14 OCTOBER 1899
To lie about our enemies is, Britishly speaking, human—to systematically defame and slander them is Satanic. It is better not to lie at all. But there is a difference, despite the philosophers, between the nation which or the individual who makes and untrue allegation against an enemy in a moment of irritation and the nation which or individual who blackens and belies every action of a foeman. I have known Frenchmen and Germans and Spaniards and Dutchmen and Turks and Norwegians and even one or two Irishmen who lied; but in their cases lying was an acquired art. The English lie by instinct.
There is nothing to equal the Englishman’s ability for telling lies save the Irishman’s capacity for swallowing them. What England likes to tell us about herself and her enemies we accept. We read in our morning papers that Herr Schwartz has been arrested for lese-majeste and sentenced to twenty years’ confinement in a fortress. Poor Schwartz, we learn, was quietly smoking his pipe by his own fireside when two soldiers observing him through his window called on him to desist in the name of the Emperor. The Herr refused, saying he was as much entitled to smoke his own pipe in his own chimney corner as the Emperor was to puff his own cigar in his own palace, whereupon the soldiers jumped in through the window and having run the unfortunate Herr several times through the body with their swords dragged him through the streets to the barracks where he was sentenced to be shot by the Permanently Sitting Court-Martial. An appeal, however, to the Emperor induced his Majesty to commute the sentence to one of twenty years’ imprisonment, but he at the time decorated the two soldiers with the Iron Cross. We read about Schwartz in our papers every time Germany shows England her teeth, and we shake our heads and think Germany must be a very bad country to live in—very bad.
Once, in the Suez Canal, I met a Russian ship crammed full of Russian peasants. They were merry—hilariously merry—and they were going to Siberia. They were simple Russian peasants who had—miribile dictu! —paid down their hard cash to get out to that fertile land. Now, when Russia manoeuvres her ships round by China or her troops near Afghanistan the British Press takes a lively interest in Siberia. We read about poor Ivan Paulovitch. Ivan is an inoffensive Russian who having been observed reading a copy of the Daily News is suspected of having imbibed lofty ideas of human liberty. It is a remarkable fact that all the Russians who desire the abolition of autocracy, are, according to the British Press, worshippers of the British Constitution and diligent students of the English papers. Poor Ivan is dogged by the Secret Police, bombs are ‘planted’ on him, and he is rudely torn from his family, loaded with chains, and sent to work in the Siberian mines at a temperature of 10 below zero. We shudder as we read of this instance of Russian barbarity. We forget that here in Ireland such things as bomb-planting and the secret police are not unknown; we fail to remember that Irish political prisoners of England are treated as ordinary convicts while Russian political prisoners are treated as a class apart, and we quite forget that Ivan is a Russian—if he exists at all—condemned by the laws of his own country, and if these laws are bad laws that it is the concern of the Russian people and of no other people whatsoever.
Hatred and fear of France is strong in the heart of England. If two Frenchmen shout patriotic sentiments on the boulevards or half-a-dozen students play tricks with a gendarme the streets of Paris are turned into a battle-ground—in the columns of the British Press; if a ruffian commits a murder in a corner of France the British Press dwells with satisfaction on every ghastly detail. If a French postman steals a franc’s worth of stamps the British Press calls the attention of the world to the corruption of the Republic, and if a scandal occurs in French society the same Press points out that there is no morality worth mentioning in France; and when there is nothing else handy to use against what, with all its faults, is the noblest nation on the earth to-day, England utilises the Jew.
Yet the Irishman will continue to believe all the falsehoods and slanders of England on her neighbours, because what is known as the Irish National Press dishes them up to him. If it could be instilled into him that it is part of the British policy to blacken and defame the character of any people whom England fears or desires to quarrel with the blackguarding of the Boers which has been going on for some time in the English Press would not have affected him at all. The number of fine old Tory Protestants in Ireland who have developed a feeling of indignation against the Boers because of their persecution of roman Catholicism is quite remarkable. Look at Councillor Day of Cork. The Councillor says President Kruger is a ‘second Oliver Cromwell’ as far as Catholics are concerned. And Councillor Day is an Orangeman! Mr. Day stated in the course of his speech that he had lived in the Transvaal. The man who has lived in the Transvaal and can assert that the Boer persecutes the Catholic could put Ananias to the blush.
We have been regaled with stories of Boer brutality and Boer atrocities every morning for weeks. The poor, dear English uitlanders who used to swagger round the bars and musichalls of Johannesburg shouting that Britons never, never should be slaves trampled women and children under their feet at Park Station in their rush to get away to Natal and the Cape and the British Press rang with stories of Boer brutality because the Johannesburg policemen struck down a few of these arrant English cowards and rescued the trampled Englishwomen from under their feet. And then to think that the later Britishers were compelled to ride in cattle-trucks while the inhuman Boers told them as they fled they’d meet again by False Bay or down in pleasant Durban! At Machadodorp, down Delagoa way, the illtreated Britishers were compelled to take off their hats during the singing of the Transvaal National Anthem! Could anything more horrible be well conceived? And think of how the ‘fighting race,’ the ‘imperial race’ was treated at the little town of Kronstadt in the Free State—fifty Englishmen who started to raid the town were beaten out of it by eight Boers with sjamboks (short strips of rhinoceros-hide)! Oh! for the days when one Englishman was worth any ten foreigners!
Vilest of all the blackguardly lies the British Press has yet printed about the Boers is the one that they have ill-treated Englishwomen. The chivalry of the Boer towards women is as wonderful as it is delicate. No man, not even the Irishman, treats women with more respect than the Franco-Dutchmen of Africa. No honest man who knows the people can read the paragraphs in the Press about Boer maltreatment of women without an itching desire to throttle their writers. But the Englishman, whose respect for women is so well understood on the Rand, will continue to concoct stories of Boers assailing ladies with foul language and striking them with their rifles. ‘Trust,’ says the Boer adage, ‘the hungry tiger and the rooinek’s (Englishman’s) word.’