The problems suggested by the Gaelic revival present a most absorbing field for study and speculation to anyone interested in Irish human nature. Revolutions of any kind throw a great flash light onto men; and people brought face to face with a state of affairs which boldly challenges their accustomed habits and traditional way of looking at things exhibit many unexpected sides of character before the eyes of any who can see. A revolution is inseparable from a large amount of temporary chaos, for it demands of people that they make some attempts to think, a most confusing demand for those accustomed to buy their views on things ready made by the sheet, or receive them for nothing from the platforms. All minds – more particularly untutored minds – hate doubt. They crave for something to cling on to, to swear by, to feel like shedding the last drop of their blood for. The only two practical ways of dealing with doubt, are either to close your mind to it, or to grapple with it like a man. Most people do the former as long as they can. The Gaelic revival has thrown a formidable doubt into the heart of the country. It has gripped the present century by the throat and has told it unceremoniously to its face that it was and is more than half a sham. The effects are as might have been anticipated. The people do not want doubts; and when they knock at the hall-door the man of the house quietly slides out at the back. Yet as this particular doubt is, if I may express it so, dragged to the tune of pipes, songs and speeches through several tracts of country, it forces itself upon many whether they like it or no. There are several – for doubt has its fascinations at certain stages – who peep at it with one eye. There are some who look at it with two, and, becoming perturbed at the sight, beat a hasty retreat to the nearest acquaintance who may be relied upon to tell them that there is nothing to be frightened at. The doubt has proved too strong for others, and they are in grips with it with varying degrees of strength, weakness and mental honesty.
What does all this uprising portend? One common landscape is a hundred different landscapes to a hundred different people, for the eye sees what it brings with it to see. And the Gaelic revival, however it may attempt to define itself on paper, in constitutions and in speeches, represents something which every one must interpret for himself as best he can. I emphasise this fact for I am about to criticise and weigh it up, and if any one should put an authoritative pronouncement of the scope and objects of the League in my hand and say that I am talking of a different thing altogether, I must answer that I can see things only through my own eyes, and that I claim the liberty to discuss what I see.
The Gaelic revival appears to me in the light of a great practical possibility, an opportunity of vast moment, a good deed shining in a naughty world. I know little and care less for linguistic pedantries. I take it that the people are learning Irish because it is the national language; if the national language were Dutch they would be learning Dutch. Ireland strikes me as being at present almost the very antithesis of what she ought to be, what it is natural and reasonable that she should be made. She is uninteresting to herself. She refuses to look at the problems of secular life seriously. She is either in a wild carnival of screech or in a drowsy state of Oriental fatalism. From what I can gather from my slight knowledge of ancient Ireland, I find no reason to conclude that either screech or fatalism is indigenous to the race. How far it is within the power of her will to alter her condition must remain a matter of opinion; but I would point out that national character, as much as individual character, can, by conscious effort, be moulded and changed. I see in the Gaelic revival a means to effect such a change. I read into it a great instrument for developing individuality. The highest point, I suggest, to which a people can go is the sum of its individualities. When individuals are drawn out to their utmost the country which embraces them has realised her uttermost possibility. The process of drawing out individuality is not wholly pleasant, for you draw out the good and the bad, the sense and the folly of the people. Human nature is lovable only when too much is not expected of it; and the people whose nostrils are offended at anything less than the ideal in men have a sad time of it in their journey through this world – in Ireland or elsewhere. Unfortunately, we, Irish, always look for distilled virtue in our own countrymen; needless to say, we never get it. We have got grand aspirations and noble dreams, but an acquired as well as constitutional antipathy to paying the price of their realisation. If it be desirable that people should be drawn out they must be given room for what is petty in them as well as for what is great. If the Gaelic revival is to rise on a sound foundation it must give everyone his head, and let him do the best he can with it, be it much or little – in most cases, no doubt, it will be little. If it should descend to be a machine for manufacturing formulae to be swallowed without mastication, I can already see its limits. We shall not have a Garden of Eden when every mind in Ireland is kindled and does its best, or makes some honest effort to think for itself. The book-learned Irish speaker, full of superiority and knowledge of facts, will not like to be told by a more or less unlettered country boy that he knows nothing of Irish because he happens to use a phrase never heard in the parish of the latter. Yet it is better for the nation that the country boy should be stimulated to think – even unjustly – that some of his betters are fools, and emboldened to say so, than that he should remain lolling over a hedge thinking of nothing at all. There is hope for him in the former state; there is none for him in the latter. If the people of the country are to be drawn out the people of the country must be borne with. That full breath of principle of liberty I fear we have yet to acquire; but acquire it we must if anything worthy of us is ever to be accomplished. I would put no limit to criticism, but of the principle of suppression we have had enough. It is the general tendency to suppress your neighbour who disagrees with you that frequently turns what might be criticism into abuse – just as it is the efforts to attain an unnatural unity that are responsible for most divisions.
I fear there is already too much reason to dread that we may carry the methods of heroic politics into the altogether different field of a social and intellectual revival. In Irish politics you have a definite measure or measures to wrest from a foreign power. There is some best way to do it, and the less waste of force there is the better. The Gaelic revival has no definite objective; it is a stirring up, portending no one knows exactly what. For work such as the League has in hand – and I would like to emphasise this point – the more we struggle amongst ourselves and compete against one another the better for the commonweal. There will be an apparent waste of energy at which many a shallow mind will get dismayed. The apparent waste by competition in industrial countries like England is something appalling. You observe people evidently bent upon cutting out their neighbours, you see three or four great combinations of people doing what could be done at half the cost by one combination. But a little seeing, like a little learning, is a dangerous thing. You will also notice that the net output of all this warring energy is enormous. Turn, on the other hand, to the Utopias, where they have been tried, and you will be delighted to observe that the apparent waste of energy is infinitesimal. You will not be delighted when you look further and find that the net output of all this severely regulated effort is also more or less infinitesimal. An infallible way to paralyse a people is to aim at a Utopia. Let us have as many papers as people choose to start and others are willing to buy; let us have opposition leagues in one town if two sets of people of different temperaments cannot agree to work in one; let people champion their own ideas about spelling, grammar, metre, or anything else, if they feel strongly about them. The net benefit to the Gaelic revival of all this energy let loose in free fields will be comparatively enormous. Uniformity is soul-destroying, and leaves more than half the faculties of a man dormant. It is in strife of all kinds that men are drawn out for what they are worth; and free play for strife and competition is an essential condition if we are to get the greatest net amount of energy out of any community. This may sound a strange doctrine in many Irish ears, but it is not necessarily the less true for that. We must have liberty – the thing itself, and not the much abused word. As far as I can judge, ‘liberty’ in the mouths of most of our eminent, as well as most of our humble leaders, is as ludicrous and as much out of place as it is over the jails of France. No doubt, if the Gaelic revival is based upon liberty, we shall have to put up with many disagreeable things. Papers and people will often hit below the belt, and good men will be misrepresented; steady and necessary work may be unjustly belittled and laughed at, and cranks may become uncomfortably numerous. But for all that, liberty with such drawbacks will go further in a week, than one ‘strong’ organisation, bounded on north, south, east and west by rules, definitions, pedantries and barbed wire, will go in a year.
Let me now sketch out roughly the things of first importance which, it appears to me, the League has got to do immediately. We have got a Gaelic-speaking people who are mostly unlettered and down-trodden in spirit and economic conditions. With ignorant people, let them be as quick-witted and intelligent as they may, very little can be done by fine reasoning and argument. Ignorance in others is a convenient thing when it happens to be travelling in the direction you want it to go; when you desire to turn it out of its accustomed course, it is as crass and stubborn as a mule. The Gaelic-speaking people have been driven into ignorance, and there they are in it, and until you can take them out of it, one would be as usefully employed in submitting his enlightened views and his fine arguments to the consideration of a mile-stone. Other methods must be found to impress them.
Then we have got a curious mixture of an English-speaking population. They have never been analysed, as all other civilized people have been, by their own literary men. If an Englishman is curious to understand his own countrymen, he goes to some of his novelists, and he is put at once on the track where he can see things which, unaided, he probably would never have see for himself. Our case is different. We practically have no literature of national self-criticism. No brilliant Irish minds have ever turned themselves with sincerity on to their own countrymen. We spend much time endeavouring to unravel such mysteries as :- Who are the Celts? As if it mattered to anyone, beyond a few specialised scholars, who they were. It seems never to strike anyone that there is a much more interesting mystery, with all the necessary data for unravelling it, at our own doors; one, besides, which it is very desirable for practical purposes that we should attempt to solve. That mystery is:- Who and what are we? Of course, we have got that vague abstraction of ‘the typical Irishman,’ whom, like the banshee (bean-sighe), everybody has heard of, but nobody has seen, or ever will see. If we turn to Anglo-Irish literature we find one set of characters made to the order of English prejudice, and another set to that of Irish prejudice. Is there any character in Anglo-Irish literature really drawn with a sincere desire to be true? I doubt it, with the possible exception of Mick M’Quaid. The result is that when we speak of the English-speaking Irish people we are in the dark; we speak of an unanalysed quantity, and we have perforce to trust to our own individual and limited experience. What are these people really capable of? What are their limits and possibilities? The riddle is rendered more complex by the fact that they are all in a state of general affectation playing up to a civilization that is not natural to them. What they would do should it occur to them that they ought to be men and women, and strike out originally for themselves, must remain for some time at least a matter of hazy speculation. In fact whether there is or is not any chance of them endeavouring to be men and women is difficult to determine. All we can be sure of is that the Gaelic League has, in them, a motley gathering to work upon. Observe it in the music halls yelling inanely at low jokes and indecent songs; watch it coming from a patriotic meeting roaring ‘The Boys of Wexford’ between the ‘half-way’ houses; see it in petticoats in its thousands filing into the circulating libraries and the penny novelette shops for reams of twaddle about Guy and Belinda; listen to it in the literary clubs discussing, as the footman might discuss his master in the security of the kitchen, the ideas of English literary men, and never for a moment becoming conscious that God also gave it, too, a head which He intended it to use in some original and independent manner. Watch the motley throng wherever you go, the eyes of its members turned anywhere in the world but on their own country. How can anyone conclude that it can ever be licked into Irish shape? It is, indeed, a blessed dispensation that faith can move mountains. However, possible or impossible, the Gaelic League has got to attempt to work a fundamental change in all that. If it is frightened at the job it has undertaken, and will not show the fight necessary, it had better capitulate at once.
One meets with several crude, half thought-out plans for effecting the general purposes of the League. There are many people who harbour the hope that the Gaelic idea can be realised by working from the bottom upwards. Stiffen the backs of the Gaelic speakers, start feiseanna, and work outwards until the whole people are railed in in the Gaelic circle.
This is a pretty plan, appealing strongly, no doubt, to the sentimental for the element of ‘poetic justice’ with which it is charged. But as a main line of advance it is utterly hopeless and belated. It is too late in the day to think that the routed Gael will, or can, unaided, and of his own vitality, turn back and conquer the Pale again. The Gaelic-speaking population are too far gone to lead themselves anywhere. With many individual exceptions, I fear they even still contemplate the well-dressed English speaker as a black contemplates a white man. They have extraordinary spirit, but it is latent, the active principle has been knocked out of it, and they will only work under stimulus. The intellectual and social centre of gravity is now in the heart of the English-speaking people of Ireland. Their point of view at present is utterly wrong, and that point of view has got to be turned. For many years to come we must have an active, vigilant, and merciless propaganda in the English language. Anglicisation must be fought all along the line on every day of the week. So little is this necessity appreciated by some that the spectacle of certain people sitting down and discussing the conduct of the movement in English excites them to laughter. I begrudge no man his laugh, but if these people will but throw their minds over the whole field the humour may possibly vanish from the picture. The Gaelic papers carry on a propaganda in English with very satisfactory results, I have no doubt, as far as they go. But they have two grave and obvious limitations. The first is that, being Gaelic papers, they necessarily only circulate amongst the well-disposed, the already converted, and therefore, though they may help to intensify the Gaelic idea they have little power to spread it. The second is that, being Gaelic papers, the scope of their criticism in English is very limited, whereas, if the League is to be successful, it must not only defend its own positions to its own followers, but it must march abroad, invade the enemy’s territory, and attack every stronghold with all the horse, foot and artillery it can dispose of.
It may be that the English-speaking Irish are, to a large extent, hopelessly lost. There is no way of knowing until the experiment of converting them is tried. That work of conversion will be a formidable business, and there is no good object gained by shutting one’s eyes to its magnitude. You may take a man into a public-house, and by giving him a half-glass of whiskey, and by a judicious laying on of blarney, succeed in wheedling a vote out of him; but by no process of blarney or corrupt treating that I can think of can you lift up the skulls of a certain number of millions of people and place a new language and a new set of points of view in them. They must do these things for themselves in the sweat of their own faces. Unfortunately, the League has a work to do towards the accomplishment of which cheering is of little avail. This fact cuts off from it a vast amount of Irish energy that can always be put on tap, and which plays such a large part in many other Irish movements. It is not a difficult thing to get an Irish crowd to cheer, or even to march defiantly in procession when there is nothing but self-glorification to be done. But when you want them to do anything, even to learn, say, the First Book of O’Growney – well, that is a different story. Mobs are no good to the League directly; they will not act, but must, by roundabout means, be acted upon; and, unfortunately, as everybody is afraid of mobs in Ireland, they rule the country. Nearly all the leaders play down to them. Mobs rule the policies of the newspapers, for the editors are only like galvanised frogs jumping in sympathy with their masters in the streets. And as the Gaelic League appears to me to be far too much afraid of the newspapers, it is, therefore, too much afraid of the mob. If the main body of intelligent, informed, and serious opinion in Ireland cannot be won to the side of the League, and its active co-operation secured, there is no hope for it. There is such a body in Ireland, but it is neglected, unorganised, unrepresented by any newspapers. The League gives no opening for appeals to passion and ‘high falutin” sentiment; its only appeal is to reason, commonsense, and enlightened patriotism. You cannot effectively reach the proper public through the existing newspapers, so that in default of establishing a newspaper in English to go direct to it, you must reach it otherwise over the heads, and in defiance of, existing papers.
If the Gaelic revival is only such a thing as will strike the people as a pretty sentiment it will fail. Pretty sentiments are pretty sentiments, and they are nothing more. Unless it corresponds to a real need and a living aspiration of the people, unless it can be shown to have a real utility, it cannot make popular headway, and in bringing the question to the test one cannot err, I suggest, on the side of boldness. Hang out the idea here, there, and everywhere for all it is worth, and test as quickly as possible how far it accords with the common good sense of the people. If it get the common good sense on its side the main position is taken, and the rest will be only a matter of development. Further than this, the League, by boldly appealing on its merits to the brains and serious opinion of Ireland, will not only put itself into an impregnable position, but will go a long way to organise, if it does not absolutely organise, for the first time in Irish history, all the floating and disjointed good sense, thinking power, and shrewdness which for so many years have been almost powerless in face of organised mob rule. There are thousands and thousands of individual thinking men in Ireland, but no thinking popular body. Such a body would, if formed, inevitably rule the country and lead public opinion. We shall remain always in the dust so long as the popular rulers of the country derive their power from playing solely to the mob with mere appeals to passion, to spite, and maudlin sentimentality.
Here is a picture drawn from current events which illustrates one of the absurdities into which the present state of affairs lands us. There is a certain body, largely tainted by Unionism, I believe, who preach a propaganda of industrial cooperation and economic progress which, whatever its shortcomings may be, no man can reasonably oppose, and which every man is at liberty to improve upon if he can. But they are sneered at by the Empire wreckers of the streets. During several nights recently large crowds have spent hours in the public thoroughfare cheering for Kruger and praying for the defeat of the English army – no taint of Unionism about that. Let us follow the inevitable sequel. Several of the crowd in due course look about for employment, but the economic conditions of the country are so desperate that their search is in vain, and as a last resort there is nothing for them to do but enlist in the Queen’s army, and swear to fight against whatever Kruger may at any time be opposed to England. Let me put plainly to any serious, sensible man – which of these parties is in reality working in the interests of the Empire as against the interests of Ireland? It has been said that England has won her battles on the playgrounds of Eton: I should rather say that she has won them out of the poverty of Ireland. But where is there room for considerations such as these in a popular Press that lives by pandering to everything that is merely sentimental, unreasonable, and unthinking in the country? I repeat, that what is best and most solid in the country is the element which will carry the League, or any other reasonable and masculine movement, to victory; and if the League takes its opportunity of appealing boldly and fearlessly to that element it not only will be pursuing a good policy for its own ends but it will help to organise a body, the existence of which must react most favourably and powerfully on other phases of national activity.
The League must stand upon its solid merits, and its policy must be that of independent opposition to all its opponents. It represents a point of view absolutely opposed to the point of view of most of the newspapers, and with these newspapers it must be unremittingly at war – war to the end. Use them, but keep on attacking them. Accept their offers, if they make them, to put in little bits of Irish now and again, but keep independent of them, and don’t cease firing so long as they remain the enemy. ‘A suicidal policy to profess openly’ some one will say, ‘the papers will all boycott you.’ It does not appear by any means so suicidal when you have opened the back of the clock and have watched how the works go. At present, the mob rule the papers. Get a public opinion on the side of the League – there is a not inconsiderable one already – and the papers must bow just a little bit to it. Get a sober, thinking, organised public opinion behind the League and they will rule the country, including the mob. What, then, I ask, will the newspapers boycott? The League is non-political, non-sectarian, non-partisan, because it is above and beyond all these things. Its genius is another name for the moral essence of the Irish Nation. It stands for a new element, or rather for the neglected old element, in Irish life, and until it is fully recognised by papers and politicians, neither should get or will get any peace. It is not a thing to be bought or sold by or to any man or set of men, nor is it a thing to be invited upon a platform to speak through the mouth of any partisan.
I could not emphasise too strongly my conviction that the programme of the League is one of the greatest practical importance to the country. It appeals to the head and judgement, not of a clique, not of the educated, but of the whole people of Ireland. For many years, Ireland has literally been standing on its head, out of which unnatural position it must be taken if it is to live. If you read only the papers and the speeches you almost despair of the country; if you take an individual Irishman, even of the ranting order, you are at once struck by the contrast. I believe some ingenious Frenchman has proved, or endeavoured to prove, that the collective individuality of a crowd may be directly at variance with the several individualities that compose it. We certainly have some such condition of things in Ireland. So much has sentimentality and humbug got the better of the main body of the people, that only a strong, vigorous, combined effort can put a wedge through them preparatory to smashing them to pieces. Accepting Irish human nature as it is, which we must do, I believe it impossible for any of the existing national journals to put the country on its feet. For, if one journal sounds a common sense note, another, finding that a march has been stolen from it, replies by a ra-ta-ta-tat on the Emerald drum, invokes the shades of a few departed rebels, common sense is routed from the field as a mean, if not an unclean thing, and matters are once again as they were. If the Unionist papers or the Unionist party strike a practical note – as they often do – it is of little or no avail. For various reasons, which I need not go into, all the backs of us mere Irish go up at once, and we all agree to have a flying kick at any practicality that comes from such quarters. The broad reason of this, as I read it, is that all of us, however we may talk, are conscious that practical men and measures must inevitably rule and gain ascendancy wherever they are set moving. The position which we still hold to, and out of which we are determined – primitive and antiquated though our weapons are – never to be driven is, that the mere Irish represent, and must continue to represent, the paramount power in Ireland. Observing, however, that the mere Irish are given over so largely to brag and bluster, we are instinctively driven to block every practical advance attempted by the other element in Ireland, feeling that, under the circumstances, such a policy is the only way to maintain utter submersion and conquest. Unionists may make up their minds that they will never wag this country. The country, if it is to wag, must wag itself – Unionists taking their legitimate share in the process. I would suggest that the statesmanlike thing for those who belong to the foreign element in Ireland to do, would be to help on the stirring-up of the Gaelic mind. When the Gael is put on his feet, and feels that he is marching somewhere, he will be less jealous of the march of the other element. As it is, my reading of his attitude to the Unionists is this:- ‘I am not marching anywhere, and if I can manage it, you, too, shall, at least, stick where you are.’
Let me turn aside and discuss the progress of the past few years, and the present position. A great deal of solid, hard, up-hill work has been done, but it appears to me that the League having pushed so far has created a new situation, and must, therefore, reconsider its tactics. Guerrilla warfare must give place to an orderly and open campaign. The movement has now been brought into national proportions; it has ceased to be a mere language, literary or philological one, and as a consequence it can no longer be led by scholars, linguists or philologists. Without scholars it cannot succeed; with scholars as leaders it is bound to fail. What do scholars know of men and the rough and tumble of life? As the old Scotchman said of the Professor, ‘Take him from his books and he’s as helpless as a child.’ But further than this, any leader and every attempt to lead it – as in Ireland during the last twenty years leaders and leadership have been understood – will only hamper it if it do not wreck it. No one leads the intellect of France or England, or other countries; in fact, intellect cannot be led though it may be stimulated and directed. In other countries, men work their way into prominence and exert what influence they can, they create concurrent schools of thought that sway men’s mind and clash with one another for a time, and then probably give way in turn to others. Were one man, or set of men, empowered to dictate to their fellows they would quench most of the literary energy out of a country. Under the particular circumstances in Ireland there must be an organisation, but it will be disastrous if it forget, as for many reasons there are great temptations to lead it to forget, that its primary office is to help to liberate the mind of the people in a Gaelic atmosphere, and not to scoop a few holes in an imaginary breastwork and say:- ‘If you cannot squeeze through these you must stay outside.’
Beggars can’t be choosers, and the League was right, no doubt, in the past in craving any little bit of support or patronage it could get, and in being profusely thankful for the favour. But it has made a solid square of public opinion now, and its policy should be to demand and not to beg. Its demand, or its criticism of Irish life, or its diagnosis of the present situation, call it what you will, cannot be rebutted by anyone who stands for Irish nationality. Once admit that it is right to strive for Irish nationality, and the ideas and ideals of the League are unassailable. But too few, it seems to me, recognise the strength of the position. Most of them prefer to go about like mendicants asking for alms, and it is little that satisfies them. Recently, on expressing some views, not in the complimentary key, about a certain person to a member of the League, I was answered in this fashion:- ‘Well, after all, he’s not so bad, he buys the Gaelic papers regularly.’ A strange condition of things in Ireland is that you may be humbug from head to toe and yet disarm criticism by expressing a ‘strong’ opinion, or by payment of a modest fine of a penny a week. You observe this weakness in the manner in which the slightest bit of encouragement which you get from newspapers that boast of nationality – in fact, live on it – is accepted with praise. Their columns may be, more than half of them, a gross violation of the irreducible minimum of even current ‘nationality,’ and yet the insertion of a couple of inches of Gaelic – sometimes turned upside down – absolves them from their sins. There is nothing so contemptible as men who have made up their minds, and see a clear course before them, floundering about from lack of a bit of spirit. Few people are tempted to rally to the side of such men. One day they will summon up courage to support a well-deserved blow at a newspaper, and the next, getting cold down the back, at the recollection of the pluck they had mustered up, they lick the wound, the giver of which they had the unwonted boldness to applaud. It will not do. If people want men with fight in them to back them up, they cannot afford to be showing the white feather every other day.
I observe, or think I observe, a lack of boldness in the League as well as in other Irish institutions. An eminent Irish-American, as the result of a recent tour through the country, came to the conclusion that the chief virtue of the Irish was prudence. I am inclined to agree with him. The League says that, as things are, the country is going to national ruin, and yet in too many quarters it is ‘hush’ here and ‘hush’ there, for fear you might hurt the susceptibilities of this fraud, or flutter the temper of that honourable high faluter. Cannot it pluck up courage to plant its standard boldly in the midst of the enemy, give no quarter, ask for none, and God defend the right? For let me repeat that if the people do not want the League they cannot be cajoled into it. Put a bit of nerve and fight into the movement, for milk and water tactics will not rouse a demoralised and disheartened race.
But my chief fear for the League is that it lacks the full breath of the spirit of liberty. The organization is an humble means to bring about a national uprising of the spirit and intellect of the country. If it interprets its powers as exceeding that, it is, I conceive, taking up a false position inimical to the objects it proposes to aim at. Inspire as much uniformity as you can, but you make a fatal mistake in making uniformity your objective. It is none of the business of any elected body of the League to sit down and make enemies by an impossible attempt to decide a standard spelling. These, and such like small matters, are the usurpations of authority that irritate and drive independent men out of the ranks. Again, if other people like to start an organization of their own, turn the light of criticism on it by all means, but let it be, if it can make shift to live. Suppression is twice cursed. There may be, in fact assuredly there will be, many foolish and unjustifiable things done by individuals and organised bodies. Men have an inalienable right to play the fool if they elect to do so, and imperfect humanity, at the best, will always go right in curves. Why cannot fools and men who may be half good and half bad be borne with? You cannot get out of the position that a country cannot be made better than the sum of the individuals who compose it. But it will be said, if you grant liberty you create chaos; to which I would reply, that the man who thinks so knows nothing of human nature. Men hate chaos as they hate being suppressed. Let men have their way, and they settle into customs, habits, combinations, and conventions as naturally as water goes down hill. Besides, people are influenced and held in check by other things besides Executive Committees. The Brehon Laws had no executive force behind them. Unique, I understand, amongst all laws, their equity was their sole power to exact obedience. We may have degenerated much since those times, but we still have the spirit of equity in us, and are amenable to it when not irritated and angered by attempts at suppression and petty annoyances.
It may be said that anything that has really happened does not warrant all these warnings. I should not in the least mind admitting that that may be so, for then I could take up the position of a famous Monaghan woman. One evening she came home and found her poor old husband sitting by the fire as quiet as the cat. ‘Silence!’ said she. But the poor man said nothing. ‘Silence!’ said she again, and still the old man held his peace. ‘Silence!’ she roared for the third time, whereupon the old man turned round and said – ‘Sure, woman, I’m saying nothing.’ ‘I know you’re not,’ was the reply, ‘but for fear you might.’ The scope of the League will shortly embrace nearly all the country, and its future conduct and the traps that may beset it are legitimate matters for open discussion. The League draws and will continue to draw from all sources. There are, I have no doubt, many politicians in it who have taken it up partly with ulterior motives. It is quite legitimate and likely that Unionists discern, or think they discern, in its probable effects on the intelligence of the people, in its power to make them rational and serious, a ground for hope that the political views of the country may become fundamentally qualified by its influence. It is likewise probable that sensible and thinking extremists are struck by the isolating qualities inherent in the movement, and, calculating its effect on the pride and spirit and pretensions of a people, now given over to boasting and spit-fire threats, they are driven to the conclusion, as a matter of tactics, that if they are still to look forward to political separation they must throw all their weight in with the attempt to accomplish intellectual and social independence. There are many others who view the full programme of the League as a belated dream, but who recognise in the propaganda a means of stirring up the intellect of the people, of drying up somewhat the floods of gush which at present almost drown the country, of turning the mind of Ireland on to Ireland, of making the people sober, moderate, masculine, and thereby paving the way for industrial advancement and economic reform.
Whatever their politics, whatever their motives, the work of the League is to make the population of Ireland Irish. Men of all parties and of no party have already flocked to the ranks, but there must be no diluting of the Irish ideal to please any of them. At the same time, while we stand steadfast by that, let us not commit the too characteristic Irish mistake of expecting distilled virtue from any man, leader or follower, but remember that all men must act according to their natures, which are composed of prejudices, blindnesses, and passions, as well as intelligence and goodwill. Put no bounds either to criticism or to liberty, and above all, keep sight of the fact that you cannot get more out of a people than is in them, and that if you want to get that you must put up with the good and with the bad alike.