After the arrest of the Phœnix men in December, 1858, James Stephens went to France. In April, 1859, when I and my companions were in Cork Jail, he wrote this letter to John O’Mahony:
No. 30 Rue de Montaigne, Paris, April 6, 1859.
My dear O’Mahony—The contemplated modification of our body, as well as the still more important step spoken of to you and friends the night before I left New York, you are henceforth to look upon as facts. I need scarcely say, however, that it will be wise to limit the knowledge of such a fact as the latter to such men as Doheny, Roche, Cantwell, etc., and to command all parties to whom such information is given to observe secrecy—not whispering it to the very air, without special permission from you.
I have reason to believe myself fully justified in the course decided on. Indeed, on meeting our friends here, I at once saw the necessity of remodeling, and in many instances, utterly doing away with the test. Not that the men at home had given any sign of blenching; on this head I have every reason to be satisfied. One Centre only had given way, owing, probably, to our inability to communicate with him often enough—to the utter darkness, rather, in which he had been left almost from the very first. This man has declared off; so that however repentant and anxious to resume his work, he shall never more hold higher position than that of rank and file, till he shall have won his grades on the battlefield. Such be the guerdon of all waverers; the fate of the coward, much more the traitor, shall his be such as to make him curse the day he was born. Two other Centres, though staunch and true, and longing for the death-grapple, have been able to give nothing to our force but their own earnestness. Of two more again, our friend could say nothing, having found it impossible to meet them. We know, however, that one of these last had accomplished the work at first entrusted to him; and the other, though in a bad view, had done something. These are the shadows; now for the lights. As many of the Centres, known to our friend, had exceeded their numbers as the Centres who (though formidable, and working earnestly), had not been able to complete theirs. Thus, every Centre (balancing one with another) represents a full regiment. To compensate for the lost Centre and the two ineffective ones (the other two are merely doubtful—rather to be counted on than otherwise), three new Centres had been added.
So much for the members, which, everything considered, are up to what we could have reasonably expected, and fully up to the figure I gave you. Add to this, that the spirit and bearing of the men were excellent; the only drawback on this head being, that, where the hand of British Law had fallen, there the craving “to be at them” was most impatient of the curb. Who will be base enough to say now that these men—our brothers—are not to be relied on. Cowardly slaves, and knaves, alone believe it. Let God be thanked for the day on which you and I, and a few other intelligent men, decided on taking our stand, come weal or woe, by the people of Ireland! The woe, I firmly believe, has passed away forever: the weal is coming fast, with laurels and the songs of triumph!
Oh! we have reason to be proud of our toiling countrymen, and cheerful for the future. Nor does the necessary modification of the test lessen this a whit. It merely proves that our brothers are conscientious. Away with the shallow prate of their being servile to priestly or other influence, where freedom of their country is at issue. This sort of calumny was useful to the bungling chiefs we wot of, chiefs who would fain pass for martyrs, though the honor of their country were smirched by it.
The people of Ireland are not servile to the priests, even now, when they are being put to so hard a proof. A proof how different from that of ’48! For what man could have given a reason worth a flea-bite against taking up arms against slaughter—against slaughter, however great, in a fair fight—aye, or even foul? The arguments of such man might be met by the unquestionable—unquestioned—example of the highest ecclesiastics of our Church, not excepting popes and even saints. Whereas now, there is an appearance (an appearance only, I maintain, for I defy all men to give me a single rescript bearing directly against us) of hostility on the part of the Church, which, wielded skilfully by the men so revered by our brothers, may well strike terror in the believing soul. I will, however, go so far as to assert that, even where the words of the priest are implicitly believed, numbers of the people would accept the worst—that is, threatened damnation—rather than be false to the cause of Ireland! Can as much be said for any other men on earth?
I regret that numbers of the people would do so; and these, together with those who, happily, do not scruple to take the test, would give us an organization equal to the work to be done.
But, convinced of the earnestness of the men so suffering through their conscience; who so callous as to persist in subjecting them to a life of ceaseless agony? I believe, too, that however unswerving in their truth to us, the arms of these men would necessarily be feebler in the day of strife. Besides, the conditions of a test would keep vast numbers, not a jot less eager for the fray, out of our ranks forever. I say nothing of the risk involved in the test. That risk, however, is, while a serious consideration for the chief who would not needlessly sacrifice a single man, but a slight check on the people who would be—nay are—deterred from joining us by the voice of the priest.
It was in order effectively to countercheck that voice that I decided on the course you are aware of. And now I feel bound to say, that spite of my faith in the result of the struggle, the necessity of prompt and effective succor on the part of our brothers in America, seems great as ever.
I am convinced, that with a little assistance—even without any—from America, we can bring the men at home to a fight; but to produce anything better than disastrous massacre, a good deal must be done on your side.
On the other hand, I am equally convinced that a great deal may be done by you, if the work began by me be fairly carried out. And here, I speak in the name of God and their native land, to the men who encouraged, or got others to go into this movement, that they do the work of earnest men, laboring night and day for their country and their honor, so that their last hour may be free from remorse or shame, and those who come after them may proudly say:
“Is truadh gan oighre ’n ar bh farradh.”
For the bearer of this, John O Leary, I expect the highest possible courtesy, respect, and even deference, as my representative; and, through me, the representative of the Irish cause; you will soon perceive that he is an able man of high intellectual culture; his bearing, too, will prove—what I assure you of—his high principles of honor, and convince you how devotedly he loves Ireland. To you, however, I might say that, spite of all these high qualities, our differences on many serious things are so very great that, had I a choice of men of such intellectual calibre and honor, I would not urge on him a mission so little to his taste. For, in the abstract—as a matter of taste as well as judgment—he is not a republican.
This alone would seem to disqualify him for the work to be done by him in America.
But while averse to the republican form of government in the abstract, he is ready to accept it when it represents the national will.
We know that a republican must represent the will of revolutionized Ireland; and, consequently, that he is virtually the loyal citizen of our young republic. Still, it was better that principles of government, etc., were not discussed with him before some of our extreme friends. His faith in the success of the movement, too, is not at all equal to mine; but he believes the probability of success sufficient to, not only justify, but imperatively call on every Irishman to cooperate with us. Lastly, he does not know that I am equal to the task I have undertaken; but, if not the most efficient of organizers, in his opinion I am second to no Irishman of his acquaintance, and superior to anybody he knows able and willing to do the work. For all these reasons I deem it unwise to send him through the States; he has neither the opinions nor the faith in the cause, that could ensure the requisite results. But he can do the work you are at in New York. He can live without that essential nutriment of so many of our friends:—talk; and, without any compromise of either himself or the cause, give quite as much information to the curious as I am at all desirous they should have. You may have it made known to all but a few of your friends, that the actual state of things at home imperatively necessitates a certain reserve—that any serious departure from such reserve would be a breach of Mr. O’L.’s instructions; that I myself had become convinced of the necessity of limiting my confidence on essential matters as much as possible, being guarded even with you, and speaking of certain things under the command of secrecy.
By observing these directions, and keeping all merely curious—or others, except for the transaction of business—away from him, he will fulfil his mission as effectively as anybody, however in accordance with our opinions.
He is making such serious sacrifices, too, in order that my plans should not be thwarted, and I am so grateful for this, that, independent of his services to the cause, I am desirous he should be much as possible at his ease. To effect this, it may be necessary to convey to our friends that, in his private residence, he should not be subjected to what somebody terms “promiscuous visitings.”
Having decided, then, that O’L. should remain to do your work in New York, on you devolves the working tour through the States.
You are better known now than before taking the position you were placed in some months ago; indeed, I heard nobody spoken so highly of, once I got out of “the great patriotic influence.”
With such a reputation in your favor, and the intelligence contained in this letter, I believe, judging from what I experienced myself, that your success is beyond a doubt. Your mission will be justified, I have no doubt, by the late trials and their result. It will be seen that the government is in earnest—resolved, if needful and possible to crush out what the London Times calls our “accursed race.” It will be seen that to procure conviction, they were found to pack a jury! Best of all, that O’Sullivan, of Bonane, seeing that justice was not to be had in British courts of law in Ireland, withdrew from the wretched mockery of trial by such a jury, and met his sentence of ten years’ penal servitude like a man. Honor, to the first martyr of our cause! Should the present administration remain in office—(my friend O’Leary has just informed me that Lord Derby has dissolved parliament). So, we shall have a general election! Why, next to a European war, a general election is about the best thing that could have happened for us! And the enemy—God increase their difficulties!—shall have the European war to boot! Oh! if all your transatlantic talk should turn out other than the vilest driveling, this very year shall see the Sunburst in the old sacred Isle!
As the present administration does retain office, then, at least for some months, and all ambitious of leaving their mark in Ireland, we shall have more perjuries, more packing of juries, more convictions and punishments, and (thank God!) the manifestation of more manhood in the land. For, as I was certain, even before my return, the men at home shall be found firm; circumstances have proved, as already mentioned, that they are firmest—most eager for the strife—where the hand of British law has fallen.
Think of this, and go cheerfully on your way; think of it, and go with the firm resolution to let nothing—I will not say make you yield, or even falter, but—let nothing ruffle your temper for an hour. Think also, that from no living man—not excepting myself—do our brothers, the men in the gap, at home, expect more than from you; that so much confidence and love deserve more than the small sacrifices (small in your eyes and mine, though so justly large in the eyes of many of our countrymen) you have hitherto made, and that nothing short of effective work can keep you from going into the grave most deeply their debtor. For theirs is the coin—love, esteem and confidence—that has its equivalent in heroic devotion alone. It will not do to say you are ready to give them life—the common soldier will give that—for a few cents a day. Give them your heart, brain and soul—best given by the toil that shall give them the freedom yearned for by them as earnestly as by their sires, through so many ages of blood and woe. Work, brother, as you love me. Your labors may save me. For, my resolution remains unshaken—to free Ireland or perish. Set to work soon as you have read this. Get every one of your friends (no matter how humble, the humble man may be able to recommend you to some generous heart or willing arm in one or other of the States) to give you letters of introduction. Procure these letters by the hundred—by the thousand, if possible. Let the letters be brief, and to the point, so as not to take up too much room. For the same reason, you might have them written on a single leaf, and dispense with envelopes.
In connection with these details I deem it necessary on account of notions of yours to tell—nay, command—you to procure clothes suited to the climates through which you have to pass, as well as to the ideas of the people you may come in contact with. Trifling as these matters may seem, the neglect of them might occasion deplorable consequences to the cause as well as to yourself. A very essential counsel comes now. Write at once to each of the centres, and (where there is no centre) sub-centres of the American organization. In your letters quote any portion of this letter you think it judicious to communicate. Call on them to forward all the men and money possible to New York, giving instructions to the men to see O’Leary, who knows what to do about sending them to Ireland. Of course the money orders must be sent in O’L.’s name; the receipts, however, are to be signed for you, as your name is to stand before the public as central receiver. Of course, there will be no need of keeping it on the public papers after you return to New York. You will do well to get a couple of hundred of the organization rolls struck off, so as to be able to establish systematic work in the various places in which it is as yet unknown. Take a copy of the accompanying diagram with you. The headings of the columns explain its object—to enable me to communicate with every man who goes to Ireland. Take down the name, birthplace, &c., &c., of each man on one of those forms—a separate one for every place from which you send men; be particular about every point, especially the passwords; enclose the form in an envelope, and forward it sealed, to O’L. These various envelopes will be brought by the persons he sends to me, together with similarly enclosed forms for the parties he sends to Ireland from New York, as you send them from the various places on your route.
The forms you send to New York to be forwarded to me must be seen by no eye but your own, on account of the passwords, which would be useless to me if known to any other; for the same reason, the forms sent by O’L. must be seen by him only. As most of the men sent home will be able to undertake the organization of a company—nine sergeants, each with nine rank and file—and that none of them will have any scruple about a test, give them one to administer to any parties at home, equally free from such scruples. For, in every instance in which we find them so, the test will be kept up. The form of the test, I leave to yourself, merely telling you that the oath of secrecy must be omitted. The clause, however, which binds them to “yield implicit obedience to the commands of superior officers” provides against their babbling propensities, for, when the test in its modified form is administered, you, as the superior official, in the case of the men you enroll, command them to be silent with regard to the affairs of the brotherhood, and to give the same command to the men of the grade below them, and so on. But the test, in its modified form, is not to be administered to any one who considers it a cause of confession.
I expect you to be ready for the road a week after O’L.’s arrival. When writing to the Centres and sub-Centres, as already directed, you might request them to send your letters of introduction to their friends; some of these you would receive before leaving New York, and the others would be forwarded to you by O’L. at one or other of your resting-places. Your tour will be very different from mine with regard to time. I give you three months to accomplish your work. This will enable you to spend a week, at need, in every large city where celts do congregate, and to make short excursions, out of the main route, to small places highly recommended to you. The route I leave to the judgment of yourself and friends; only recommending you to make first for the South, so as to lessen the chance of being clutched by yellow fever, or other blessings of that delicious clime. I recommend you to leave no town without sufficient money to take you, at least, two journeys onward; one town might be a failure.
I have done. Good cheer, firmness, perseverance and God speed you on the way.
A few words more. When you find yourself in a large city, likely to detain you long enough to be able to hear from O’L. don’t omit writing to him; you might even telegraph from such city, if not, that you were going there. All O’L.’s messengers will come to me by the Fulton or Arago; that is, once a month. Procure a list of the sailing dates of those boats, so as to be able to forward all the money possible, to be brought to me by said messengers.
It is past one o’clock in the morning (meaning an hour past the witching time); and so, I must close with brotherhood to all, and a prayer, that none of you be found wanting. It is not easy for me to close, without special remembrance to my friends. But I must do it, else, another hour would not suffice to write down even the names of all entitled to it. But, none are forgotten. Omitted to say that, when writing to Centres and sub-Centres—well, on reflection, it seems to me that my words involve what I was about saying. Still, as they may not be over clear, better you should inform them of O’L.’s arrival, not forgetting the importance I attach to him; and, at the same time, announce your own tour. You must have observed the omission of the friend’s name who has worked so untiringly and well with me from the beginning. Of course, also, you have guessed the cause of the omission. The fact is, he is a little known, not to say a specially marked man, and so, I must not make him too sure a hit for them—in case of miscarriage in the present instance; that is, of this letter, which has to pass through hostile ground. I deem it necessary to suggest the greatest reserve with regard to names in general, and specially with regard to prominent names. Adieu. Health and fraternity.
Innisfail (James Stephens).
P. S. The only two of my acquaintances, in France, from whom, for the present, I could expect, not to say ask, money, are not in Paris. Both reside in the country, coming occasionally to Paris. One of them will be here in a fortnight or so; though aware of this I wrote to him last week. The address of the second I did not get till yesterday, and shall write to him also, this very day. On this head, I expect to have something cheerful to say in my next dispatch. Tell Roche and Mr. O’Dwyer so. In the meantime do not see Roche short; I will make good what you advance him. Our friends the Militaires, I have kept aloof from, clearly because these gentry must be entertained in a way the present exchequer would not admit of—they must see no want of the sinews of war. But I could lay my hand on a few even now, and answer for what I said on this head with my honor.