July 24th. — On board the “Dromedary” Hulk. — Here is a violent provocation to me: newspapers have arrived, of course, by the monthly mail; I even see them passing from hand to hand amongst the guards and mates, and there is a whole month’s history of Ireland in them, continued from the day of my kidnapping, and I cannot see one of them. Special orders, it seems have been given to everybody on board, under heavy penalties, that no communications are to be had with me, save in matters of absolute necessity. The very servants who attend about the half-deck seem frightened if they find themselves passing near me; and everyone in the place seems to be watching everybody else. I learn also, that before I was brought back from the hospital-ship one of the guards of the Dromedary was discharged because he had spoken some words favourably of me before another, who straight reported it. He was an Irishman, you may be sure, and his name was Derney. Before I came to Bermuda, as * * * tells me, there was great latitude allowed in the matter of admitting newspapers; in fact, the prisoners saw the papers regularly; but stringent regulations have now been made, and solitary confinement, irons and flogging are to be the penalties of introducing the contraband article. And in such a case they are all spies upon one another, both guards and prisoners. This condition is hardly human, hardly earthly. The devil is in the place.
But why all this care and suspicion? How could my receipt of public news injure the “Government,” seeing I can send out nothing, except through the hands of my gaolers? There may be reasons for it unknown to me — statesmanship is profound.
Aug. 4th. — Received to-day a large trunk from home, with some clothes, a few books, and, what I value very highly, four exquisite coloured daguerreotypes of Gluckmann’s: one my wife in profile, another has my mother and wife together; a third, John Martin, my staunch and worthy friend — by this time, I suppose, my fellow-felon. What a mild and benevolent-looking felon! The Convict Jesus was hardly purer, meeker, truer, more benignant than this man is. The fourth likeness illuminates my cell with the right manly and noble countenance of Father Kenyon. He is standing with his arms folded, and a look of firmness, almost scornful defiance, but tempered and subdued, in his compressed lips and clear grey eye. Now, the speaking images of two such friends as these — to say nothing of the first two — will be high and choice companionship for me in my den. But what do they now? Where are they? How fare they? Is it possible that my gaolers can keep me fourteen years from learning what became of the great cause from the 27th of May last forward? I do not fear this; by prudence and caution, and patience, some bulletins of intelligence will be gained, methinks.
15th. — Each of these wooden prisons, with its inmates, affects still to be a ship and crew; the officer second in command is called “chief-mate,” then we have second-mate, and quartermasters; the rank-and-file of the turnkeys are termed guards. The prisoners, or ship’s company are distributed into messes and watches; and half-a-dozen of them who are set apart to man the boats, swab the decks, and the like, are “boatswain’s mates.” All these matters I discover as I walk the quarter-deck in dignified silence, and observe the daily ongoings of my dismal abode. So I am to regard myself as one of a ship’s company — one who may, by good conduct, rise to be a boatswain’s mate! Rather, indeed, I seem a solitary passenger, bound on a fourteen years’ cruise, though fast moored by head and stem. The language, too, used by both officers and prisoners, is altogether ship-shape — d — b — , or b — your b — old eyes! One or other of these is the
usual form of rebuke, expostulation, or encouragement (as the case may be) employed in the constant routine of duty. The chief-mate, the same tall old man who took charge of my finances, is a man high in authority, and d — s and b — s all the eyes in the ship at his pleasure, except mine and the commander’s. He is also the person specially charged to take care of me. It is he who locks my cell at night, and unlocks it in the morning; and besides that, he always pays me a visit about ten o’clock at night, and three times more between that and morning, to make sure that I have not escaped. If I am asleep, or pretending to be asleep, he makes the guard bring near his lantern, so that its light may fall on my face, and assures himself that it is I, and no other, who lies there. I see no way of escape, or else, God knows, I would try it: but I am given to understand this uneasy vigilance of my old friend the mate is a very peculiar and unexampled degree of attention. Yet it is not all: since my return from the hospital-ship I learn that a sentinel from the barracks keeps guard upon this breakwater all night close alongside the ship, as well as another sentinel at the place where a bridge joins one end of the breakwater to the fortifications — and that persons coming to the hulks here after sunset, even the surgeon and other officers, are obliged now to provide themselves with passes. Then the poor prisoners are restricted from much of the little liberty they had before, and must not saunter on the breakwater as they used. In short, the reins of discipline have been gathered up so tight for my sake, that I believe the whole “ship’s company” heartily wish I had been sent to Australia or to the d — l. I seem unconscious of all this, and pace the quarter-deck in silence, walking the plank.
These planks, I may observe by the way, are undoubtedly the celebrated “last planks of the Constitution,” so often referred to by an illustrious gentleman deceased; and I find them to be of leak.
20th. — The August mail-steamer has arrived: bringing another month’s history of Ireland, but not for me. I have letters from home, however, all well. Wife and bairns at Carlingford for the summer.
28th. — I was right: news do leak, percolating through the strangest capillary tubes: a man cannot be sealed up hermetically in a hulk; and I am not to be fourteen years in utter darkness. Voici! Government continues to act with vigour: certain Chartists have been holding meetings in London to testify sympathy with me: whereupon the insulted Government clapped them up in jail and indicted them; the record of my conviction as a felon was produced by my friend Kemmis on their trial as part of the proof against them. Amongst others, Ernest Jones, an able man, a barrister, and editor of the Northern Star, has been convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for attending one of those meetings, and saying in his speech there, that I, J. M., would one day return to my country in triumph, and Lord John Russell and Lord Clarendon would be transported. Fine vigour this! But then possibly Mr. Jones and the rest have had fair play in respect of juries in London. Of this indeed I can find no distinct intelligence; but there is actually Law and a Government in their country. If the juries were not packed, they have nothing to complain of; if they were fairly tried by their countrymen and found guilty, why, they are guilty.
In Ireland, Meagher has been arrested at his father’s house and carried to Dublin. His crime is a speech at Rathkeale, and “sedition” only, not “felony;” therefore he is liberated on bail. A warrant against Smith O’Brien — not yet executed. But John Martin lies in Newgate charged with felony, committed in the Irish Felon — and where else should felony be found? Duffy is also in Newgate, for a like felony done in the Nation; Kevin O’Doherty, and R. D. Williams, who established another felonious newspaper immediately after my kidnapping, under the title of the Irish Tribune, are also committed for felony: and — still more vigorous vigour — the issue of the three papers. Nation, Felon, and Tribune, was stopped by the police, who even took them away from the newsmen on the streets: their offices were broken open, taken possession of and searched for felonious documents; and, in short, everything goes on in the genuine ’98 style. I like all this very well.
And poor Williams, with his fragile frame and sensitive poetic temperament — is he to be a martyr felon? And Martin! But perhaps Lord Clarendon may find these two amongst the stoutest he has yet to deal with.
Now will the philanthropic viceroy deliberately pack a Castle jury for every one of these criminals; and again systematically exclude three parts of the citizens of Dublin from the exercise of the commonest rights of good and lawful men? I think he will do it; at his peril he must do this atrocity. I told him he would have to do it, or else give up the government. He dares not give his prisoners a fair trial: “policy,” “statesmanship,” and the “force of circumstances,” will imperiously compel him to cheat these men, to work hideous injustice under colour of law, to tamper with the administration of justice, which it is his office to guard, to outrage Ireland, to lie to England, and to damn his own soul. Imperious force of circumstances. When will rulers conceive, in their benighted minds, that common honesty is the deepest policy, and that by far the cunningest statesmanship would be to do plain justice?
At any rate matters are now in train for plenty of excellent legal work in Ireland: they will know before all is over what fine laws and constitution they have there: the “law” will develop itself, and “Crown and Government” will get vindicated properly — jurors, also, one may hope, will learn their duty amidst all this (I mean the duty they will have to do so soon as trial by jury is restored) — the duty, namely, in all political prosecutions at the suit of the Queen of England, to find all persons not guilty. Nay, they must carry it further, and insist upon bringing in special verdicts in all such cases, finding, on their oath, that the respective prisoners at the bar have merited well of their country — that is, if they have really delivered a damaging blow to “government.”
Either it will come to this, or else the philanthropic viceroy must pack closer, and ever closer, every Commission; and transport and hang men on the verdicts of his own particular tradesmen, “by special appointment” jurors to the Lord Lieutenant — which in the end may work as well.
Lord Fitzwilliam wants to “bring in a Bill” to pension the Catholic clergy, that is, bribe them to secure the peace of the country, while “government” is working its wicked will. Ministers appear to think the proposal too palpable and ostentatious in its corruptness at the present moment: so they are “not prepared to accede” just now. That small job is to stand over for a while.
Sept. 1st. — Three months this day since I sailed away from the Cove of Cork.
Shall I go on scribbling in a book, making myself believe that I am keeping a journal? Why, one day is exactly like every other day to me. On this fourteen years’ voyage of mine, it might seem that one seafaring practice at least might be dispensed with — keeping a log, namely. For my latitude and longitude, my course and bearings vary not from day to day: the altitude of the sun at noon is always just the same, save the season’s difference. Nothing ever happens to me. What have I to write? Or, if I write my nothings, who will ever read? May not the “chief mate” come in any morning and take away my log for his own private reading — or, if he think it worth while, deliver it to the superintendent, who may deliver it to the governor, who may deliver it to the Prime Minister? So it may even come to do me harm another day: for I am in their power.
Yet, notwithstanding all these considerations, I feel much inclined to jot down a page or two now and then, though it were but to take note of the atmospheric phenomena; or to praise or abuse some book that I may have been reading; or, in short, to put on record anything, whether good or bad, that may have occurred in my mind — if one may use so strong an expression as mind in this seaweed state. After all, in so very long a voyage, one might well forget from whence he set sail, and the way back, unless he have some sort of memoranda to refer to. This book will help to remind me of what I was, and how I came down hither, and so preserve the continuity of my thoughts, or personal identity, which, there is sometimes reason to fear, might slip away from me. These scrawls then will be in some sort as the crumbs which the prince (I forget his name) scattered on his way as he journeyed through the pathless enchanted wood. And there was in that haunted wood no browner horror than I have to pass through here. The Ancient Mariner, too, and his ship-mates, who were the first that ever burst into that silent sea — surely they did not neglect to keep their dead reckoning.
For these reasons, and acting upon these examples, I shall go on with my notes of nothing. It interests me in the meantime: a vicious tirade discharged into this receptacle relieves me much; a dissertation helps me to think, and use reason aright, by means of a new organon I have invented, called the Method of Rigmarole: a good rant, like a canter on the back of a brisk horse, gives me an appetite for dinner. And surely amongst all this there cannot fail to be some things that my boys will read with pleasure in future years.
Memorandum. — To devise a certain and effectual mechanism whereby, if I should ever come to be searched for papers, I may pitch these pages overboard and ensure their sinking.
2nd. — As for the books I read, or am likely to read here for some time (until I can make better arrangements for myself), they furnish small matter of remark. The literature most in favour here seems to be the very paltriest of London novels reprinted in America; and (for “useful reading”) they have those vile compilations called “Family Libraries,” and “Cabinet Libraries,” and “Miscellanies,” and the like dry skeletons of dead knowledge; from which nobody ever extracted anything but the art of misusing scientific language. It is supposed to be “popularising” science when a compiler gathers a parcel of results in some department of knowledge, and sets them forth in familiar style, never troubling himself or readers — indeed, knowing nothing — about the processes whereby those results are got; and so your reader of popular literature learns to babble about the profundity of modern science — you must know it is all modern — and to bestow his enlightened pity on ancient people generally, but above all, on the poor alchemists and astrologers. Thus, also, in common discourse and the newspaper dialects, we perpetually find such words as to predicate (in the sense of to predict) — proposition, for proposal — conterminous, for adjoining, and the like.
But apart from the effects on language, and therefore on clearness of ideas, I complain of the universal system of compiling and scissors-editing, in that books under such treatment cease to be books — are no longer the utterances of individual men, but a composite gibberish. Here have I been reading an account of Abyssinia, being a volume of the “Family Library,” wherein you travel one stage (or chapter) with Bruce; then half a stage with some Portuguese missionary, and the remainder of it with Salt, or somebody else: you are never sure of your travelling companion. A book ought to be like a man or a woman, with some individual character in it, though eccentric, yet its own; with some blood in its veins, and speculation in its eyes, and a way and a will of its own. Then you may make acquaintance with it, receive impressions from it. But if it be a rickle of bones, still more if it be a made-up skeleton, collected out of divers graves by a popular editor — with Mr. Bruce’s spinal column wired to Mr. Salt’s skull-bones, and Mr. Belzoni’s pelvis and ribs, the thing is disgusting.
Two other volumes of the same Library, to wit: “Palestine,” edited by Dr. Russell, and “Persia,” by Frazer, I have also read diligently, not without many wry faces — and find them to be of the same indigestible material.
Howbeit I have swallowed a parcel of these volumes for want of something better (as Laplanders sometimes dine on blue clay and tree-bark): also a sheaf or fasciculus of novels printed in pamphlet shape by New York and Philadelphia pirates. Vast oceans of trash! I have always accounted myself remarkably eupeptic in the matter of books; thought that I could devour much deleterious stuff without evil effect — omnia sana sanis — otherwise, I should presently suffer from a horrible constipation of garbage. And one has need of a stomach like the organs of those ducks of Pontus (unto which, as Aulus Gellius saith, poisons are rather wholesome than hurtful), who adventures to gorge the current “literature” they compound for the unfortunate “masses” in this great age. But what will not a prisoner have recourse to for passing the time.
Not that I mean to submit to this long. Only for the present I am advisedly letting my intellect lie idle, basking in the sun, dozing in the shade, grazing upon every green thing. But I never dream of killing Time for fourteen years — if it come to that. Time would kill me — fourteen years would be too many for me: an occasional half-hour, to be sure, you may kill if you take him unaware, but to slaughter Time by whole lustra and decades is given to no mortal. Therefore, I intend, after having been at grass awhile, to cultivate friendly relations with Time — a thing to be done by working only — to get old Time on my side instead of living against him, that so I may use poor Walter Scott’s proverb, “Time and I against any two.” In plain English, if I find that I am likely to stay long here, and to have, as now, the disposal of my own time, I will try to procure from Ireland some requisite books (perhaps 150 volumes in all) — and thereafter deliberately write a certain book, a task which I have long lusted after, and often wished for leisure to set about. There is leisure enough now; and facturusne operae pretium sim, I make no sort of doubt; for the task itself, by atoning me with Time, will be its own reward.
Touching work, I am by no means sure yet that I may not any morning be equipped in a linen blouse, with the broad arrow on its back, and sent out in a gang to the quarries to work there. I am quite ready: my health is very good. To know practically low to blast and hew stones, and build, will be no contemptible accomplishment; and perhaps I may live and thrive better, earn L keener appetite for my “rations,” and a softer pillow for my sleep, working with my hands, than writing a book. It is but fourteen years (more or less) — and as for the queen’s broad arrow, hey cannot brand it upon my heart within, where many respectable members of society in Ireland have it stamped indelibly — men whose souls dwell in a hulk: the queen’s arrow may be branded on my garment, but into their souls the iron has entered.
On this same question — whether I, J. M., shall be, or ought to be, set to work like a convict — there has been a good deal of discussion in Parliament and the newspapers. The “authorities” would willingly have their forbearance attributed to their tenderness for my delicate state of health; or in the alternative. — as public opinion may hereafter make it convenient to put the thing n the one ground or the other — they could ascribe the difference lade in my favour to consideration for a “person of education and a gentleman.” If the authorities do now, or shall ever account for it on the score of health, the authorities lie — not, I ween, for the first time — because I have never once complained of my health since I came to Bermuda, and never was in better health all my life. They cannot even plead the trifling illness I had on my voyage, because while I was in Spike Island express instructions (I saw them) were sent thither from the Castle, not to treat me in any way as a convict, or put me into convict clothes, Moreover, there are hundreds of poor convicts here, working too, in the quarries, far worse in health than I ever was, or, I hope, shall be.
In truth, all this great question is very indifferent to me. I do not much care whether they make me work like the convicts or no — nor how they dress me. I only set down the above facts because they are facts; and it may be convenient for me to remember them some other day.
At any rate work must be had in some shape. Facito aliquid operis, saith St. Jerome, ut semper te Diabolus invent at occupatum. Vel fiscellam texe junco; vel canistrum lentis plecie viminihus. — apum fabrica alvearia — texantur et lina capiendis piscibus. Which reminds me that there is abundance of good fish here; mullet, boneto, a thick sort of flat-fish, a red-fleshed fish not very much worse than salmon. There is also a monstrous kind of mackerel, three or four feet long, a most powerful and voracious fish. They cruise to and fro in parties of three or four, and I have often watched them for an hour at a time swimming about in the deep green water, and occasionally making a superb charge amongst the shoals of young fry, like a squadron of Inniskilleners riding through a mob.
4th-11th. — Reading Homer, and basking in the sun upon the sea side of the breakwater. Weather delicious. Have also been swallowing autobiographies — Gifford’s, Thomas Elwood’s, Capt. Crichton’s autobiography by Dean Swift. Crichton was an old cavalry officer, an Irishman, who had served in Scotland under the bloodhound Dalzell, against the Covenanters: and as he could not tell his story decently himself, the Dean, while he was staying at Markethill, took down the facts from the old man and set them forth in his own words, but using the first person — Crichton loquente. The product is highly amusing: in every page you see a Dean of St. Patrick’s riding down the Whigamores, or a Sergeant Bothwell in canonicals thundering against Wood’s Copper. But the best thing is that our admirable Dean makes Crichton (who did not care a button about the matter) deliver with bitter venom some of his, the Dean’s, own Jonathan-Swiftean opinions about church government, and contradict and vituperate Bishop Burnet with an odium almost theological, and he a mere dragoon. William Gifford’s account of himself is somewhat conceited and pragmatical, yet natural and manful. I have a deep and secret sympathy with Gifford. Elwood’s, however, is by far the best of the three, and is indeed one of the most downright straightforward productions I ever met with. What a book of books an autobiography might be made, if a man were found who would and could tell the whole truth and no more than the truth! But I suppose such a man will never be found. Nobody, surely, believes Mr. Gibbon’s statement of his own case: and you cannot well tell what to make of Rousseau’s. Perhaps Evelyn’s diary comes as near to the thing as any of these: but then it is almost entirely objective, not subjective; besides, Evelyn was so staid and well-regulated a fellow, so quiet a citizen and point-de-vice a gentleman, that what he has to tell is not so well worth telling as one could wish. I conclude that the perfect or ideal autobiography no human eye will ever see; because they whose inner life is best worth revealing— whose souls have soared highest and dived deepest — are just they who will never make a confidant of the discerning public: or if they communicate anything, it will be but here a little and there a little, and not in the name of the Ego, but by way of adumbration, as in the case of those sybilline paper-bags put forth by the enterprising publishers, Stillschweigen & Cognie, of Weissnichtwo.
13th. — The glorious bright weather tempts me to spend much time on the pier, where I have been sitting for hours, with the calm limpid water scarce rippling at my feet. Towards the north-east, and in front of me where I sit, stretches away beyond the rim of the world that immeasurable boundless blue; and by intense gazing I can behold, in vision, the misty peaks of a far-off land — yea, round the gibbous shoulder of the great oblate spheroid, my wistful eyes can see, looming, floating in the sapphire empyrean, that green Hy Brasil of my dreams and memories — “with every haunted mountain and streamy vale below.” Near me, to be sure, on one side, lie scattered an archipelago of sand and lime-rocks, whitening and splitting like dry bones under the tyrannous sun, with their thirsty brushwood of black fir-trees; and still closer, behind me, are the horrible swarming hulks, stewing, seething cauldrons of vice and misery. But often while I sit by the sea, facing that north-eastern art, my eyes, and ears, and heart are all far, far. This thirteenth of September 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; the notes of the singing-birds have lost that joyous thrilling abandon inspired by June days, when every little singer in his drunken rapture will gush forth his very soul in melody, but he will utter the unutterable joy. And the rivers, as they go brawling over their pebbly beds, some crystal bright, some tinted with sparkling brown from the high moors — “the hue of the Cairngorm pebble” — 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. On such an autumn day to the inner ear is ever audible a kind of low and pensive, but not doleful sighing, the first whispered susurrus of those moaning, wailing October winds, wherewith winter preludes the pealing anthem of his storms. 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.
But what avails it? Do not my eyes strain over the sea in vain? my soul yearn in vain? Has not the Queen of England banished me from the land where my mother bore me, where my father’s bones are laid?
Sept. 26th. — Asthma! asthma! The enemy is upon me. For a few months I fondly dreamed that the fiend was shaken off, and that the change of climate had finally exorcised him. Once more I feel that, though I take the wings of the morning, there is no escape from this plague.
27th. — “B — his b eyes! What is he but a convict, like the rest of us — ad , b convict?” — Meaning me.
I heard this exclamation to-day through the wooden walls of my cell, when the gangs were in at dinner-hour: for they sometimes grow loud and energetic in their discourse, and then I cannot but hear some of their words. A b-— — convict like the rest! The man is right; and I am well pleased to hear the observation, and to see the black scowls that some of the prisoners give me when any accident brings them to meet me on the pier. By “Act of Parliament,” and by the verdict of a “jury,” I am a felon, as they are, and know no title I have to walk about “like a gentleman,” that is idle, while they work hard. Right, my felon friend! I like to know that such a feeling is astir; and truly it could hardly fail; these men, who have to take off their hats when they speak to the pettiest guard of the ship, and who dare not set foot on the quarter-deck, even if they have an errand there, without uncovering and making a low obeisance — see me marching up and down the same quarter-deck, with my hat on, and those very guards and officers, now and then, when they meet me in a quiet place, touching their caps to me — the prisoners see all this, and of course they look black, and curse. It is the only way they know of at present to express their indignation— and I honour their cursing, and venerate their black looks, trusting that their wrath will fructify into an intelligent and wholesome hatred of those damnable “institutions” which make so much of gentlemanhood and so little of manhood— to wit, the glorious British Constitution in Church and State.
On Sundays, when the convict-congregation is attending service on deck, and their palmetto hats are off, I have an opportunity of observing their faces and heads; an inspection which is facilitated by the close cropping of hair and shaving of whiskers enforced amongst them. At first glance they look just like the untransported population at home; but closer examination makes you aware that many of them have evil countenances and amorphous skulls — poor fellows! — burglars and swindlers from the womb.
By Nature marked,
Coted and signed to do some deed of shame
Now what was to be done with these? Why were they begotten? Might not they take up a reproach against their Creator, as the Man of Uz — or say with Adam —
Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay.
To mould me Man?
Did I solicit Thee From darkness to promote me?
We may become entitled to ask these questions when we know the secret things which belong unto God. May not these be even now expiating sin committed before they put on human flesh? May not this be their hell? — and a hell, one might say, infernal enough. Poor devils! I hope they may not have to go farther and fare worse.
Most of the prisoners, however, have good and well-conditioned faces, as men generally go — quite up to the average run that you meet in Ludgate Hill or Dame Street.
30th. — It was not until this day that I got a sketch of the news brought by the September mails. Something strange, it was plain, had befallen in Ireland, by the significant looks the guards sometimes gave me, and by their suddenly stopping their conversation whenever my walk on deck brought me near them. I have it; in the first place, the Habeas Corpus Act is suspended; this ordinary proceeding having occupied just seventy hours for its six readings and its royal assent. Well, there’s nothing very strange in that: I expected that somewhere about this time. But what comes next? John Martin found guilty of felony (by a well-packed jury of Castle-Protestants) — and sentenced to ten years’ transportation! I am very glad of this, because Martin is simply the best, worthiest, and most thoroughly high-minded man I ever knew; and because he has a large circle of acquaintances, who are all aware of his worth. One could not wish British law in Ireland a more damaging, damning sort of “vindication” than thus to be compelled to send such men, by such methods, to its hulks. Go on, brave Law! There is nothing like vigour.
John Martin a convict! John Martin in the hulks! Dragged away from the green shades and fertile pleasant places of Loughorne, and made one of a felon ship’s-crew at Bermuda or Gibraltar. But the end is not yet.
Who and what is this John Martin! A political adventurer seeking to embroil the state, in hope of somehow rising to the surface of its tossing waves? or a needy agitator speculating on a general plunder? or a vain young man courting puffs, paragraphs and notoriety? or a wild Jacobin, born foe of order, who takes it for his mission to overthrow whatever he finds established, and bring all things sacred into contempt? Great God! Thou knowest that the man on earth most opposite to all these is John Martin, the Irish Felon. By temperament and habit retiring, quiet, contented, one who has lived always for others, never for himself; his pleasures are all rural and domestic; and if there be any one thing under the sun that he heartily scorns, it is puffery and newspaper notoriety. All he possesses (and it is enough for his moderate wants) is landed property in fee-simply which a social chaos would assuredly whirl away from him. Instead of being a Jacobin, and natural enemy of Law, Property and Order, he venerates Law beyond all other earthly things — cannot bear to live where anarchy reigns; would for ever prefer to bear with unjust institutions, corruptly administered, if not wholly intolerable, rather than disquiet himself and others in a struggle to abolish them. But in the exact proportion in which this man reveres Law, he loathes and spurns the fraudulent sham of Law. He respects property — his own and other men’s — while it subsists; but he knows that when a large proportion of the people in any land lie down to perish of want, by millions (or were it only by thousands or hundreds), there is no property any longer there — only robbery and murder. 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 come to that utterly intolerable condition in which they have long been in Ireland, Society itself stands dissolved — a fortiori — property is forfeited; no man has a right to the hat upon his own head, or the meal he eats, to the exclusion of a stronger man. There has come, for that nation, an absolute need to reconstruct Society, to re-organise Order and Law, to put property into a course whereby it will re-distribute itself. And, inasmuch as such needful re-creations never have been, and never will be accomplished, without first tumbling down, rooting up, and sweeping away what rotten rubbish may remain of the old venerable Institutions, why, the sooner that business is set about, the better. 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 with it at once!
Now, is this John Martin’s thought I am setting out, or my own? I believe both. At any rate, John Martin is an Irishman, and can never endure to have “laws” made over his country by and for a foreign people. To make that outrage impossible he accounts the first duty of all Irishmen. There, at least, we are of one mind.
On another point, also, we are one. Since my boyhood, I have always looked with a sort of veneration upon an independent farmer cultivating his small demesne — a rural pater-familias, who aspires to no lot but labour in his own land, and takes off his hat to no “superior” under God Almighty. Tenant-right, fee-farm, call his tenure what you will — only let him be sure that where he sows, he or his shall reap, eat and be satisfied. Such a farmer as this, though his acres be very few, can generally bring his children creditably forward in a life of honest industry, apprentice some of his sons to handicraft trades, portion the girls with two cows and £20, and grow old among his grandchildren, like an uncivilised patriarch, as he is; never troubling his mind about the Progress of the Species, nor knowing in the least what that phrase may mean. I have loved to see, in the North of Ireland, whilst Ireland was, the smoke of the homesteads of innumerable brave working farmers, rising from a thousand hills; and often in my summer wanderings (in company with the other felon), from the farthest wilds of Donegal to the pleasant fields of Down and Armagh, we have fondly dreamed that our country’s hope lay in the quiet extension of this tenant-right spirit and practice throughout the island — Monuar! monuar! how many of the warm hearths we saw smoking then are cold to-day! How ill we had estimated the profound ferocity of foreign landlordism! How many of those simple people have had to arise in their old age, bid adieu to their forefathers’ graves, and hopelessly seek their fortune in a foreign land! I know that respectable puppies would laugh at the hardship of a mere peasant, one of the “masses,” leaving his native land. Respectable idiots! By Heaven, there is more true refinement of feeling, more resistless human passion, more delicate sensibility, more keen, natural affection, more genuine character in any one of ten thousand farm-houses in Ulster than there is in Dublin Castle, or in the “genteelest” residence of Fitzwilliam Square.
But these people have all been dealt with of late (by those who rule and rob as “masses,”; a sort of raw material, to be thinned when they think it too thick, to be absorbed or distributed as the interests of Society (that is, those who rob and rule) may seem to require. We have watched for years – we two felons – the gradual encroachments of landlordism on what used to be the property of the farmer – the rapid conversion of householders into “paupers” – the incessant efforts of the British Government to break down all individual self-respect among Irishmen – choosing a series of famine years to hold out for competition, in every district, a set of “situations under government,” and so turn a whole nation into servile beggars – the atrocious profligacy with which millions were laid out in this undertaking, and so laid out as to make sure they would never fructify to any useful purpose – never produce anything save a crop of beggarly vice, idleness, and rascality. Then we saw a bloody compact made between the Irish landlords and that diabolical government – they to maintain the “Union” for England – England to help and support them in killing as many people in Ireland as might be needful to preserve the sacred landlord property untouched. We saw that compact put into actual execution – and then, at last, we resolved to denounce, at least, this villainy, to rouse the people to resist it while there was yet time — at all events to cross its path ourselves, though it should crush us. And so we are a pair of transported felons. Be it so: better a transported felon than a quiet slave, or a complaisant accomplice in murder. Mine ancient comrade! my friend! my brother in this pious felony — whithersoever thou art now faring in the fetters of our pirate foe, I hail thee from far, across this Atlantic flood, and bid thee be of good cheer. The end is not yet.
Lord Clarendon is filling the gaols all over Ireland with suspected persons by virtue of the Habeas-Corpus-Suspension Act. And there is more Irish history, too, this month, if I could but get at it: but better care than ever is taken to keep newspapers out of the ship, and to prevent me from learning anything. I will take patience, however — John Martin’s transportation is vigour enough for one month.
Oct. 18th. — Three weeks of sickness, sleepless nights, and dismal days: and the “light” reading that I have been devouring I find to weigh very heavy. Yet the “Three Mousquetaires” of Dumas is certainly the best novel that creature has made. How is it that the paltriest feuilletoniste in Paris can always turn out something at least readable (readable, I mean, by a person of ordinary taste and knowledge) and that the popular providers of that sort of thing in London — save only Dickens — are so very stupid, ignorant and vicious a herd? Not but the feuilleton-men are vicious enough; but then vice wrapped decently in plenty of British cant, and brutified by cockney ignorance, is triply vicious. Dumas’s “Marquis de Letoriere,” too, is a pleasant little novelette: but I have tried twice, and tried in vain, to get through a mass of letterpress called “Windsor Castle,” by Ainsworth; and another by one Douglas Jerrold, entitled “St. Giles and St. James.” It would not do: the loneliest captive in the dullest dungeon, dying for something to read, and having nothing else but those, had better not attempt them: they will only make him, if possible, stupider than he was before. This Jerrold is the same man who perpetually reads lectures to “Society” (in England) — abusing it for that it does not, in its corporate capacity, and with public funds, provide for the virtuous rearing of all the poor — yet takes upon itself to punish them when they steal, burn ricks, or waylay with intent to murder. And he writes never-ending “Serial” stories, purporting to be a kind of moral satires (only the satire has no wit and the moral no morality) showing clearly that poor children thus neglected in their education by Society have a good right to commit reprisals by picking Society’s pockets, or the pockets of any member thereof. Think of this cruel Society, omitting to train up its children in the way they should go, yet having the unnatural barbarity to maintain constables and gaols for the punishment of those very children when they go wrong! But nothing so horribly disgusts this poor snivelling jackass as capital punishments. Hanging by the neck he considers every way unpleasant, and unworthy of the nineteenth century. How would he have liked stoning with stones — or crucifying, head downward? He undoubtedly regards the criminal legislation of the ancient Hebrews as a grossly barbarous code; but, to be sure, those were unenlightened ages, and had no “Serials” — nothing but hard tables of stone; one copy of the second edition. Society, in short, was in its infancy, and you must not expect to find an old head upon young shoulders — nor to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If the compiler of the Levitical code were called on to compile laws now indeed, after the labours of Beccaria, Howard, and the philanthropists, he might make a better piece of work.
24th. — What is this I hear? A poor extemporised abortion of a rising in Tipperary, headed by Smith O’Brien. There appears to have been no money or provisions to keep a band of people together two days. And O’Brien, Meagher, O’Donoghue (Pat of Dublin), and Terence McManus of Liverpool, all committed for trial to Clonmel gaol for being parties to the wretched business. I cannot well judge of this affair here, but in so far as I can learn anything about it and understand it, O’Brien has been driven into doing the very thing that ought not to have been done — that Lord Clarendon will thank him heartily for doing. An insurrection, indeed, has been too long deferred; yet, in the present condition of the island, no rising must begin in the country. Dublin streets for that. O’Gorman, Reilly, Doheny, have fled; and all prominent members of the Confederation in country towns are arrested on suspicion.
What glee in Dublin Castle and the blood-thirsty dens of Downing-street, at this excuse for “vigour!” And, of course, all the world thinks Irish resistance is effectually crushed; and that Ireland’s capacity for resistance was tested at this cursed Ballingarry.
Reilly, I am delighted to find, is safe for the present, but Duffy, Williams, and O’Doherty still he in gaol, awaiting their trial. Now, my Lord Clarendon, if your jurors but stand by you, “law,” will get developed and vindicated to a great extent. What is to be the end of all this? Are there men left in Ireland who will know how to press the enemy hard now? And who will dare to do it? Then the poor people — God comfort them! — have another famine-winter before them, for the potatoes have generally failed again; and, to be sure, the corn is not for the likes of them.
As for juries in these cases, the Clonmel juries will consist merely of Cromwellian Tipperary magistrates and lightened Protestant landed proprietors. The Castle Judge will put it to them to say what they think of revolutions, and what revolutionary characters deserve to suffer. It is possible these four worthy men may be hanged.