April 2nd, 1849 — In my cell, “Dromedary” Hulk. — Yesterday ended ten months of my exile and captivity — ten months out of fourteen years leave one hundred and fifty-eight months. What mortal can keep Despair and the Devil at bay so long? and all alone; “lone as a corpse within its shroud.”
April 5th. — The Neptune has arrived, and is to sail in about a fortnight. There is still, I understand, a good deal of agitation at the Cape against the project of establishing a penal colony there; and, assuredly, it is a brutal act of tyranny, if it be indeed done without their consent. Our authorities here, however, seem to make very light of it. They say the opposition is got up by a parcel of canting Dissenters.
Have been reading in Tail’s Magazine an elaborate review of a new book by the indefatigable Government literator, Macaulay — no less than a “History of England.” Tail gives copious extracts from which I easily perceive that the book is a piece of authentic Edinburgh Reviewing, declamatory in style, meagre in narrative, thoroughly corrupt in principle, as from all this man’s essays on subjects of British history must have been expected.1
April 12th. — At length British vigour is checked in Ireland, provided it be now firmly met. Mr. Duffy has been tried for his felony a second or a third time, and the Crown is beaten again; that is, they have failed in obtaining a conviction, which is to them utter defeat. Matters have arrived at the point I aimed at from the first; the “Government” have come to be ashamed of the barefaced packing of so many successive juries; or have begun to see that it is impolitic — and so they allowed a Repealer or two to stand amongst the twelve who tried him. And of course these men not only refused to agree with the rest in finding him guilty (knowing that no Irishman can be guilty, in Ireland, of any offence against the Queen of England) — but some of them insisted on applauding the national sentiments of the prisoner’s counsel, with “Hear, hear,” and clapping of hands. This is very good and right, and highly satisfactory. British “law” in Ireland stands on the very brink of the bottomless pool. But what now will my Lord Clarendon do? He cannot, and dare not, allow himself to be beaten in this case: and I think he will boldly pack on the next trial, and secure this one conviction at all hazards; for Duffy is not only editor of the Nation, but is the very man who urged poor O’Brien upon his Tipperary war. If they even stay proceedings against him now, they are finally vanquished, and he can drive Government into the sea. He can: but will he? dare he? Alas! the unfortunate man is too evidently cowed and prostrated to the earth — he produced on his trial evidence of character — literally, people to bear witness of his good moral character in private life — and not only that, but of his legal and constitutional character. I read that Father Mathew and Bishop Blake were brought forward to prove that Mr. Duffy is not only a very amiable and religious person, but also far from being the sort of a man to meditate illegal violence, or the disturbance of “social order” — not he. Carleton, too, is produced to give his testimony to the prisoner’s general character — of which Carleton is an admirable judge. And, what is almost worse than all, the poor man tries to evade the responsibility of some of the prosecuted articles, by proving that they were not written by himself. This is all very wretched work; yet still, unless there be some utterly ignominious concession, “Government” will not be relieved from the difficulty. He is led back to prison; and try him they must at the next Commission; and they must pack the jury, and that very closely, or — oh! it is a fine thing to see a “liberal,” a “progressive,” a “conciliatory” British Government brought to this.
I shall be very anxious to hear the result of the next trial. Would to God there were someone found in Ireland to press the enemy hard now! Would to God it were in this man to do his duty! He this Duffy, might now win to himself the immortal honour of abolishing English law in Ireland, if his fine private character would but allow him. It is absolutely necessary to try out this legal controversy — a drawn battle will not do; all constitutional rubbish must be swept away, and the ground cleared for the trial of the final issue. The battle of the (Irish) Constitution must be fought, in the jury-box first, then in the streets, lastly in the fields.
To-day, without a moment’s warning, I was carried off from the Dromedary in a boat, and brought to the hospital-ship once more. The Neptune is to sail within a week; and it seems I am to have a few days’ hospital treatment, to fit me for so long a voyage; “lest they should find it necessary,” says Dr. Hall, “to lower you from the yard-arm between this and the Cape.” He says that he procured this arrangement with difficulty, by distinctly certifying that I am too ill to be put on board ship, and that in his opinion there is danger I may not survive the voyage. I did not think I had been so ill; curse on them; they have gone near to murder me. Yet I do not believe that the voyage will be hurtful to me, or that I am now in danger of death. The danger was in being kept in solitary confinement here. Indeed, weak as I am in body, I feel stronger in soul than ever I was; for which I sincerely thank Almighty God. Many foul shadows that seemed threatening to rise up between me and the sun have scattered themselves and sunk. I have risen into a clearer atmosphere, and feel myself more in accord with whatsoever is good in this world. Let some philosopher account to me, upon either physiological or psychological principles, which he pleases, for this phenomenon — the mind growing strong as the frame grows weak — growing hopeful, contented, indomitable, the nearer a man looks upon the face of death; death in a dungeon; death among his enemies. For my own part, I bethink me, that if there be work for me to do on the earth, the Almighty will keep me alive to do it, and draw me out of this pit in His own time — that if not. He knows what is best for every one of us; can raise up friends and guides for my children, better friends and guides than I could ever be; can find means and instruments that I never dream of, to elevate our poor country out of the dust, and set her high among the nations, and give her peace and prosperity within her cottages. In short, everybody can do without me; and if I am to perish in this exile, I shall take it as a certain sign that all things will go on better without me. Yet I do ardently desire to live and to act: to rear my own children, to do my own duties, to act and speak amongst men that which I know to be just and true. And all this will I do if it be God’s will; if otherwise, then God’s will be done.
Dr. Hall is very kind and attentive to me; seems determined to give me as much health as I can take in for the time I remain here. The weather, too, has decidedly turned to summer again, and that very suddenly, so that all chances are in my favour. The islands around this bay, where the Tenedos is moored, with their green fruit gardens and dark cedar groves, and narrow beach of white sand, are like opening paradise to me, after the dockyard and its loathsome hulks.
April 13th. — I have just been gratified (no matter how or by whom) with a sight of some newspapers, which announce, among other things, a signal defeat of the enemy in the Punjab, at the hands of the gallant Sikhs. The Governor-General of India is hastening to support Lord Gough with large forces, and there will probably be a sharp campaign there. The British will undoubtedly make desperate efforts to retrieve their fortune, even though they should immediately after evacuate the country altogether — having first robbed and desolated it — as they did in the case of Cabool. The expenses of all this, however, will be vast; it is not the plunder of a few cities that will cover it; and so will the good work speed.” Great is bankruptcy.
Meantime, Europe is arranging itself into very singular combinations. England, after fostering Lombard liberalism, is now courting and flattering Austria — feeling that a day may shortly come when she cannot do without Austria; then Austria, for her part, cannot do at all without Russia, which brings England and Russia en rapport, as they ought to be, for they are natural allies. And then Hungary is not subdued yet, as the murderous English newspapers boasted she was: on the contrary, with Poland (or rather Poles) to aid, she seems far more likely to subdue Austria, And then you may be sure Russia cannot bear that Hungary and the Poles should become friends; and begin defying emperors — so she will thrust in her weighty sword. And then the tricolor of France flies out, and Lombardy, Italy, North Germany are up: and then slowly and reluctantly the British leopard (or “lion,” as the brute calls himself) must come up to the scratch — slowly and reluctantly, for he had much rather roar in India, or New Zealand, or (after carefully disarming the people) in Ireland. And Ireland, one is alarmed to hear, has a “spirit of disaffection,” — and will, ere long, have an opportunity of showing whether she can do anything but keep eternally moaning her “grievances.”
All this while Germany is bringing herself to bed of something she calls a Constitution, with much travail, at Frankfort; which Constitution the King of Prussia, and even the old hyena of Hanover, will be sure to reject and set at naught. The Constitution, I can foresee, will be still-born; and North Germany, Prussia, Hanover, and all, will become perforce republican. Kings and Grand Dukes will not suffer them to stop short of that — men will waken some morning in Cologne and Cassel, and Carlsruhe and Baden, and Berlin, and find themselves in battle with kings and kingships — they will awaken to the fact that kings are not to be trusted, not to be bound by any treaty, character, or pact with their subjects, nor, in short, to be otherwise dealt with — once their office becomes useless — than by the old and well-known method, war to the knife, and amputation of the crown, with the head in it. Thus Germany is preparing her part for the great European melée. As for France, she seems wholly occupied just now in settling her internal affairs; and, indeed, before she settles into her normal state, she may fall into strange confusions and do the wildest things; for our worthy France is somewhat eccentric; but in the coming journée — once European affairs are brought so far — there is no doubt or uncertainty as to where gallant France will be found. Let the trumpet sound, and France will be in her place with sword on thigh. Such is the programme, I imagine to myself: but the thing may arrange itself otherwise.
In the meantime, one is truly concerned to learn, by her Britannic Majesty’s gracious speech, that Ireland cherishes a spirit of diasffection.
There is a gallant game toward. And am I to he groaning in a wooden gaol here in the Atlantic, or pruning vines in African captivity, under southern constellations, while kingships and nationhoods are lost and won? I trow not.
April 20th. — The spring weather here has become most genial, and sky, sea, and land are altogether lovely to see. This ship is not moored fore-and-aft, but swings by the head; and from my cabin window, by night and by day, I can see the whole amphitheatre of isles circling panoramically round, as the wind shifts. Sometimes the rising sun will stream bright into my window, and the same evening, through the same window, the setting sun will blaze redly in; and perhaps by the next morning, as I open my eyes (for I have begun to sleep again), I can see from my pillow once more the dawn blushing, and the eastern side of St. George’s a perfect amethyst. Here is the advantage of living, not on the dull, tame shore, but in a heliotrope hulk. About two miles off lies the great flagship, and astern of her the Neptune, a stately ship enough, with the man-of-war pennant flying from her main top, which it seems, she is entitled to carry, as having a naval officer on board — the surgeon-superintendent, namely, who is to have command of the prisoners.
The Neptune is to sail the day after to-morrow. I am told there is a separate little cabin fitted up for me, opening upon the quarter-deck, so that I shall enjoy otium cum dignitate during the voyage, as befits a gentleman. Voyage! — voyage to Africa. Sometimes I open my eyes vigorously, and rub my ears, and take my personal identity to task. Can this be the very Ego, late John Mitchel, sometime of Upper Leeson Street, who is going to sail in that tall ship to the land of the Caffirs and Bosjesmans, Dutch boers, and springboks? It seems indubitable — hoc est corpus meum — yea, verily
“Me vel extremos Numidarum in agros
Yes, indeed, you John Mitchel, now resident in Bermudian hulks, and numbered 2014, are about to cross the fine, and navigate southern oceans, in the track of Bartolomeo Diaz.
——— τηλουρον δε γῆν
Ήξεις κελαινον ϕυλον οὶ προς ἡλιου
Ναιουσι πηγαις; ἔνθα ποταμος Αἳθιοψ.
How these lines and syllables of poetry, in divers tongues, throng upon my memory in this solitude. The less one has to observe, to do, to be, and to suffer, the less present life he has — the more, perhaps, he remembers of the past. If not by way of outward eye or ear, then, by memory and imagination, will come in grist for the spiritual mill: this is like the ears of a blinded man growing keener, to give his darkened mind what help they can — one faculty of soul or sense sharpening itself as another dulls — the impressions of the past growing vivid as the soul shuts itself from the present. To me, in these long, lonely months, with about as high development of present life as a zoophyte, working at less than oyster-power, many scenes of my hot youth, scenes long forgotten — have arisen fresh and clear, almost with the glow of present action and passion: and I now recall, without effort, lines and passages from books, read twenty golden years ago, that I could not have repeated two years ago, no, not to save my neck from the Barons of the Exchequer. In what limbo did those memories sleep all that while?
——— But not to go further towards the brink of the abyss profound, it is very certain my memory has improved at Bermuda. And monuar! monuar! I wish no darker memories crowded upon me than hues of Æschylus or Horace: but my whole life lies mirrored before me; and it is not bright nor fair to see. I would that I could find In it one single good action (besides the action for which I was convicted as a felon). I wish the mild shade of my father wore a less reproachful aspect — and I wish he had less reason ——2
Surely, it is in youth man is most thoroughly depraved. Hell lies about us in our infancy. The youthful innocency sung by aged poets (who forget their first childhood) is nothing but ignorance of evil. As the child comes to know evil, he loves it; and by the time he is entering on manhood, in the very pride and flush of life, then his heart is often hard as adamnant, and so transcendental is his selfishness, that he has become a god unto himself, and owns none other; if he tells the truth, and is honest towards his fellows, it is out of pride and scorn he does it. Your fine, ingenuous young man is commonly the wickedest creature on this side Gehenna. I do solemnly believe this. Whatsoever of good is ever found in man’s nature is won by sore conflict with the devil — that is, with himself. The foul heart is purified by suffering alone: the hard heart is softened only by passing through the “flint mill.” And what now if this same hulking has been awarded me by Almighty God in mercy — as a lesson I stood in need of — seeing that nothing less would do? Of ordinary troubles that befall men, indeed I had a good share before; but this peculiar sort, ignominious personal restraint, was a part of my education heretofore neglected. No human being ever enjoyed, prized, and exercised an unbounded personal freedom of action more recklessly, more haughtily than I; and there, where I had pampered my own pride most, even there it may have been needful for me to be made to feel my own helplessness — to feel that I am not, after all, “stronger than the wonderful and terrible God. And so a gang of ruffians, in coronets and in ermine, were commissioned to conspire against me, and carry me off to a lonely cell, where a turnkey locks me up, and leaves me to learn and digest my hard lesson, and “ponder the path of life” at leisure.
Perhaps it is good for me to be here; but no thanks to the coroneted and ermined ruffians.
—— How I do ramble and rave, giving carte blanche to the pen of rigmarole! I have been talking like a member of the Tract Society — and what matter? Why should I not talk so, if I say but the truth? One must not be afraid of anything — not even of becoming worthy to be admitted into the Tract Society. But I grow too discursive, and am ashamed, besides, on looking back over all the paper I have blotted, to find it such a monstrous mass of egotism. Even in a solitary dungeon a man ought not to pay himself so much attention, nor confide his egoisms even to his faithful private tablets. What am I, that I should listen to myself with such respect, and even take down my own remarks on paper? What am I? Why, am not I THE EGO — the very Ego meant and insisted upon by Fichte? And is not that an important personage — rather indeed the only personage? I begin to doubt whether there is, or ever was, any Non-Ego at all—even Fichte himself — even the turnkey. I am the All. But my pretty little daughter! You, also, I think, are extant, somewhere in infinite space.
April 21st — Saturday. — We are absolutely to sail to-morrow; and the mail from England, due two days ago, has not arrived. I may now have to set sail for the Cape, without having received my monthly bulletin from Newry; and then who knows how many months will pass before I hear how my darlings are faring. Besides, I have no money: I never would allow any to be sent to me here, but in my last letter I wrote for a few pounds, that I might not be put ashore on the continent of Africa in a state of utter destitution. I have but a few small silver coins between me and a state of nature, and may have to turn Bosjesman. Here is a pretty state of things for a “gentleman of education.”
The Scourge steamer, in which I was originally kidnapped, arrived here some days ago, after making the tour of the West Indies; and has now just sailed for England, to be paid off. She has been lying at Bermuda three several times since she brought me here; and I have often wondered that, after the first visit I had from two of her officers, I never saw any of them again. The first lieutenant, indeed, had distinctly promised that he would come sometimes to see me, and he never came at all. I have now got some newspapers which fully explain all that. It seems the admiral on the station, when he found that I had not been treated like a common convict during my voyage, severely censured Capt. Wingrove; and there was a good deal of language about this both in Bermuda and in England — gentlemen in Parliament asked sharp questions of Ministers about their instructions for the usage of “convict Mitchel,” to wit — where the said convict dined, and who drank wine with the said convict; and British “public opinion,” so agitated and indignant, that there was even danger of the worthy commander being dismissed the service. Now, it is to be observed here that British public opinion was altogether right; either I was bona fide a convict, or else not a convict; if not a convict, I ought not to have been carried off at all; if a convict, I ought to have been treated exactly like other convicts. But it appears further, that the aforesaid opinion grew still more inflamed when it was discovered that, on my short voyage from Dublin to Cork, I had actually breakfasted with the surgeon and other officers of that steamer, also. No wonder British opinion felt itself insulted: had it not pronounced this man a felon with all the bellowing of its manifold lungs in Parliament, in the press, not to speak of its particular “jury”? and would nobody consent to look upon him as a felon, or treat him as a convict after all? So the poor Shearwater surgeon (on whom, I know not why, the blame chiefly fell) was pounced upon by the Admiralty with much apparent fury; and some l5ang excuse or other had to be invented for him. That lying excuse I have not seen, but have just been reading the lying excuse made in Parliament for Commander Wingrove, on the last occasion of this matter being opened in the legislature; for I now perceive that it has been a standing subject for months; and a Mr. Robinson, a Mr. Lockhart, and Colonel Verner, member for county Armagh, whenever they wanted to embarrass Ministers, would start up from time to time and desire to be informed how convict Mitchel fared on his way to Bermuda? who conversed with him? whether his hair was dressed according to the convict cut? and whether he was kept properly at his work in the quarries there? Well, on the last of these occasions, as I find it reported in the Times, a certain Admiral Dundas (one of the lords of Admiralty, I believe) assured the House that the instructions in the case of the convict Mitchel were, that the commander of the ship should treat him as a convict on his passage, and keep him in a separate place, so as not to permit him to mingle with the officers of the ship; but that, as there was no second cabin in the Scourge, Captain Wingrove had been obliged to keep him in his own cabin, and entertain him at his own table; but that he had been kept most strictly apart from the other officers. How very gravely these rascals lie.
In the first place, the Scourge has a separate cabin, as this lord of the Admiralty must know; and that second cabin was my room; I slept there, had exclusive use of the room, and as there were couches, chairs, and a table in it, there was nothing to hinder my being served with meals there, if such had been the instructions. But, in the second place, such were not the instructions; instead of being ordered to treat me as a convict. Captain Wingrove was specially ordered to treat me not as a convict, but as a “gentleman.”
And, in the third place, it is untrue that I was kept apart from the officers; I spent most of my time on deck, in company with the officers.
And, in the third place, it is untrue that I was kept apart from the officers; I spent most of my time on deck, in company with the officers.
Commander Wingrove, I am very sure, was no party to the falsehood.
But I find further, that while Admiral Dundas lied in the Commons, Lord Landsowne lied in the Lords; for he told their lordships, in reply to a similar inquiry in that House, that it was true the instructions given to the commander of the Scourge permitted him to use his discretion as to his treatment of the prisoner, on the ground of Mr. Mitchel’s delicate state of health. This also is a mere falsehood. Captain Wingrove had no discretion allowed him in the matter; Captain Wingrove had never heard of my delicate health; and neither had Ministers; nor had I then made any complaint of ill-health at all. Thus did these two liars of State lie inartistically for want of concert. May God help us, and forgive us all our sins.
So much I set down here upon a subject immeasurably small, because I may have occasion to call it to mind, small as it is, hereafter. It was extremely immaterial to me where a cover was laid that I should dine, or in whose company I sat down to table. My practice has been, ever since I fell into the hands of my enemies, to sit, stand or walk, wheresoever I am desired, as becomes a true prisoner, and to eat such things as are set before me without remark. Neither did I feel at all honoured by being invited to Capt. Wingrove’s table: nor should I have felt degraded if he had thrust me into the lowest dungeon in his ship in chains. When the British Government got me nicknamed “Felon,” and sent me away from my own country, as a convict they did their worst: it is impossible for them or their servants, by any severities or by any “indulgences,” either to aggravate or to mitigate that atrocity.
On the whole, I sympathise with the outraged public opinion of the British nation — generous, chivalrous, magnanimous British nation.
April 22nd — Sunday. — My last day in Bermuda; it is a bright spring morning, and the first thing I saw, as my eyes opened, was the mail steamer shooting across the smooth bay towards the dockyard. So I shall have my bulletin from Newry.
A boat is to come for me after breakfast. I am not sure that I shall be allowed to go without being questioned, or possibly searched for papers: this memorandum book may be taken from me; and if anybody should chance to take the trouble of reading it, I fear a seditious expression may be found in it here and there. It is true, I have never been questioned in this way yet: even my portmanteau has not been searched; and how the authorities here reconcile this with their duty, I know not. For aught they know, I may have in that portmanteau, picklocks, files, and a brace of pistols, or even an infernal machine. For aught they know, I have been employing my literary leisure to indite seditious and disaffected writings, quæ mox depromere possim. — But all this is their affair, not mine. In the meantime I keep my book in my pocket, and my window open, until I get fairly off — intending, if any search be instituted, to throw my valuable remarks overboard, using means to load the little book so that it must go to the bottom.
Four o’clock. — At sea. The cedar-groves of Bermuda are sinking below the hazy horizon. — So ends my “Dream of the Summer Islands.”
Received my letter from home. Through the kind courtesy of the governor, it was sent to me after I was on board, and arrived just as the Neptune was weighing anchor. All well at home. I have written a very long and cheerful letter to my wife; for indeed matters begin to look somewhat brighter for us: I begin to see day-light: my health has been improving rapidly; will probably continue to improve at sea: and why may it not be completely re-estabhshed in the climate of Africa? Then it does not seem clear that the “Government,” intend to keep me confined to the Cape: Lord Grey, I see, talks of something that he calls a “conditional pardon,” to be obtainable by the prisoners who go to the Cape, on payment of fifteen pounds — and the effect of which will be to make them “free exiles,” free, namely, to go anywhere they please, except to Ireland, England, or Scotland. If I can get this document (whatever its name is) for £15, I will certainly buy it, and think it very cheap at the money. What is it to me that they choose to call it a “pardon”? If they even call it a plenary indulgence, or a charm against the bite of a mad dog, still I will gladly become the purchaser of an article that enables me to withdraw myself from under the poisonous shadow of the Carthaginian flag. Then if this “pardon” be not for me, at the worst it is but living a few years in some quiet nook in Stellenbosch or Swellendam, amongst my own people, surrounded by the worthy Dutch folk, and patriarchally tilling the ground, and pastorally keeping sheep, until my deliverance come.
Some doubt indeed still seems to me to hang over the disembarkation at the Cape: the last intelligence from thence shows that the spirit of opposition to such a measure is increasing; yet Dr. Dees, the surgeon-superintendent, who has charge of the Neptune, tells me his instructions are positive, and that he carries out instructions, equally positive, to Sir Harry Smith, the governor, for instant disembarkation of the whole crew. Still, if the colonists make it manifest that they are nearly unanimous in opposition, or even that a large minority of them feel strongly opposed to the introduction of convicts into their country, it would surely be very tyrannical and insolent in the English government to force the matter with a high hand. To have one’s country and the home of one’s children turned into a sink of felony, where the colluvies of a vast empire is to settle and fester, is no light matter. I shall certainly feel no surprise if we find on our arrival at the Cape that Sir Harry Smith has received orders to pass us on to Australia.
For my own particular, I might perhaps not choose to sail in this ship, with the chance of being carried all round the habitable globe with such a ship’s company, knocking at the door of all the continents and isles, to see if they will give shelter to 300 ill-omened strangers: but I am flying for my life. On the whole, I am content, even to go to Australia, even in such company, rather than await another winter in these summer isles: and am absolutely setting forth on my voyage with a heart nearly as light as my purse (which has but thirteen shillings in it). Grim death is behind me, among the black cedars. And even should the ill-favoured demon of asthma give chase, I will outstrip him in this broad-winged ship — he shall have a race for it athwart the ecliptic, through seventy degrees of latitude, into regions whereon the Great Bear never shone. And if the Grim Feature overtake me there, I will fight him while a shot is in the locker.
Our voyage to the Cape, as they calculate, will hold us about two months. Hurrah! as poor old Dan used to say — “My bosom’s lord sits lightly on his throne” — Africa will be sure to spring forth some new thing, according to the ancient wont of hat fruitful mother of monsters.3
Poor old Dan! — wonderful, mighty, jovial, and mean old man! with silver tongue and smile of witchery, and heart of melting truth! — lying tongue! smile of treachery! heart of unfathomable fraud! What a royal, yet vulgar soul! with the keen eye and potent swoop of a generous eagle of Cairn Tual — with the base servility of a hound, and the cold cruelty of a spider! Think of his speech for John Magee, the most powerful forensic achievement since before Demosthenes — and then think of the “gorgeous and gossamer” theory of moral and peaceful agitation, the most astounding organon of public swindling since first man bethought him of obtaining money under false pretences. And after one has thought of all this, and more, what then can a man say? what but pray that Irish earth may he light on O’Connell’s breast — and that the good God who knew how to create so wondrous a creature may have mercy upon his soul.
April 23rd. — I find myself provided with a very filthy little cabin here, having a window that looks forward over the quarterdeck. On the quarter-deck the soldiers, not on duty, saunter about, smoking and chatting. Beyond the gangway forward, the prisoners in their Bermuda uniforms, are swarming over deck, forecastle, and bulwarks, but are not allowed to come aft. Above us the poop-deck, where I am privileged to walk — long, broad, md clean, affording ample scope for exercise. On this poop also saunter and smoke two officers of the military guard.
Dr. Dees, as the “surgeon-superintendent” is named, commands in chief, and wears the epaulettes of a naval surgeon. He came this morning into my cabin, and divining what he came to talk about, I was minded to give him a taste of my quality, that he and I might understand one another, and be at our ease, for the voyage. He began by telling me that arrangements had been made at Bermuda by which I was to have the same accommodations as to board, etc., that they had in the cuddy; and that if I wanted anything I should let him, Dr. Dees, know. I answered that I was quite sure I should want for nothing — that at any rate [ made it a rule never to ask for anything, and never to complain of anything — but that as to the special arrangements in my behalf I was quite at a loss to know what claim I had to any better accommodations than other prisoners. “All I know about it,” said he, “is that matters have been so ordered by the Governor of Bermuda — I regret,” added the doctor, “that you must live quite solitary here, and have no access to the cuddy, nor intercourse with the officers of the guard; not that I myself would have the least objection, nor, I presume, the officers either; but in fact — the fact is” ——
“The fact is,” supplied I, “that you and they would be dragged before Parliament, like Captain Wingrove, or perhaps tried by court-martisd.”
“Exactly so: that is just the whole case.”
“Well, then, sir,” I said, “make your mind very easy about all that. Ever since I have become a prisoner, and cannot choose my company, I prefer my own society to any other. The worthy gentlemen in Parliament are much mistaken if they imagine the society of any state-cabin in her Majesty’s navy would be an honour or a comfort to me: and as for the military officers you mention, if they do not obtrude themselves on me, be assured I shall not obtrude myself on them.”
Dr. Dees was silent a little while, and then said, “The truth is, that in your case all official persons who have to do with you seem to be constantly well watched; and, after the proceedings of Parliament and the Admiralty Board in respect of Captain Wingrove and the officers of the Shearwater, we are all afraid of being involved in something unpleasant.”
“It seems,” I answered, “that in my case, formal conviction and actual deportation are not enough; it needs the continued and strenuous exertions of both branches of the legislature and the Admiralty, and the Colonial Office, to keep me in my new position of a felon, or even to force their own officers to pretend for one moment that they regarded me as a convict or a felon at all.”
He laughed, and said that was true enough, “But, indeed,” he added, “it has been rather a hard matter to know what to do with you; the Government, I feel sure, have not been disposed to treat you with harshness, or to give you the usage of a common convict; yet, on the other hand, they have public opinion to satisfy. On the whole, there has been a good deal of puzzle about it altogether.”
“No wonder,” I said; “there is always puzzle and embarrassment in carrying through any dishonest transaction. If I were indeed a felon, you know, there ought to be no puzzle at all; and what, pray, do you mean by ‘harshness,’ and by not wishing to treat me as a convict. Absolutely, I am either a felon or not a felon.”
To this formula of mine the doctor assented.
“And,” I continued, “if I am not a felon, then those who sent me here axe felons.”
To this he apparently thought it prudent neither to assent nor demur; and I did not press him.
“Public servants,” quoth the doctor, making a general remark, “are sometimes unsafe, even in acting precisely according to their instructions; for they are not permitted to reveal those instructions, if the matter should become a subject of public censure, but must allow the blame and consequences to fall on themselves rather than on the Government.”
“I am well aware of that practice,” I answered; “it is one of the privileges of a superior officer in the British service to invent and publish any story he pleases, to screen himself and Government, at the expense of a subordinate; and one of the duties of inferior officers to support him in his story, though to their own ruin. Captain Wingrove can tell something of that practice, and so could Captain Elliott, from his experience in China. Perhaps you do not know that he acted in China according to his plain instructions, and when the transaction was supposed to have turned out unfortunate, and Parliament and the press were raving, he durst never plead those orders, but had to let Ministers make up what story they liked. Indeed, I have no doubt that Government, after directing Captain Wingrove to do just what he did, would now stand coolly by, and see him convicted by a court-martial, of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman; so you cannot be too cautious. Doctor.”
The Doctor seemed to be growing a little uneasy at the tone of my remarks; yet his politeness, I saw, was restraining him from stopping me, as he had clearly authority to do; so I changed the subject. He is a mild, well-bred, and amiable man; I believe I shall like him — for a gaoler.
All this day there has been a perfect calm; and the light-house of Bermuda is still in sight. One of the prisoners has been assigned me, as usual, to attend me as a servant; and with his help I have been arranging matters in my little cabin I shall feel quite at home for two months.
1 Bothwell, V.D.L., 4th August, 1851. — I have read the book itself here; for, having become one of the most popular books in the world, it is even in the village library of Bothwell. Mem. — It is a clever, base, ingenious, able, and shallow political pamphlet, in two volumes. This writer has the rare art of colouring a whole narrative by an apparently unstudied adjective or two, and telling a series of frightful falsehoods by one of the most graceful of adverbs. What is worse, the fellow believes in no human virtue — proves Penn a pimping parasite, because he hated penal laws; and makes a, sort of Bromwicham hero out of the dull Dutch Deliverer.
2 This passage is liable to be misunderstood. Mitchel was free from what is euphemistically termed the indiscretions of youth. He refers to his having frequently taken his own course when a youth without consulting, and sometimes in opposition to, his father’s wishes.
3 “Vulgare Græciæ dictum — Semper aliquid novi Africam afferre.” — Plin, Nat. Hist. VIII. 16.