NEW YORK – “Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?” I stretch out my legs, and repeat these words of the immortal Falstaff, congratulating myself that I am on terra firma once more. But it is all in vain; I am “at sea” still, and by no means at my ease. The first thing that strikes the new-comer who arrives in New York, with his mind full of “the war,” is the utter absence of every sign and token indicative of the great game which is now being played out on this continent. A stray military uniform among the crowd of busy citizens – a mere waif from the camp, thrown as it were by chance upon the rushing tide of commerce – is the only object to suggest “the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.” The most warlike sight I have yet seen is a company of red-shirted, helmeted firemen hurrying with their engine to fight with the “devouring element” (I anticipate the penny-a-liner who hastens to the scene of action from the newspaper office next door); and fine-looking fellows these firemen are. But as for that matter, all the men I have seen here are fine-looking fellows. They stride into this hotel by the dozens, and nobler specimens of humanity, physically speaking, I never set eyes upon. Practically, they are a polite people, too, but altogether deficient in the outward semblances of politeness. Your free and enlightened citizen, flung back in his armchair, with his legs thrown over another armchair, will hand you the newspaper in which he is buried, if you ask for it; but he will do so precisely as if you were a vender of the article, and he did not want it. He will go out of his way, round the next “block,” to direct you on yours; but this he will do much after the manner of a policeman in the performance of his duty. A bow and a smile are not in your free and enlightened citizen’s line, by any means. I observe a sprinkling of the military element here, too; very young men, but with the look and bearing of veterans. This war, I fancy, if it does nothing else, will infuse a dash of chivalry into this dollar-hunting people; which will be an improvement.
There is a sitting-room in this hotel – and even an entrance from the street – sacred to the fair sex. Of course, having a lady with me, I have the right of entrée. The first thing that strikes me is, that the women are tall and well made, with very small waists, richly dressed, but in no showy colours, and rather extensively adorned with the whole paraphernalia of gold chains, bracelets, brooches, et hoc genus omne. Their features are generally regular and even handsome, but there is an opaqueness in them quite unlike the “eloquent cheeks” of the daughters of Erinn. The same remark applies to these lithe, graceful children who are gambolling about the room. The long curling tresses of the children are marvellously beautiful. The ladies carry the brass keys of their bedrooms at their girdle. I am given to understand that numbers of American ladies live this hotel life all their days. Mercy on us! Can this be true? … Dinner at one o’clock, with an army of negroes in waiting. Though I do not remember to have ever been before in close proximity to a black skin, I felt nothing approaching in the slightest degree to repugnance when their sooty hands played round my plate. On the contrary, what I could not help thinking a weak sentimentality crept over me regarding them. For, after all, it is sad to think that any portion of the human race, however dusky or “inferior” should be “born to no inheritance but slavery.” I have always heard that the slaves in the south are exceedingly jolly-looking beings, while these free brothers of theirs are, to my mind – judging from their looks – the very incarnation of sadness; from which remark I mean to draw no inference whatever. Perhaps some virtuous indignation would have entered into my feelings on this subject but for two reasons. First – because the thing has been a little overdone; and secondly – I have been too long accustomed to contemplate another sort of slavery, which well nigh absorbs all the indignation I have to spare. * * * * *
I have grasped the right hand of that true son of old Ireland, and my dear and valued friend, John O’Mahony. He is in good health and spirits, and labouring earnestly as ever for the old land. Yet, far away from old Kilbeheny and the lordly Galtees, his life must be a life of suffering indeed, if he be not upborne by the proud thought that he is suffering for oh! how fair a land, and in
“The holiest cause that tongue or sword
Of mortal, ever lost or gained.”
We had a long conversation upon the subject nearest his heart.
“But what he said it was na play –
I will na venture it in my rhymes.”
Nor in prose either. I cannot help mentioning one among the many young Irish patriots to whom he introduced me – Captain Denis Downing. He was one of the batch of rebels who were tried on a charge of high treason in ’58. After fighting through many bloody battles he lost a leg at Gettysburg, and is now in the invalid corps. Lieutenant Brennan, who was dangerously wounded at Antietam, and who has got the captaincy left vacant by Captain Downing’s retirement, told me that he had heard their colonel declare that Captain Downing was capable of handing a brigade. I hope to see the correctness of the colonel’s opinion put to the test yet; – but not in America. How my heart warms to these young Irish soldiers. Yes, the time is coming fast when it must be “Now or Never.” “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Now how many of these young warriors would it take to make a “monster meeting” rise into an army? A very interesting problem that. * * * * *
I have called with O’M— upon General Corcoran, who fortunately happens to be in New York. Now here is a man. Have we duly appreciated the full meaning of his refusal to parade his regiment in honour of the son of the Queen of England? Taking all the circumstances into account, it was an act of heroic courage and self-sacrifice. Then an ovation was given him on his return after his long imprisonment from Richmond, the like of which was hardly ever witnessed in America before; but it did not turn his head in the least. When municipal representatives, and representatives of every sort thronged round him with addresses – while banners waved, and warlike music and the louder music of a hundred thousand throats rent the clouds – he turned to a friend near him and calmly said – “This is not for me; this is America on her knees to Ireland.” I was greatly struck with the unassuming modesty of his manner. And how loving-anxious were his inquiries about what was doing “at home in Ireland” – to use his own expression. General Corcoran is the right man in the right place. His devotion to the cause of the Republic was put to a severe test during his imprisonment; but General Corcoran is not a man to be shaken by trifles. His loyalty to the land of his adoption, and the older and holier allegiance to the land of his birth are entwined together, and strengthen and vivify each other. Happily they are never likely to be torn asunder. General Corcoran intends applying for an extension of his leave of absence in order to attend the Convention of the Fenian Brotherhood in Chicago on the 3rd of November.
I regret I shall not have an opportunity of meeting General Meagher, as he is at present some thirty miles away – at the Katskill Mountains. He too will attend the Convention as a delegate, which fact is a sufficient proof that General Meagher has not betaken himself to the Katskills, for the purpose of playing the part of Rip Van Winkle. The melancholy pleasure is still before me of visiting the widow and family of brave Michael Doheny.
In the meantime I will hunt up as many as I can of my old friends and neighbours, who are stowed away in divers quarters of this “almighty” empire city.