke till he gave her his life-long splendid service. She seduced many able Irishmen and hid them away under English titles of nobility, so that their very names were lost—forgotten; as the brilliant grandson of Brinsley Sheridan is lost in Lord Dufferin; as Henry Temple was forgotten in Lord Palmerston; or as Margaret Power of Tipperary was transformed into the illustrious Countess of Blessington. This is the bitterest pang of conquest. The conqueror does not utterly destroy. He does not say to the victim, "I will kill you and take all you have." He says, "You may go on living, working, and producing. But all of good, and great, and illustrious that you produce are mine and me; all of evil, and passionate, and futile you produce are yours and you!"

This was the spirit that swept from Ireland all the honor and profit of such illustrious sons as Berkeley, Steele, Sheridan, Burke, Balfe, Wallace, Maclise, Macready, Hamilton, Tyndall, Wellington, Wolseley (a voice—"And O'Reilly") and the hundreds and thousands of Irish men and women who have won distinction in letters, art, law, war, and statesmanship.

Honor and emolument, pay and pension, were only to be earned by Irishmen at the price of denationalization. The marvel is that under such a system Ireland could go on producing great men. "National enthusiasm is the great nursery of genius." When you destroy national enthusiasm and pride, you have killed a nation. To destroy Ireland as a nation, she must not only be conquered, she must be obliterated. Her people must be swept away and the land filled with Englishmen. And even then the latent life in the soil, the traditions, the sacrifices, the buried patriotism, would come out like an atmosphere and be breathed into the blood of the newcomers, until in a generation or two they would be as Irish and as distinct as the original Celtic people. Irishmen cannot become provincials. Everything about them indicates distinct nationality. They may consent to change, as we are doing in America, joyfully and with pride; but the Irishman in Ireland can never be made a West Briton.

The world knows it now. No matter what odds are against Ireland,