John Mitchel.


From Revolutionary Types, published 1904.

‘Poor Mitchel,’ said Carlyle. ‘I told him he would most likely be hanged, but I told him too they could not hang the immortal part of him.’

The prophecy was not fulfilled. John Mitchel was not hanged. But he was tried, convicted, and transported, and close upon half of his life was spent in a foreign land. The period covered by his public career in Ireland was not more than two years and a half. But time is not measured by years. ‘Alors,’ says Michelet of the revolutionary period in Paris, ‘il n’y avait plus de temps; la Révolution l’avait tué, avec bien d’autres choses.[1] Into that short space was compressed, for Mitchel, all that, to a man of his temperament, made life best worth living.

Amongst the multitude of Irishmen who have devoted themselves to the attempt to free their country from what they regarded as a foreign despotism, John Mitchel is distinguished, not so much by any special prominence in character, gifts, or achievements, as by the fact that, unlike most of the working members of the brotherhood of revolution, he has left behind him a personal record of exceptional brilliance and force, by which it is possible to form a clear judgment of the man himself, as well as of his motives, aims, aspirations, and hopes.

It is not often that those engaged in an active struggle with society have had time or leisure to devote to a like performance; or that, where time and leisure, as in Mitchel’s case, followed upon failure, they have cared, while fresh from the battle and suffering the penalties of defeat, to employ them as he did. It is rarer still that the opportunity and the inclination to commit past experience and present hopes and faiths to paper should be accompanied by an unusual power of literary expression. That this is the case with John Mitchel—as with Wolfe Tone, the man who, fifty years earlier, had lifted the banner of revolt—renders him a convenient representative of his special section of the revolutionary army. Had other reasons to be sought for thus singling him out, they might be found in the tribute paid to his memory by Carlyle’s biographer when, recording the speech already quoted, he added that the ‘immortal part’ of John Mitchel was still working in dynamite conspiracies—a striking testimony to the influence he has exercised, in the opinion of an adversary, on the history of his country.

Yet, if John Mitchel was a revolutionist, and one of the most irreconcilable of the band, he was such not so much by nature and creed as through stress of circumstances. In his sympathies he was narrowed by the intense nationality alike the snare and the strength of the Irish race. Of this spirit of nationality he himself defined the limitations when he wrote that ‘Ireland without the Irish—the Irish out of Ireland—neither of these can be our country.’ The combination of the native soil and the native race was necessary to command his allegiance. He did not possess a spark of the enthusiasm for the cause of humanity at large, or of the love for liberty in the abstract by which the best and purest revolutionists of the preceding century had felt their blood fired; nor had he any sense of brotherhood with the men who, by other means and different methods, were engaged in a struggle of a kindred nature to his own. ‘Socialists,’ he says, with strange violence, ‘are something worse than wild beasts,’ and again, describing events in Paris in 1848, ‘they [the Communists] were swept from the streets with grape and canister—the only way of dealing with such unhappy creatures.’ It is more remarkable still that when in later days the war broke out in America between North and South, his sympathies should have been vehemently engaged on the side of the Confederate States and slavery. Through his own country and her wrongs alone he made common cause with the men who in like case—as in Poland and Hungary—were struggling with their evil destiny. Had Ireland’s wrongs been redressed, he would, in theory at least, have had no hesitation in beating his sword into a plough-share.

In describing the principles of his lifelong friend and fellow-convict, John Martin, he gives an account of his own, and furnishes the key to the line of conduct based upon them:

‘Instead of being a Jacobin and natural enemy of law and order, he venerates law beyond all other earthly things… would for ever prefer to bear with unjust institutions, corruptly administered, rather than disquiet himself and others in a struggle to abolish them.’

At the same time,

‘Property is an institution of society—not a divine endowment whose title-deed is in heaven; the uses and trusts of it are the benefit of society; the sanction of it is the authority of society; but when matters have come to that utterly intolerable condition they have long been in in Ireland, society itself stands dissolved—a fortiori, property is forfeited… If we must needs go through a sore agony of anarchy before we can enjoy the blessings of true order and law again, in the name of God, let us go through it at once.’

Whilst a narrow and possibly a selfish love for his own country was one of Mitchel’s two master passions, hatred of England—the ‘enemy’ to which constant reference is made in his journal—was the other.

It is indeed significant that, writing in days when the mist of prejudice had had time to clear, he confesses that, looking back, and striving to analyse the motives by which he had been actuated, he had discovered in them perhaps less of love than of hate, less devotion to truth and justice than raging wrath against cant and insolence. That retribution should follow upon wrongdoing had ever been his constant hope.

‘Punishment of England for the crimes of England—this righteous vengeance I seek, and shall seek. Let but justice be done; let Ireland’s wrong be righted; and the wrong done to me and mine is more than avenged; for the whole is greater than its part… For such vengeance I do vehemently thirst and burn.’

Thus he wrote from the cabin cell in the hulk at Bermuda to which he had been consigned in pursuance of the sentence of transportation obtained by Government by means of a flagrant disregard of the very forms of justice.

The introduction to the Jail Journal, published after he had effected his escape, gives an account of the condition of the country preceding what proved to be for him a lifelong exile—a state of things by which men like himself, an Ulster Protestant, John Martin, calm, gentle, and long-suffering, Smith O’Brien, the high-minded representative of the landlord class, and a crowd of others had been converted first into rebels, then into convicted felons. ‘At the end of six years,’ he writes, ‘I can set down these things calmly, but to see them might have driven a wise man mad.’

After a brief and graphic review of the earlier history of Ireland, of her reiterated deaths and repeated resurrections, he passes on to the period of the Penal Laws, to the ruin of Irish manufactures consequent upon British legislation, and to the accompanying misery—‘one can scarcely believe,’ he says, ‘that the sun shone as he is wont in those days’—to the partial revival of prosperity towards the close of the eighteenth century, and to the extinction of that gleam of hope at the time of the Union. And next he tells of the result of that measure; of yearly famines, of an entire country lying under the shadow of death; of a condition of things described by Sir John Newport in the House of Commons when he told how the priest of one parish had gone round and administered the Sacraments of the Dying to every man, woman, and child within it, all in articulo mortis through starvation.

It was during this dark portion of his country’s history that Mitchel himself was born, in the year 1815, and that his boyhood and early manhood was passed. In 1829 the boon of Catholic emancipation was thrown as a sop to the Irish people; but great as were the benefits conferred by that act of tardy justice, it was impossible that it should produce the same effect upon the son of a Presbyterian minister of Scotch extraction as upon those of his countrymen who had laboured under the disabilities it removed. Keenly alive as Mitchel was to the injustice of the former system, he did not hesitate on the contrary to characterise the Bill as a misfortune for the country at large, in removing a palpable and crying grievance, while leaving other evils unredressed. ‘Respectable Catholics,’ he said bitterly, ‘were contented and became West Britons from that day.’ The starving people were left to fight their battles unassisted.

Such being his attitude towards the measure, it was inevitable that he should find himself in opposition to the man by whose methods of legal agitation it had been—ostensibly at least—won; and while recognising the great gifts of O’Connell, he was wholly out of sympathy with him. His description of the Liberator is so vivid and so striking an example of his power of word-painting that it is worth quoting here.

‘At the head of that open and legal agitation,’ he wrote, ‘was a man of giant proportions in body and in mind; with no profound learning, indeed, even in his own profession of the law, but with a vast and varied knowledge of human nature, in all its strength and especially in all its weakness; with a voice like thunder and earthquake, yet musical and soft at will as the song of birds; with a genius and fancy tempestuous, playful, cloudy, fiery, mournful, merry, lofty and mean by turns, as the mood was on him—a humour broad, bacchant, riant, genial and jovial—with profound and spontaneous natural feeling, and superhuman and subterhuman passions, yet withal a boundless fund of masterly affectation and consummate histrionism, hating and loving heartily, outrageous in his merriment and passionate in his lamentation, he had the power to make other men hate or love, laugh or weep, at his good pleasure; insomuch that Daniel O’Connell, by virtue of being more intensely Irish, carrying to a more extravagant pitch all Irish strength and passion and weakness than other Irishmen, led and swayed his people by a kind of divine, or else diabolic, right.’

‘He led them,’ adds Mitchel, ‘as I believe, all wrong, for forty years.’ A lawyer, he could not bring himself to defy British law. A Catholic, he was blind to the fact that, at the time, the Church was opposed to the cause of Irish liberty. The name and idea of a Republic, the dream of all Irishmen in their great distress, was abhorrent to him.

It was during the period of O’Connell’s dominating that Mitchel grew to manhood. Upon the portion of his life preceding his entrance upon a public career there is no need to linger. There was little to distinguish it from that led by hundreds of his countrymen. Educated in the first place at Newry, where his father’s home was fixed, he afterwards graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, taking his degree before he was fifteen. He was, however, never a resident student, and entering at twenty-one the office of a solicitor at Newry, it was in these surroundings that the following twelve years were mainly spent, an early marriage having rendered it imperatively necessary that he should engage without delay in a profession affording a hope of support for himself and his family.

Though the work of an attorney was never congenial, this period of his life was a happy one. His marriage—leading in the first place to a brief imprisonment, the bride having been a girl of seventeen, with whom he had run away—had proved in all respects successful. Children were born to him; his dearest friend, John Martin, lived within easy reach; and his ardent love of nature—always a distinguishing feature in his character—must have gone some way towards reconciling him to remaining at a distance from the centre towards which his attention and interest were increasingly attracted. Again and again throughout his life, from the days when, as a boy, it was his habit to wander at night about the hills, or to seek at sunrise the mountain tops, until that sadder hour when, shortly before his death, revisiting Ireland after long years of exile, he was seen to tremble from head to foot as he first caught sight of an Irish hill—again and again his love of nature breaks forth. Thus, writing to Martin in 1842, when the May time was in his blood, he says:—

‘When I see the first violet of any spring without a passionate yearning, without a fulness of the throat that makes me think the fountain of sweet tears is hardly yet hermetically sealed in me; when the singing of the birds is to me only a tuneless whistle; and that brave overhanging firmament nothing but a pestilent congregation of vapours—then let my grave be dug, and the sooner and deeper the better.’

‘The tinkle, or murmur, or deep resounding roll, or raving roar of running water, is of all sounds my ears ever hear now the most homely,’ he writes in his island prison of Van Diemen’s Land.

‘Nothing else in this land looks or sounds like home. The birds have a foreign tongue—the very trees whispering to the wind, whisper in accents unknown to me… they can never, never—let breeze pipe or zephyr breathe as it will—never can they whisper, quiver, sigh, or sing, as do the beeches and the sycamores of old Rosstrevor.’

Or again, whilst he was still a convict in a hulk at Bermuda, the old memories find vent.

‘This thirteenth of September,’ he writes, ‘is a calm, clear, autumnal day in Ireland, and in green glens there and on many a mountain-side, beech leaves begin to redden, and the heather-bell has grown brown and sere; the corn-fields are nearly all stripped bare by this time; the flush of summer grows pale… and the rivers as they go brawling over their pebbly beds, some crystal bright, some tinted with sparkling brown from the high moors… all have got their autumnal voice, and chide the echoes with a hoarser murmur, complaining (he that hath ears to hear let him hear), how that summer is dying and the time of the singing of birds is over and gone… Well known to me by day and by night are the voices of Ireland’s winds and waters, the faces of her ancient mountains. I see it, I hear it all—for by the wondrous power of imagination, informed by strong love, I do indeed live more truly in Ireland than on these unblessed rocks.’

It has seemed worth while to dwell on this love of nature—especially of Irish nature—since it is an incongruous trait in a man like Mitchel, hard-headed and practical, with nothing of the dreamer or the poet about him; and because also it is only by a comprehension of the affection he bore to mountain and glen and stream of his native land, that the bitterness of a life passed in banishment can be measured. Almost one can hear him say with another Irish exile, St. Columba,

‘Better is death in Ireland than here endless life… My heart is broken in my breast. If sudden death surprises me it is my love for the Gael which is the cause.’

All things considered, then, it may be said that up to the time of his taking an active part in politics, Mitchel’s life had passed away pleasantly.

‘As he played with his children,’ wrote John Martin’s sister afterwards, speaking of this period, ‘he was the very type of a happy man. All the good days were before he threw himself into political life.’

It was in the year 1845, when Mitchel was thirty, that those days were to end. Two years earlier, by his action with regard to the proclamation by the Government of the meeting to be held at Clontarf, O’Connell had practically committed himself to a policy of non-resistance. There was plainly room for the creation of a party holding a different creed—the creed that if repeal was not to be won by legal and peaceful methods, others might be rightfully employed. It was with this party—the party of Young Ireland—that Mitchel was to throw in his lot.

Of signs foreshadowing his future destiny there had hitherto been singularly few.

If he loved Ireland, so did others. He resented her wrongs; but thousands resented them as deeply and perhaps more loudly; the hatred of hundreds of thousands for England was no less strong. If his sympathies had always been engaged on the national side, he had been content to give them little active expression. In the summer of 1843, however, there were indications that the attitude of a looker-on at the struggle then going forward would not long continue to content him.

About a year earlier he had become acquainted with Thomas Davis, leader of the Young Ireland party, and, to use Mitchel’s own words, ‘the friend who first filled his soul with the passion of a great ambition and a lofty purpose.’ From that time the ‘good days’ of quiet and domestic happiness were numbered. When the disaster of Davis’s death fell upon the little band of whom he had been chief, Duffy, editor of the Nation, to which Mitchel had been for some time a contributor, proposed to him to give up his profession, come to Dublin, and take the place of the dead leader upon the staff of the paper. Thus called upon to make a deliberate choice, Mitchel did not hesitate. He at once accepted the offer, and became from that time a prominent figure in the ranks of Young Ireland.

Most of the decisions of men’s lives are taken with but little apprehension of their importance or scope, nor was Mitchel in particular likely to be over careful in counting the cost before he embarked on an adventure. Had he done so, and had he divined the consequences of his action, though it might have given him pause, it is not probable that he would have been turned from his purpose, or that he would have shrunk from the sacrifice involved. At the moment, however, there was no reason to anticipate that the price he would be called upon to pay would be what it eventually proved, nor was there any obvious connection between the assistant-editorship of a nationalist newspaper and the convict’s cell.

Of Mitchel’s spirit in carrying on his work during the next two years, a letter written to John Martin in the spring of 1846 may be accepted as an indication.

‘I think it highly important,’ he said frankly, referring to the tone of the Nation, ‘to keep up an exasperation of feeling against the English Government.’

He was an enemy, open and avowed, of the dominant country and of its ways and methods of dealing with Ireland, and was bitterly opposed to the principles advocated by O’Connell and his party. During these years of want and famine his conviction that the ultimate appeal must be made to a force other than moral, was doubtless becoming more and more strong; nor did the longing he felt to stir a people, apathetic through misery, to a more warlike spirit ever give place to more timid, or as some might say, saner counsels. It was a longing only rendered more pronounced by the absolute failure of the abortive insurrection of 1848, cited by O’Connell’s son as chastisement for the revolt of Young Ireland against the policy enjoined by the Liberator. Each fresh proof of the incapacity of the Irish people, in the condition to which they had been reduced, to oppose an armed resistance to tyranny, only served to increase his detestation of the teaching they had received. His views found forcible expression in the Jail Journal.

‘Because the Irish have been taught peaceful agitation in their slavery, therefore they have been swept by a plague of hunger worse than many years of bloody warfare. Because they would not fight they have been made to rot off the face of the earth, that so they might learn at last how deadly a sin is patience and perseverance under a strangers yoke… Tell me not of O’Connell’s son. His father begat him in moral force, and in patience and perseverance did his mother conceive him. I swear to you there are blood and brain in Ireland yet, as the world one day shall know. God! let me live to see it.’

Such was the language used by Mitchel in his prison cell, when he was free to give expression to his sentiments without reserve or restraint. Though in terms of less violence, he had sought, during the two and a half years of his active share in the struggle, to impress the lesson of armed resistance upon his starving countrymen. It is only fair to bear the fact in mind that if England, as can scarcely be denied, took advantage of every means at her command, just or unjust, to remove Mitchel from the scene of action, she was using those means in order to clear from her path an enemy, bitter, irreconcilable, and avowed.

In the meantime it is impossible not to believe that to a man of Mitchel’s temper there must have been much to enjoy in the fight of which he had become one of the leaders. In 1846 he paid his first visit to London, as a member of a deputation sent to express to Smith O’Brien the sympathy of the ’82 Club, on the occasion of his consignment to a cellar in the House of Commons in consequence of his refusal to serve on a Select Committee. It was at this time that Mitchel first met the writer for whom his admiration, in spite of discordant opinions, was so profound. Nor did a nearer view of Carlyle dispel his enthusiasm, even though the views expressed by the philosopher in regard to Irish questions were stigmatised by the man who knew Ireland personally and by heart as ‘strangely and wickedly unjust.’ Yet, ‘to me his talk,’ he wrote to Martin, ‘seemed like the speech of Paul or Chrysostom, and his presence and environment royal and almost Godlike.’

In the summer of 1846 came the open breach between O’Connell and the Young Irelanders, following upon the alliance formed by the Liberator with the Whig Government, and the adoption by the Repeal Association of the Resolutions condemnatory of physical force. Into the question of the rupture there is no space to enter here. That a determination existed on the part of those by whom the proceedings of the Association were directed to drive out of it the newer party, will scarcely be denied. That object was accomplished, and henceforth the two forces worked apart, each on its own lines.

For the present, banished from Conciliation Hall, the work of the Young Irelanders was mainly confined to the propagation of their doctrines through the Nation newspaper and other literary channels. But whilst labouring strenuously at this object, Mitchel collected round him a pleasant band of comrades, and enjoyed a large amount of social intercourse. To give a list of those who were more or less intimately associated with the set thus brought together would be to name many of the men most eminent in Irish literature. Carleton, Ferguson, Kenyon, O’Hagan, Clarence Mangan—all these came, with many more; and ‘to us younger men,’ wrote a frequenter of Mitchel’s house, ‘it seemed impossible that men so brilliant and genial could be wrong or fail.’ Once, too, a more distinguished visitor was Carlyle himself.

‘For two evenings,’ wrote Mitchel to John Martin, ‘we have heard his prophesyings (by ‘we’ I mean Young Ireland generally) to our infinite contentment.’

Whatever occasional relief might be thus afforded from the serious business of life, nevertheless with the people dying by thousands of famine and typhus, the sombre background must have been ever present, and the unceasing endeavour to find a cure for the prevailing misery was becoming more absorbing every day. In the opinion of Mitchel and his comrades the only hope of an amelioration in the deplorable condition of the country lay in a Repeal of the Union by which it had been brought about, and for the furtherance of that object the Irish Confederation was founded in January 1847 by the party of Young Ireland. This body, though far from proposing a present or immediate resort to physical force, did not in the abstract condemn an appeal to it, and was therefore in distinct opposition to the principles advocated by O’Connell. The Liberator himself was removed from the scene in May of the same year, when he died, leaving the Irish misery at its height. Whether or not much was to have been hoped from his presence in Parliament, it was increasingly clear to Mitchel and his party that, without it, little could be expected from Parliamentary representation. ‘We have neither the men, the money, nor the franchises,’ wrote Mitchel to Smith O’Brien, himself an Ishmael amongst the allies of the Whig administration. It was nevertheless his opinion that it remained open to the landlords to make honourable terms and to save themselves and the nation together. So he told O’Brien in a letter in which, re-reading it, he adds that he found he had expressed himself with more revolutionary vehemence than he felt—as yet.

All through those months of the country’s agony the Young Irelanders carried on their uphill fight. Though O’Connell himself was gone, the prestige of a great name was still opposed to them, and the dead Liberator was even now stronger than his living rivals. At the general election, not a single member of the newer party, except Smith O’Brien, was returned to Parliament. With the landlords on the one hand, distrustful and suspicious, and upon the other the mass of the people still swayed by the magic of O’Connell’s name, they stood alone.

But events were moving rapidly on. By the end of the year, the landlords had declared definitely against repeal; a fresh coercion Bill had been passed, and Mitchel, with many others of his countrymen, was finally strengthened, settled, and established in irreconcilable hostility to English rule.

‘A kind of sacred wrath,’ he afterwards wrote, ‘took possession of a few Irishmen at this period. They could endure the horrible scene no longer, and resolved to cross the path of the British car of conquest, though it should crush them to atoms.’

One of the first results of the fresh development of Mitchel’s views was the accentuation of the divergence of his opinions from those of Duffy, and his consequent retirement from a paper in which he was no longer at liberty to give expression to his true sentiments. His opinions were extreme; his doctrine illegal. It was, Mitchel himself admitted, natural enough that Duffy, as proprietor, should not be willing to incur the risk of prosecution for the sake of views he did not share. The two, therefore, parted company, Mitchel deciding, after an interval of two or three months, to start a newspaper of his own, where he would be at liberty to inculcate upon his readers the course of action promising, as he was persuaded, the only hope of salvation for the unhappy people.

Thenceforth his teaching was explicit. He confessed himself weary of constitutional agitation. He exhorted the nation to arm, and to prepare, should opportunity offer, to make use of it. Looking backward, and learning his lesson from the past, he declared himself to differ on one point from the rebels of 1798. He did not believe in the possibility of a secret organisation. He was prepared to act without disguise and in the light of day.

‘No espionage,’ he told Lord Clarendon, in an open letter printed in the columns of the new organ, The United Irishman, ‘no espionage can tell you more than we will proclaim once a week on the house-tops.’

While actual warfare remained as yet impracticable, he counselled passive resistance to what in Ireland went by the name of law; and, coming to practical details, he desired that when—as would inevitably follow should this policy be pursued—collisions occurred, they should take place in streets rather than in the open country. Street fighting, he considered, afforded most prospect of success.

Such was the advice he offered to the wretched victims of British misrule. It is difficult to believe that, at least in his calmer moments, Mitchel, hard-headed and sagacious, can have anticipated that, in the then condition of the Irish people, the policy he advocated could be carried out. If those are right who are of opinion that he propounded it, not merely as the sole alternative to death by starvation but as offering a fair chance of success, it is hard to account for his blindness. On the other hand, when a dying man is given up by medical science it is permissible, as a last chance, to make use of dangerous remedies; and from this point of view, Mitchel may have been justified. His own words, written twenty years later, are the best apology, if one is needed, for the attitude he took up at this juncture.

‘True,’ he said, ‘it was an act of desperation. But remember that in those very same days the people were actually perishing at any rate, dying by thirty thousand per month, and by a death far more hideous than ever was dealt by grape, or shell, or sabre. ‘Oppression maketh the wise man mad’; and the oppression at that moment was so bitter and relentless that no calmness remained for calculating chances.’

One more factor in the case should be borne in mind. It was 1848. The beacon fires of revolution were alight throughout Europe. Was it to be expected that Irishmen should escape the general infection and remain passive prisoners—not of hope? If nothing more was possible, might they not at least fill the trenches so that others might pass on to victory? Men had given their lives in less noble causes; nor was Mitchel likely to grudge the cost.

His paper was launched with astonishing success. If many of the men with whom he had been working dissociated themselves, for a time, from the extreme course he advocated, others had fearlessly thrown in their lot with him, with the result indicated by Lord Stanley’s speech in the House of Lords.

‘This language,’ he said, speaking of the first number of The United Irishman, ‘will tell, and I say it is not safe to disregard it. These men are honest; they are not the kind of men who make their patriotism the means of barter for place or pension… they are rebels at heart; and they are rebels avowed, who are in earnest in what they say and propose to do. My Lords, this is not a fit subject, at all events, for contempt.’

Lord Stanley was right. It is only necessary to be acquainted with the ability marking The United Irishman to concur in his assertion. A man who was so great a master of language as Mitchel was no force safely to be disregarded. The terms of the challenge to the Government contained in the letter to Lord Clarendon, then Lord Lieutenant, already quoted, and his description of the past year of famine, would alone be sufficient to set him far apart from the common journalist:

‘You could weep,’ he says, speaking of those days of misery and desolation, ‘but the rising curse died unspoken within your heart, like a profanity. Human passion there was none, but inhuman and unearthly quiet… It seemed as if the anima mundi, the soul of the land, was faint and dying, and that the faintness and death had crept into all things of earth and heaven.’

One more quotation from the same paper, whilst again demonstrating the power of appeal possessed by Mitchel, will likewise show that he left no choice to the English Government but to strike.

The news had reached Ireland of the rising in Paris. A Republic had there been proclaimed. It was a presage of hope for all lands.

‘Oh, my countrymen, my countrymen,’ cried Mitchel, ‘look up, look up. Arise from the death-dust where you have long been lying, and let this light visit your eyes also, and touch your souls… Clear steel will, ere long, dawn upon you in your desolate darkness; and the rolling thunder of the people’s cannon will drive before it many a heavy cloud that has long hidden from you the face of heaven. Pray for that day, and preserve life and health that you may worthily meet it. Above all, let the man amongst you who has no gun, sell his garment and buy one.

The British authorities could scarcely have refused to take up the challenge. Their retort was made on the 20th of March, when Mitchel was called upon to give bail to stand his trial for sedition.

O’Brien and Meagher were charged together with him. The attitude of the Young Irelanders, dissevered for a time from that of Mitchel, had undergone a change so soon as the Paris revolution had seemed to afford fairer grounds for hope of success in the event of his policy being carried out; and the tone of the speeches made by others of the party had harmonised sufficiently with that adopted by Mitchel to cause them likewise to be included in the attack of the Government. None of the three first called to account had so much as attempted to disguise the fact that they were awaiting opportunity alone to make their appeal to force. It would have been too much to expect of any dominant country that it should leave them time to mature their plans.

The trials of O’Brien and Meagher preceded Mitchel’s, and in the eyes of the Government resulted in a signal miscarriage of justice. On each jury a single repealer had been permitted to remain; and in both cases he had refused to concur in a conviction. The defeat of the authorities was celebrated by bonfires throughout the country. When the juries by which Mitchel, on the several counts, was to be tried were struck, it was evident that the result would be the same. The Government, therefore, decided upon a change of tactics. The pending prosecution for sedition was dropped; and the same day Mitchel was arrested on a charge of treason-felony, chiefly based on a series of letters—treasonable enough, it cannot be denied—to the Protestants of the north.

The question, however, of the means to be taken in order to secure a conviction still remained undetermined, and was a serious one. The Whigs had denounced jury-packing. Lord Russell in particular having declared his disapproval of the practice. But the situation was too critical for the indulgence of delicate scruples; and the time-honoured method of ensuring success was resorted to. Every one of the nineteen Catholics included in the panel was challenged by the Crown, and the jury selected to try the national leader was in the end exclusively composed of Protestants.

Such being the case, the result could be securely counted upon. A verdict of guilty was returned, and sentence of fourteen years’ transportation was pronounced upon the prisoner.

In the speech made by Mitchel after his conviction he showed himself at his best. It was his hour of triumph, and if it was heavily paid for during the long years which were to follow, he was not the man to grudge the price. Three months ago, he told the court, he had promised those who held the country for the English that either he would force them, publicly and notoriously, to pack a jury to convict him, or else that he would walk, a free man, out of the court and provoke a contest in another field.

‘My Lords,’ he added, ‘I knew that I was setting my life on that cast; but I knew that in either case victory would be with me; and it is with me.’

As he held up to contempt the methods by which his conviction had been obtained, murmurs of applause, repressed by the police, made themselves audible. Baron Lefroy also broke in to protest against the repetition of the very offences of which the prisoner had been convicted. But Mitchel was not to be put to silence.

‘I do not repent,’ he said, ‘anything I have done, and I believe the course which I have opened is only commenced. The Roman who saw his hand burning to ashes before the tyrant promised that three hundred should follow out his enterprise. Can I,’—his eyes travelling over those who stood by—‘can I not promise for one, for two, for three?’

He was interrupted again, by passionate cries of response.

‘Promise for me—and me—and me, Mitchel,’ came from the crowd around him. Mitchel did their bidding.

‘For one, for two, for three?’ he repeated proudly. ‘Ay, for hundreds!’

He had reason to be proud. A convicted felon, under a sentence many might have considered worse than death, men were yet ready, eager, at his word, to pledge themselves to follow in his steps, and to fling their defiance in the very face of the power now crushing him. The seed he had sown was already bearing fruit. Whatever might befall him thereafter, his work had not been done in vain.

It was the culminating point of his life. To that crisis all that had gone before had led up. To it in days to come he must have looked back as men look back upon the moment when vitality has reached its utmost limit of intensity. As, amidst the excitement he had produced, he was led away to begin his long captivity, his active career as an Irish revolutionist ended.

He lived on. For twenty-seven years his days were prolonged; passed in the first place as a convict; afterwards, with brief intervals, spent in the United States of America. There he took his part in what went on around him, finding occupation in journalistic and literary work. To some men it would have been an existence, if not satisfying, at least tolerable. But the view taken by Mitchel himself of the life left to him is expressed in a letter written in 1857 to his old friend and brother-in-arms in the national cause, Father Kenyon.

‘In the case of a man (è grege me),’ he wrote, ‘who has never but once been absorbed and engrossed and possessed by a great cause, whose whole life and energy and passion converged themselves once to one focus, and were then dissipated into the general atmosphere, who dashed himself one good time against the hard world, and was smashed to smithereens—in the case of such a fellow as this… his life, or the fragment of it, then and there crystallises, and he never grows older, but is truly dead and a ghost.’

The words, with the touch of exaggeration natural to the man, contain a truth. His experience, vivid enough, as a convict, can be read in the Jail Journal. The history of the years passed in America, of the tribute paid to him by his countrymen when he was elected by Tipperary to be her representative in Parliament, and of his return, only to find a grave there, to Ireland has also been told. But, in spite of all that came after, it was doubtless true that, for him, the intensity of life, the joy and excitement of living, came to an end on the day when he passed out of the court of justice—‘as places of this kind,’ to use his own words, ‘are called’—a convicted felon.

Note.—It may be well, though the incident belongs to a later period than that dealt with here, to notice an event of Mitchel’s after life which has given rise to a certain amount of discussion, and has served to discredit him with some of those whose sympathies would otherwise have been enlisted on his side. This is the manner of his escape from. Van Diemen’s Land. Without entering at length into the question, one or two observations may be made. First, it is clear that Mitchel himself was fully convinced that, in withdrawing his parole in person, before a magistrate and with police at hand, he had complied with the demands of honour. In this view many men of stainless character concurred. Smith O’Brien being of their number. It will nevertheless appear to most unbiased judges that the very fact that the affair was managed in such a fashion as to make evasion possible, is proof that the spirit, if not the letter, of his pledge was broken. It may indeed be urged that, if a more scrupulous sense of honour would have chained Mitchel to his prison, a more scrupulous sense of honour would have debarred his opponents from using the means they employed to place him there. But to urge such an argument is, in fact, only to place Mitchel on a level with the men who had made the name of justice a by-word in Ireland. It is more to the credit of the man and of his cause to admit that the temptation to escape from a captivity to which he had been consigned by means of a trial destitute of so much as a semblance of fair dealing was too strong, and that he had not power to resist it.

[1] ‘Cartlann: ‘Then, there was no time left, the Revolution had killed it, and so forth.’ Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution française, Livre VIII, Chapitre 8.