FRIDAY. – Now, here’s a difficulty. No fish for dinner; and the steward gives me politely to understand that I cannot have any. A general dispensation to us “Papists” in the matter of abstaining from flesh meat on Friday abroad ship would be a desideratum. However, I go in for obedience in all matters of a purely religious nature. But in matters temporal I am prepared to beard the College of Cardinals without the slightest compunction, when convinced that I have the truth on my side. Columbus on his trial before those learned divines at Salamanca is a fine study. By the way, the image of that mighty man is for ever in my mind’s eye while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, of which I cannot help fancying him the lord and ruler for evermore. I imagine him enthroned like a colossus above its heaving bosom. With one hand he points to the new world, and with the other beckons to the old. And the old world appears to obey the signal. One little island I wot of does so “with a vengeance” – as the enemy hath it. But there will be a return of the tide.
What brings that unhappy child of song, James Clarence Mangan, to my mind just now? Yes; I saw a young Irishman on yesterday reading poor Mangan’s Invitation — “Cross with me the Atlantic’s foam,” for his companions. The reader read with considerable spirit, and the eyes of his auditors did light up at certain lines. But they turned away at the end with compressed lips and knitted brows; and, though they were going to “make the glorious west their home,” as they bent their gaze eastward I saw their hearts yearned to their own green isle. Friend Clarence, if thou hadst let drop that mantle of thine upon my shoulders, I, too, should sing “Cross with me the Atlantic’s foam” – backwards. * * * * *
We pass several vessels almost every day. Some of them communicate with us by signals. A few have come within speaking distance. A ship under full sail is a majestically beautiful object. As they bear down upon us, swiftly and yet almost imperceptibly, gliding nearer and nearer, and then bend gracefully away, Byron’s line — “She walks the waters like a thing of life” is at once suggested to the mind. The system of communicating by signals is very ingenious. I have heard and read in song and story of a flag with the proud title of “The Sun-burst.” But do not learned archaeologists make out that this Sun-burst is a myth – the mere coinage of the brain of some crazy old Bard? However this may be – whether the Sun-burst was or was not the recognised emblem of the Irish Nation on the seas – there most assuredly was an Irish Nation. Well now I have a vision of a weather-beaten mariner in some latitude and longitude between here and Galway Bay, laying down his “spy-glass,” and rubbing his weather-beaten poll with look somewhat puzzled; and then calling out for the “Universal Signal Book” to look for a flag that is not in it. That would be “jolly” – if I may be allowed to disfigure my genteel notes with such a vulgarism. It does appear to me not improbable that this ocean which I am crossing for the first time will be roused from its propriety by the booming of guns before it grows much older; and through its blue waters will glide the swift-cutting keels of a species of craft with which the name of one Paul Jones is more or less identified. And then? What next – and next? – We shall see. * * * * *
We were expecting to fall in with a pilot all day yesterday, but no pilot boat appeared. As I had a curiosity to see the pilot taken on board I remained up till one or two o’clock last night – but I got weary of the long watch, and “turned in.” An American newspaper was put into my hand this morning, which I rightly conjectured had been brought out by the pilot; so I missed witnessing the “taking on board.” What has the world been doing? I scan the New York paper eagerly, but learn little as it contains but one day’s news. There has been fighting (of course); but which side had the best of it I cannot make out. Perhaps both sides had the worst of it. A bull that, truly Hibernian; yet it wants not a certain fitness when applied to these terrible encounters. I feel much disappointed to learn that it is by night we are to enter the harbour of New York. As we approach the shores of the Republic – when I think that in a few hours I shall stand, for the first time in my life upon free soil – my pulse begins to beat quick. I feel a strong desire to shake hands with this burly pilot who looks a free citizen every inch of him. The passengers, I find – under the impression that we are to land this evening – have all turned out in holiday trim. Well may it be said that it is the flower of our people who are flying from Ireland. Surely the destinies of the old enslaved island, and those of this young, proud, and mighty nation, are bound together by a chain of heart-strings! * * * * *
We are anchored in New York harbour – masts and rigging on every side, like forest trees in winter. As the light from myriad lamps streams along the water – and the stars shine – as they shone when the lamps were not – what strange visions came upon me. I have always had a reverence for antiquity; a proneness to look back to the past. Perhaps the history of my unfortunate country explains this feeling. We naturally turn from the shame and misery of the present, to recall the “long-faded glories” of bygone days. But away with the hoary past! This land of yesterday, this young giant, with hot blood in his veins, is an object more worthy of reverence, more provocative of high and holy aspirations, than all the crumbling relics of nations that have withered put together. Yet a phantom – a phantom to which I scarcely ever gave a thought in my life – glides before me now. Its presence affects me like the shadow of a sin that must be atoned for. It is the shadow of the Red Man.
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Is it not written that we Irish are an aristocratic people? It is too true; and to this reverence for rank our people owe much of their past and present sufferings and debasement. “The old stock” – inagh! Well, I have a sneaking regard for “old stocks” myself when I find them producing something better than old scoundrels. I do remember me, too, of a time – it was in the gladsome morn of life, when one is prone to build castles in the air – when I was wont to have entrancing visions of a Parliament in College-green – “the peasant and the lord ranking in with one accord” – wit, eloquence, and fame – and all that sort of thing – “But ‘tis past – ‘tis past – ‘tis past.”
It was a captivating delusion; and I look back to it with somewhat of the feeling with which one recalls the memory of a fair false love.
And now, magnificent Democracy, I kiss the hem of your garment. Bunker Hill, I worship you.