8th January, 1853 — Bothwell. — To-day we resumed (John Knox and myself) our reading of Reilly’s letter, or letters, from New York. There are about forty-five pages of them, written at various times; and with supreme disregard to consecutiveness and coherency; so that we feel as if our impetuous friend were sitting with us, at our cottage door, in the summer evening, smoking and pouring out by fits his wild discourse.
It seems he has been writing in three or four other publications before throwing himself into this Democratic Review. His first publication was The People, a weekly newspaper, wherein he seems to have tried with all his might to explode the old principle of American “non-intervention.” He accounts for the failure of that organ intelligibly enough. “To both parties,” he says, “the principles of intervention in European affairs were foreign: and since (save in times of political refugeeism, and even to some extent then), the immigration here was composed of characters not always the most trustworthy or true, and of human semblances not always the most gratifying examples of European production, a general distrust of all foreigners pervaded the entire people. Add to this, my profound ignorance of American politics on my arrival, and further ignorance of parties and persons.”
Then his associate in the undertaking was, it seems, a “whig,” “A good fellow named Robinson, of the great family mentioned in Ceirpenter’s spelling book, in connection with Smith, Brown, and Jones, and with drowning; who, being an extravagant whig blowing-horn among the Irish, drowned me.”
John Knox here quarrels with Devin’s metaphor, saying reasonably enough, that it is impossible to be drowned by a blowing-horn. “If he had said blown up, now,” said Knox, “or blown away”; but I, deeming his criticism frivolous, interrupt him with the interjection, “You be blowed!” and continue my reading. “No effort of mine could save me from the charge of being a whig, and therefore a bad democrat and bad Irishman, because I had formed this connection.”
“Again — I had some few who understood me, especially Poles, Italians, French [no doubt, they would understand intervention] and Republican Americans: but, generally speaking, I was in this fix — Americans, from the President (and old Zack did pay his subscription like a man, peace be to his fine old red corpse of rusty iron) down to my tailor, looked at my paper, sneered, shrugged, pooh-poohed; or said ‘clever,’ but always added ‘Irish.'”
“Then the priests, when I plainly took sides against the Pope, and ‘interests of religion,’ pronounced me a heretic [“God bless me,” says Knox, “could the poor priests do less?”] and the Church organ excommunicated me (that, says Knox, was going too far] — and the servant maids shuddered at my name.” — —”O, weary me! you know it all: well, that’s the way the People failed.” — And a very natural way, too.
Then came poverty, and more poverty — Tom’s American tailor now doing worse than sneering: but he continues —
“Living on nothing at all a week and finding myself, would not do: so I was soon in New York, taking or about to take the Whig Review (leading Conservative and High Tory organ) as far as possible into democracy. I will send, if possible, some of these. [No Whig Reviews, however, have reached Tasmania]. For six months I wrote in that Review, and drove the knife up to the handle as often as I could” — [that is, he drove the Red Republican and filibuster sword of sharpness into the flabby body of whiggery] — so “the whigs drove me out of their ranks as an incendiary and wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a snake in the grass, and a monomaniac, and the devil knows what besides.”
Yet, it seems he leaves an impression — Thomas Devin Reilly, his mark; which can afterwards be read by those who run. He says:
“Elections come on. I receive letters, invitations, thanks, praises from the leaders of the Democratic Party. The other night, I walked into their meeting, heard my dreams of years pronounced from the Democratic platform, received the pledge of the influential to drive the matter on, was introduced all round as the author of so-and-so.
Really, my friend, if I succeed in these things, and have but one hand in pouring down one American torrent upon Europe, I shall consider, when we meet, that though I was swept over and under and up again, and did many wrong, many despairing, many rash things, as is natural to ‘a young man’ with red hair, and peculiarly nervosanguineous temperament (as one of my medical friends remarks on shooting excursions), that I have really done something which may entitle me, when you shall be at the head of affairs…
[“What does he mean by that?” says Mr. Knox, taking his pipe from his lips. Why, he means, my dear fellow, when I shall be in America, directing the filibustering and crusading energies of that republic to the regeneration of the human race — sending forth armies of fiery Yankees to set Poland on her feet, to set Kossuth high in Buda Pesth, to shut up the Emperor Napoleon in Ham once more — to erect provisional governments in Dublin Castle, Buckingham Palace, Vienna, Berlin, and Milan, to drive the Czar back to Tobolsk, to turn the Italian “sigh of ages” into an lo Pœan, and to kick the Pope’s three hats from Cape Spartivento to the Alps. He means this. “Ah! very likely,” said Knox]
— entitle me,” continues Devin, “to a placid hole in some sweet valley, a burly meerschaum, and an unfathomable drink. Now, I have given you my history; and I hope its exceeding vanity and impertinent exterior may afford you as much amusement as the history of any other nomadic Irishman or Gascon.”
However, the history of this amazing Gascon Irishman is not over yet. He rushes with all his soul into the Democratic Review. Here is the account he gives of his associates in the undertaking:
“My publisher is an able Red Republican American, and scarlet Democrat, piratic and honest — Allow me to make you acquainted. Mr. Holly, Mr. Mitchel — bow. Mr. Holly is the best friend I ever met in America; and as (should the chance offer) we have agreed to make together a little peaceable campaign and shooting excursion, not on the moors, but, strange to say, cockney-fashion, about London, I trust that in this country or the next you may meet. [Happy to make the acquaintance of this scarlet Democrat, piratic and honest.] I am commissioned also to present to you the ‘love’ of a Western American — and I had rather take his love than his hate — Corry, of Ohio, whose speech formed the leading feature of our late ‘ great meeting.’ His democracy is very extensive, about six and a half feet from the sole of the foot to the crown, and sharp in its way, for there is not a pick on him. He is a Democratic lamp-post, holding a big light in its head, on an almighty thin body. He knows you, too.”
[Sir, I am delighted to welcome you at Nant Cottage. Please to walk in. Stoop a little, lest you crack your lamp. You will join my friend Mr. Knox and me in a pipe of Cavendish and a glass of Bothwell beer.]
Then comes Mr. Saunders, another able man, and true Democrat. But I have extracted enough. Reilly proceeds to talk of Irish affairs, and informs me of the pending election for New Ross; wherein Ireland is to be saved, at last, by the return of Mr. Gavan Duffy, or, as my correspondent writes the name, Mr. Give-in Duffy. On these Irish affairs, he expresses himself, I must admit, in a very wild manner.
“About the ‘priests and holy wells,’ all I shall say is, pray God to sink the first to the bottom of the second!”
And, again, as to Ireland.
“I have not excused, or refused to acknowledge the black degradation to which our country is reduced; but I have said, ‘I grant everything bad you can possibly say of my country and countrymen; but then, the worse she is, the greater proof of her political servitude, for her people are a fine and gallant people, and fight, as you well know. Being so, you must elect to make her a friend or an enemy. She must be the avant-garde into Europe, or the Vendée. Throw an army into her, and you smash financially and territorially the British Empire; but let the revolution burst and work its way in Italy, and be misrepresented by priests and Britishers — and Ireland becomes the deadliest foe of republicanism in Europe. I have talked in this style, not without effect, I hope. I will not say more than that I hope.”
We close this singular letter, and sit silent awhile. At last, quoth John Knox,
“Clearly to be an Irishman is no high recommendation in the world at present. I pity Reilly, wearing and wasting himself there, in that coil of American politics, shedding out his heart’s blood coined into dollars, for Whig or for Democratic place-hunters, if they will only give him a hope, and hardly a hope, for Ireland — lavishing without stint or measure the ore of his teeming brain for them — if they will but say a kind word (or, as he says, poor fellow) , pledge themselves in the cause of Ireland. Still Ireland! Ireland! — as if Ireland were still alive, and not a corpse. And all this, while the ignominy of our dismal failure is fast making the name of Irishman a hissing and an abomination. It is a desperate and most touching loyalty this of Reilly’s.”
“And what would you have for Reilly, then?”
“A ticket-of-leave,” says Knox, “and a gum-tree hut, for the present; an escape from the turmoil of what they call politics, and an opportunity to lay up and hoard thought, instead of wasting and squandering it; to feed and mature his genius here in the forests, in the kind lap of his mother Nature, instead of beggaring and debasing it, in pursuit, indeed, of radiant visions shining from afar, but of mean personal intrigues, cumbering and spoiling all his present life. Better be a shepherd at the lakes till better times.”
“That may do well enough for you and me, Mr. Knox, but for Reilly, action is his life. In this same vehement action and passion; in this grapple and struggle with fate and the busy world, in exercising, and even wantonly wasting every faculty and energy of mind and body, fitfully flashing out the rays of his intellect, be it to illuminate or to set on fire — that restless spirit finds its only joy, its only possibility of being. Bring him here, and he would hang himself on a gum tree. Rather let him expend himself there, in fighting Fogies, in crushing joyfully under his heel the head of humbug and cant. He has, at all events, a noble aim, and he will prosecute it nobly. Like Ram-Das, that Hindoo saint or god, he feels that there is fire enough in his body to burn up all the baseness and poltroonery in the world. Let him fire away.”
“But he will perish.”
Let him perish. It will be in a great cause — and to have an aim and a cause, is not this happiness? How many are there of all the human race who have faith in anything, or aspiration after anything higher than their daily bread and beer, their influence, social position, respectability in the eyes of the unrespectable world? Even in this very devout, almost despairing loyalty to his discrowned Queen and Mother Ireland, is there not a joy, that colder, tamer spirits never know? Through his dreams there shines in upon him the beautiful, mournful face of his sad Roisin Dubh, the torn and crushed dark rose that he has worn in his heart from a boy, thrilling him with an immortal passion, like the passion that consumed the chieftain of Tir-conail —
“Over dews, over sands,
Will I fly, for your weal;
Your holy, delicate white hands
Shall girdle me with steel —
At home… in your emerald bowers,
From morning’s dawn till e’en,
You’ll pray for me, my flower of flowers.
My Dark Rosaleen!
Over hills, and through dales,
Have I roamed for your sake;
All yesterday I sailed with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne… at its highest flood,
I dashed across unseen;
For there was lightning in my blood.
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Oh! there was lightning in my blood —
Red lightning lightened through my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!”
Happy whose veins yet shoot and glow with red lightening-blood, instead of trickling white serum and Bothwell beer!
“Don’t the men,” said Knox, “finish the hay to-night?”
“Confound the hay! I tell you that I envy Devin Reilly for being alive — alive as you and I will never, never be alive again.”
True enough, the hay was all stacked, and the men came to be paid. One of them, a civil and hard-working cut-throat, from the county Limerick, asked me to sign a printed paper for him. It was a certificate that he had been in my employment, and had behaved moderately well. “I’m off for the diggin’s in Port Philip,” said he, “to-morrow; my ‘conditional pardon’ has come to hand, and I must have this paper to show the magistrate to-morrow morning, when I go to take out my free papers.”
“I wish you luck, Mike; don’t spend all your money in Maskell’s public-house to-night,”
“By my sowl, sir,” said Mike, “I must drink to-night to ould Garryowen, and the sky over it. Good night, sir.”
To-morrow I ride down to Hobart Town, and am to return by New Norfolk.
13th January. — A new personage has appeared amongst us — dropped from the sky, or from New York. When I arrived in Hobart Town, two or three days ago, I went first, of course, to St. Mary’s Hospital, where I found St. Kevin in his laboratory. He opened his eyes wide when he saw me, drew me into a private room, and bid me guess who had come to Van Diemen’s Land. Guessing was out of the question, so I waited his revelation.
“No, my boy: commissioned by the Irish Directory in New York to procure the escape of one or more of us, O’Brien especially — and with abundant means to secure a ship for San Francisco, and to provide for rescuing us, if necessary, out of the hands of the police magistrate, after withdrawing the parole in due form. He travels this day by the day coach from Launceston, and is to meet O’Brien and me this evening at Bridgewater (ten miles off), instead of coming into Hobart Town direct. You will go with me. O’Brien is to ride down from New Norfolk, and we can consult on the affair. There cannot be a doubt of success,” added St. Kevin, “for at least one of us.”
I shook my head at first, which the Saint was going to resent as a personal insult. So we agreed to say nothing about it till we should meet our friends in the evening. Smyth’s mission certainly looks serious; for he is a cool-headed rebel, by no means likely to come so far without a plan, or to play at any child’s game.
St. Kevin borrowed a horse from a priest. I rode my own; and at the hour appointed we met O’Brien, almost at the door of the hotel, mounted on old Squirrel. The coach had not yet arrived. Seven o’clock came, and no coach, though it was fully due. Eight o’clock, half-past eight, and still no coach. All this time we spent sauntering in the garden, talking of the matter in hand. The difficulty, and almost impossibility of the whole four of us availing ourselves of the chance, occurs at once. O’Brien is clearly of opinion that the only mode of discharging ourselves of our parole will be to withdraw it formally, each in the police office of his own allotted district, giving the authorities full opportunity to take him into custody if they are able (if not able, it will be their misfortune) — that this must be done within proper business hours, from ten till three — that any previous bribery will be quite legitimate — even to buying the police magistrates, if there be money enough — that any force or violence (O’Brien says, short of killing) will then be allowable if the rascals attempt to secure us within their offices — but that, in any event, we are bound to present ourselves in proper person, and make the magistrate clearly understand (within his own office, and with his constables about him) that our parole is at an end, that our ticket-of-leave is resigned, and that we are going away.
That we should all four do this simultaneously, in our respective police offices, appears, on full consideration, impossible: and O’Brien insists that I shall take this turn.
I propose another plan, by which we should get ourselves placed under arrest in one spot, and in circumstances that would make a rescue easy: but O’Brien and O’Doherty hold to the mode of procedure I have already described.
Some mischance had delayed the coach; and the hour came when O’Brien and St. Kevin must return to their respective “registered lodgings.” They left me, and I engaged a bed at the hotel for the night. Half an hour after they had gone, the coach drove up: it was dark: I stood in the hall, which was brightly lighted by a lamp. All the passengers left the coach, and walked into the hotel. Amongst others, a young man stepped down from the coach, and entered. He looked me full in the face, and I him. It was Smyth; but neither of us, after four years, knew the other. I listened, as he went to the office, and engaged a bed; yet I did not know his voice. He came out to get his portmanteau, and we passed each other again in the hall —
“It must be Smyth,” I said; “nobody else would be stopping short here, within ten miles of Hobart Town.”
So I followed him out, and went round after him to the outer side of the coach, where all was dark.
“Is your name Smyth?”
He turned upon me suddenly: clearly he thought it was a detective — thought that he had been traced all the way to the very spot where he was to meet us — that he was a prisoner, and all was over. I hastened to undeceive him, for he looked strongly tempted to shoot me, and bolt. “All right, Smyth: silence: follow me into the parlour.” So I strolled carelessly in. Presently he joined me, and the coach drove off. We spent the evening together in a private room.; and each had much to ask; but we deferred speaking particularly of his plans till we should meet the rest.
The next evening at O’Brien’s lodgings in New Norfolk, Smyth explained his instructions — to secure the escape of O’Brien and of me, or either of us, if both could not go — Smyth himself being ready and willing to take the principal share in all the risk of rescuing us by force, if force were needed. O’Brien’s “sentence” being for life, we both earnestly pressed on him that he should first avail himself of Smyth’s services. He entered fully into his reasons for declining — he had already had his chance, had made the attempt to escape from Maria Island — it had failed; and the expenses incurred by it had been defrayed by public money. This, he said, is your chance. Besides, you have stronger motives to betake yourself to America than I have; and you will be more at home there. It may be, he continued, that the British Government may find it, sometime or other, their best policy to set me free, without making submission to them: in that case, I return to Ireland: if I break away against their will, Ireland is barred against me for ever.
O’Brien, as his friends know, is immovable; therefore, we soon desisted from the vain attempt to shake his resolution: and I then declared that I would make the attempt, in the way he prescribed.
Yesterday, Smyth and I set out for Bothwell, I on horseback he in a sort of public conveyance; for there is a rough road up the valley of the Derwent as far as Hamilton, where the Clyde falls into it. Hamilton is a pretty, straggling village, with a good hotel a police-office, a jail of course, a church, a public pound, and about thirty grog-shops. Hence to Bothwell, the way lies through mere forest and wild hills. A saddle-horse was not to be had: so, Smyth was obliged to hire a small spring-cart, with a man to drive it, and I rode alongside. A pleasant journey of twenty miles through the summer woods; and here we are at Nant Cottage.
As we passed through the township of Bothwell, I turned aside from our direct course to ask for letters at the post office. Smyth, having discharged his conveyance, came with me on foot.
“Where is this formidable police office?” he said.
“Come and see: it is in the same building with the post office.”
As we approached, he narrowly reconnoitred the premises; and while I asked for letters at the window, he walked coolly into the police office, and into the magistrate’s room, surveyed that gentleman a moment, and his police clerk sitting at his desk — then crossed the hall, strolled into the chief-constable’s office; made reconnaissance of its exact situation, of the muskets ranged in their rack, of the hand-cuffs, and other instruments of convict coercion hanging on the wall — then came out; observed the watch-house opposite; the constables lazily walking about (one of them civilly holding my horse); the police-barrack on a little hill facing us, and the other features in the scene of future operations.
“I think,” he said, “three or four men, or at most half-a-dozen, with Colt’s revolvers, might sack the township, and carry off the police magistrate. A great man is Mr. Colt — one of the greatest minds in our country.”
The cottage is in a stir to-day. Smyth had been intimately acquainted with us in Dublin, and also with John Knox. Since then, he has been roving over Ireland, trying, like the rest, to kindle an insurrection that would not burn — then escaping by a Galway emigrant ship, in the guise of a frieze-coated peasant, to America — making off life by precarious methods in New York — editing a newspaper in Pittsburg — agitating, in the New York Sun, the Nicaragua railroad question, and striving to rile up the American mind against England thereupon; in short, discharging like Reilly, all the duties and functions of a true rebel and refugee. He is also, from of old, a close friend of Meagher, and gives us a pleasant account of all the actings and sayings of that ex-prisoner formerly of the Dog’s Head, Lake Sorel, but now of the Metropolitan Hotel, Broadway; how the gobemouches worried him; how the old Confederates shed tears of joy over him; how the priests scowled upon him; how the ladies smiled upon him; all which one can very well imagine.
Smyth is to stay with us two or three days, then proceed to other parts of the island, to consult our friends and make needful arrangements.
Already I begin to snuff the air of the upper world, and to see daylight through the opening gates of Hades.