November 18th, 1853 — Greytown. — To-day a small steamer came across the bay, about a mile from “Vanderbilt Town” — a town which seems to consist of one building and a wharf. At one trip it brought over all the New York passengers, and transferred them to the Prometheus. Then it returned to Greytown, and carried away those bound for New Orleans, who were to proceed thither by another steamer, moored close by the Prometheus. On this second steamer’s stem I read the word Pampero. An American gentleman was standing by me, and to him I said “Pampero! The name is familiar in my ear — was not this the ship that —“
“That carried the Argonauts,” he said, “who sailed to win the Golden Fleece of the Antilles, but found there a stormy Medea.”
“Yes; the days of heroic emprise are not yet ended for evermore. Gorgeous Tragedy can still sweep over the earth in sceptred pall, or unsceptred. Cuba may be as Colchis, and the thing which hath been is the thing which shall be. But who was that compatriot of yours — for I forget his name — who, being ordered to turn his back, and kneel down to be shot by Spanish soldiers, made answer that he would stand erect, and face his death ‘like an American?'”
“Crittenden — as brave a man as ever fell in a good cause. His blood, and the blood of his fifty comrades, will hardly sink into the earth under Atares Castle (you will see Atares Castle in three or four days), and bear no fruit. Even as your Greek tragedies generally went in trilogies. Até chasing Wrong, and slaughter breeding slaughter, so that gallant blood will fructify a hundred-fold ere the end come. Cuba is bound to come in.”
“After all,” I asked, “have the Americans a right to Cuba?”
“No; but the Cubans have a right to Cuba, even as the Irish have a right to Ireland; and Spain holds it against the right owners with a monstrous garrison, as England holds Ireland against you. Would a filibuster expedition of Americans to Ireland, to aid you and your friends in driving out the British, appear to you an act of piracy and robbery?”
“Oh, heaven! an apostleship — a mission of redemption and salvation. But in truth I read of that Cuba enterprise only in British newspapers, and during my bondage amongst Britons. A British atmosphere surrounded me, and it sorely refracted and deflected every ray that came to me from the outer world. All with whom I held converse were British colonists; and their mouths were full of cursing and bitterness against the American ‘pirates’; and they rejoiced over the defeat, and gloated over the garotte. Yet, I knew how Cuba was governed, and instinctively I felt, even there, that the cause of Lopez was righteous — that the blood shed at Atares was real martyr: — blood, of the sort which germinates.”
My Californian friend was silent a while, and then merely said — “We call at Havana, to take coal on board, within four days. You shall see a beauteous and stately city, destined to be the southern centre of American commerce, as New York is the northern.”
Evening. — All on board the Prometheus (Captain Churchill), but she does not lift anchor till to-morrow.
19th. — I have got some European news brought by the Prometheus — news hardly more than three weeks old at London and Paris. I approach nearer and nearer to the great centres of the world’s business, and begin to feel the beating of its heart. For nearly six years I have been shivering at the extremities, where-unto slender capillaries brought but trickling drops of life, where the systole and diastole could hardly be felt to throb; and where the old Earth “o’er the embers covered and cold,” borne in ships from far-off fires, has to warm her frosty fingers.
The above reflection is partly nonsense, yet not all nonsense. The pen of scribbling mortals running recklessly in chase of a metaphor, plunges, but too often, unwarily, into the quagmire of balderdash. For at the antipodes, also, and the Ultima Thule, life glows and passion bums. Wherever the heart of a man beats and his brain works, there is, to him, the centre of the universe. The world has no common pulse and circulation, neither do the extremities thereof borrow life from any metropolitan heart, or through any central grand-trunk aorta: for it is written, “The masses do indeed consist of units, and in every unit, a heart beating.” So, even in that shady Clyde-valley, which turns its back to the “Great Powers,” and slopes towards the Antarctic Circle — if there be a hundred men and women, there are a hundred worlds.
Nevertheless, I am glad to meet here so late intelligence from Europe — and what portentous and thundering news it is! —The Czar is up. His long-nursed designs on Turkey are, in his imperial opinion, ripe; and to protect the rights of the Greek Christians, and gain them access to their holy places on fair terms, his imperial majesty has moved his troops across the Sereth; they have occupied Moldavia and Wallachia, and are swarming on the Danube. Before those troops retire again, the nations will see a good time. Magnificent Czar! I bow to thee in grateful homage. After years of tranced sleep in darkness and cold obstruction, as I cross this isthmus threshold of the northern hemisphere, and the Old Atlantic dashes at my feet once more, thy bugle, O Czar! blown upon the Danube, comes to me like a morning salutation, and sounds the reveille to a dreaming earth. No more musical matin-song did ever Memnon (let alone the lark) sing to the rising sun.
Now for the protocols! Now, will couriers gallop, and telegraphic wires be taught their lesson. Not so much to keep the Czar out of Constantinople (though that were something), as to smother in its cradle this blessed war of the Lord, the devil will employ all his plenipotentiaries; he will send forth his diabolic diplomats to fly abroad over the whole earth, and, for a time, men will breathe an atmosphere of lies and fraud. For, assuredly the commercial powers of Europe will now put forth their very uttermost resources of diplomacy to confine this war, to hem it in, to draw a cordon around it, to let it bum itself out within a ring-fence, while the general interests of civilisation and commerce hold on the even tenor of their way. But there are good men on the earth who will have strength given unto them, as I trust, to baffle all the wiles and assaults of the devil. I have not heard yet where Kossuth is now — probably still in England. Louis Kossuth! He of the aquilme eye, and a nose (like behemoth’s) that pierceth through snares — how beats the more than imperial heart of the great ex-govemor now? Keenly and passionately that glowing eye must be darting over Europe and Asia, measuring the forces of kings, and taking note what signs of life show themselves in the people. He must see that this war — if the Czar have indeed resolved on war — must spread; that the tyrant of Hapsburg, who lies heavy on Hungary and Italy, must take part in it; that France and England will be goaded or dragged into it, though doubtless (at least on England’s part), after long delays and reluctant diplomatic wrigglings — for the British lion does not like now to come to the scratch, except with black savages or Burmese; that the Five Powers will be no longer an united “Pentarchy,” or happy family; and that so debt will grow, and immortal Bankruptcy, like Deus ex machinâ, will at last step forth and settle Europe. Governor Kossuth does not get much sleep these latter nights.
In garrets in London, Brussels, New York, this news must refresh many a weary exile. Blanc and Rollin, Cavaignac and Victor Hugo, Garibaldi and Avezzana — their names rise to my lips like a litany. And I see before me, in vision, Guiseppe Mazzini, with his lofty brow and pensive eye, shadowed by many a doleful memory, of the murdered Menotti, and the mangled Maroncelli, and the youthful brothers Bandiera betrayed to their death, and the Langelotti pining on the rocks of Caprea, and the noble struggle of those last of Romans in fatal ’48. “Italian Unity” may well, up to the present hour, bear its emblem, the cypress branch; but now Mazzini looks up again, with hope chastened by doubt and sorrow. O, triumvir! is this dawning hope also to fade in another evening shadow of despair? Is this to end but in another Ramiorno expedition? another Carbonaro conspiracy? another Bandiera treason? another Roman carnage? Mazzini knows not; but one thing he knows — if the neck of this foul European “peace” be once broken, the cypress branch of Young Italy will be reared again, and the resolute watchword, Ora e sempre shall ring along the Apennine.
I dwell to-night on the hopes and fears of these foreign lands, and am afraid to breathe the name of Ireland, or to write it down, even in my secret tablets, as the name of one of the nations that have a destiny to achieve, and wrongs (how matchless and how bitter!) to avenge. Yet, what is Italy to me? and what have I to do with Hungary? Does Ireland still live?
Will anything — will the trump of doom itself, awaken Ireland? Or can it be, that Ireland is indeed “improving and contented,” as the London papers say, glad to be rid of her noxious agitators; and now, as she breathes again, after the sore dispensation of the famine, is she indeed contrite and subdued under the chastening hand of Providence and England. I shall not know the very truth of all this till I arrive at New York, and almost I dread to hear the truth. For I know, that after five or six years’ brooding in bondage, lying down every night in stifled wrath and shame; rising up each morning with an imprecation — a returning exile is prone to exaggerate the importance of all this to the world, to his country, even to himself. How can I expect to find men in New York, though they be banished Irishmen, too; or in Ireland, though they be unhappy in not being banished — so full of these thoughts as I am? Six years, that have been ages and centuries of bitterness to me, have been to them six years of work and of common life. I know that, let exile be as long as it will, the returning wanderer is apt to take up his life again, as it were, at the very point where he quitted it, just as if the interval were a hasheesh dream, wherein men spend years, and lead weary lives in a second of time; or, as Mohammed was carried by the angel through the seven heavens, and beheld all the glory of them in the spilling of a water-vase, insomuch, that when his winged guide brought him back to earth again, he found the vessel he had overturned at his departure yet pouring forth its contents. That was a miracle; but though there was no change in the world while Mohammed tarried in the heavens, I fear there is change since I dwelt in Gehenna. The very nation that I knew in Ireland is broken and destroyed; and the place that knew it shall know it no more. To America has fled the half-starved remnant of it; and the phrase that I have heard of late, “a new Ireland in America,” conveys no meaning to my mind. Ireland without the Irish — The Irish out of Ireland — neither of these can be our country. Yet who can tell what the chances and changes of the blessed war may bring us? I believe in moral and spiritual electricity; I believe that a spark, caught at some happy moment, may give life to masses of comatose humanity; that dry bones, as in Ezekiel’s vision, may live; that out of the “exodus” of the Celts maybe born a Return of the Heracleidæ.
Czar, I bless thee. I kiss the hem of thy garment. I drink to thy health and longevity. Give us war in our time, O Lord!
19th. — We bid farewell to our New Orleans friends. We weigh anchor. Prometheus, for the Empire City; Pampero, for the Crescent City; and gladly we see the low, tropical jungle, with the wooden houses of Greytown (peopled by extortioners and vermin), and the swampy delta of the San Juan, receding from our stem. Nicaragua Smith has looked with almost a fatherly interest upon this isthmus of his affections, on whose future destinies he shed of old the radiance of the New York Sun. Since we landed at San Juan del Sur till we left Greystown, he has gazed curiously and keenly at whatsoever was visible, with a view to future American colonisation, so as to make it and its facilities of traffic a sure and inexpugnable possession of the American Republic for ever more.
This evening as we sat on deck and smoked, watching the low-lying coast vanishing behind us, we entered upon high discourse, touching the “destinies” of Central America. In Nicaragua’s opinion there are several other reasons besides the imperative need of mastering, owning, and securing against interference, the best route from Atlantic to Pacific, which make it expedient for the United States to exclude and deny all British interference here. In the first place, my excellent friend considers that the British, by setting up a drunken, diseased Sambo for king, and tr5dng to get United States ships to pay harbour dues to his mangy Majesty, mean a mock at Republican institutions; so, he would have the United States seize, without delay, upon the whole concern, king and kingdom; sell his Majesty to a sugar-planter, who would give him his proper work to do; and let England vindicate the cause of her ally as she could and dared. Moreover, said Nicaragua, the present disorderly and anarchical condition of that villainous kraal — pointing with his cigar to the marine metropolis of Mosquitia — is disgraceful and dangerous. Six or seven hundred Americans (men and women), once in the fortnight, brought here and delivered up to that gang of reprobates, abandoned of God and man! “Then,” he added, “consider their bad drinks (Nicaragua has become in five years a thorough American, and this grievance seems to sting him). On the whole, considering the British protectorate in Central America, and British insolence towards the United States in that matter, and adverting, moreover, to the poisonous liquors vended there, my politics,” said Nicaragua, “are fully described in that confession of faith announced once by a Missouri citizen, ‘I am again’ bad brandy, and for the next war.'”
21st. — We are coasting along the north-western shores of Cuba, and within five miles of the shore. It has a ridge of mountains not very high; between the hills and the shore rich plantations, bounteous in sugar and tobacco. Amongst our passengers there is much talk of Lopez, the Pampero, and the Isle of Pines. The prevailing sentiment on board, in regard to the fair Queen of the Antilles (as I collect the same), may be expressed in these words “She is bound to come in.”
22nd. — Shortly after daybreak, this morning we were under the Moro Castle, steaming into the narrow entrance which leads into the harbour of Havana. The towers and batteries of the Moro, were on our left bristling with guns; another battery on the right; the passage about a quarter of a mile wide: a place intimidating to the heart of filibustero. Clearly, Havana is no game for an excursion party of Louisiana sympathisers; but, if the Creoles be really as disaffected and oppressed as they are represented to be, a landing anywhere, under a bold leader would soon carry the country, leaving Havana to be last devoured.
A signal from the castle brought us to: a boat with officers of her Catholic Majesty boarded us, and, after some questions, left and the Prometheus passed on. Soon a noble city, appeared on our right, a wide basin opened before us, crowded with ships of all nations; the Prometheus proceeded to a kind of wharf on the southern side of the harbour, where she is to take in coals; and there we found another American ocean steamship, coaling for her voyage to Charleston.
My American friend pointed to a suburb on the shore of the bay, about two miles from us. “There,” he said, “is Atares. In the castle, which you see above, Crittenden and the fifty Americans were confined; and, on the open ground before it, they were shot as pirates. The balance is against us, but the account remains open.
Here we remain till to-morrow afternoon.
23rd. — Last night Nicaragua took the boys with him to the city, in company with two or three American gentlemen, and went to the famous theatre, where an opera troupe at present delights the faithful subjects of her Catholic Majesty; but soldiers were drawn up before the theatre; and soldiers marshalled the play-goers to their places. If there be disaffection in Havana against the government, it seems they are prepared to repress its manifestation in the theatre.
To-day I explored part of the city with Nicaragua and our sententious American friend. The streets are stately and clean, but narrow and sombre; the shops are cavernous, and the people have a quiet, and subdued aspect. Everywhere troops are on guard; and fine, soldierly-looking men they are. On the island are twenty-five thousand of them; and all from old Spain. “If the Cubans,” said our sententious friend, “are well-affected and well-off, as all Captain-Generals make it a rule to say — what is the use of these troops?”
“Why to meet your American filibusters on the shore.”
“And the British army in Ireland? Is that to meet a foreign invader, or to crush native rebellion?”
“What other proofs have you of disaffection among the Creoles? Does it show itself through the Press?”
“There is no Press, except a government Press, as in Ireland — and that is another proof of notorious disaffection.”
“And what else?”
“The disarming of the native population. Cuba and Ireland are the two islands of Arms Bills, the hunting-fields of gens d’armes, the paradises of informers and detectives.”
“Yet the Government shows no particular jealousy of strangers Here we are, all presumably Americans, possibly devotees of the ‘Lone Star,’ walking peacefully in the streets of Havana, and discussing the wrongs of Cuba.”
“Yes; but we did not come ashore without a Government permit. The Captain-General knows us, and has his hundred eyes upon us. Get you into a volante, drive round and through the city by all manner of circuitous routes, and a mounted officer will follow you all the way and take note of where you call.”
“But what are the substantial wrongs of Cuba?”
“A wealthy State Church, maintained for the comfort of Spanish clergymen; high taxes imposed on indispensable articles of import; the revenues of the island swallowed up by thousands of civil and military officials, who gather fortunes here, and spend them in Madrid; every honourable career barred against the Creoles and their sons, and contempt poured upon them by every younger son of every hungry hidalgo, who comes here to do them the honour of devouring their substance. What do you think of this?”
“My friend, it is another Ireland.”
“Except in the matter of patience and perseverance in starvation. There, the Irish are unmatched amongst the white inhabitants of the earth. No people will he down and die of hunger by myriads and millions, save only the natives of that gem of the sea.”
In reply, I could but bite my tongue.
— We went into several tobacconists’ stores. In every one they were making cigaritas. Then we strolled into Dominica’s elegant restaurant, with a small court inside, refreshed by a beautiful fountain. Passed on to the palace of the Captain-General, a very handsome and massive-looking house, near the quay. In front of it is a shady court, open on all sides to the streets. There I stood awhile, and looked up at the palace with horror and hatred, as at another Dublin Castle. Those two strongholds of hell! When will they be razed and swept away, and the places where they stand sown with salt!
We came on board again; and on getting into our boat at the quay, we perceived that the eyes of soldiers were upon us. This evening we passed again under the guns of the Moro; are entering the Gulf Stream, and have lost sight of the mountain diadem that crowns the Queen of the Antilles. Now for New York at last!
26th. — We have passed the coasts of Florida and Georgia, and are fast coming into cold weather; for it is already winter in the northern hemisphere, and our gallant ship is “stemming nightly to the pole.”
Almost of? Cape Hatteras. On our starboard beam, and at no very great distance, lie the Bermudas — islands of weeping, and cursing, and gnashing of teeth: my dismal dungeon for ten months. After circumnavigating the globe, looking in at three continents, surveying wide spaces of sea and land —
Ουρεα τε σκιοεντα θαλασσα τε ηχηεσσα —
I can fancy that I see the baleful cedar-groves blackening the eastern horizon. What change has come for the better, since I ruminated there, four years ago in my cell of pain? If I am to consider myself a “martyr” has my martyrdom done any service to my cause? — or the reverse? If I regard myself as a mere prisoner, fraudulently seized upon, and cruelly used, what chance have I ever for justice in my own person, to say nothing of justice for my country? Here I am now, with all dungeons behind me, and a wide world just opening before — that is to say, the time of irresponsible idleness and mid-summer nights’ dreams is past; the time for responsible action in broad day is upon me. Shall I do good or evil in my generation? Or would it be better that I had died amongst those black cedars there, and had been buried in that foul cemetery, where all the dust is dust of demons!
A gloomy question to press itself upon me now, just as I am about to tread the land of Washington! I am going to be a demigod for two or three weeks — so my American friends warn me, with many a prudent caution — going to have a reception, and dinners, and shall be material for paragraphs in the morning papers. If I were a fool, I would be happy.
Well, from the gobemouches, good Lord, deliver me! As for my cause, I know that it has been just and true — that it is now hopeless, would be treason to say. England, the enemy of the human race, will come down and sit in the dust like the Daughter of Babylon; the “interests of civilisation” in Europe will be dislocated; that is to say, the rogues are falling out; and then some of the honest folk may have their own. But on the whole, I say, “Magna est Veritas, et non prævalebit.”
29th. — This morning, the heights of Nevisink, then Sandy Hook, Staten Island, Long Island. We steam rapidly up the outer harbour. My wife and I walking on deck, enjoying and admiring the glee of some of our New York acquaintances on board, as the great ocean avenue to their native city opens before them, after years of absence in California. They eagerly point out every well-known feature in the vast bay; and ask us to admit that it is the most beautiful bay in the world. I answer that it is the most useful.
In truth, we can hardly speak, for now we pass the Narrows, leave Staten Island behind, and straight before us looms the dense mass of the mighty city, fringed on both sides with forest of masts that stretch away into the blue distance. Hardly less magnificent, the City of Brooklyn crowns its heights, and lines for miles the shores of Long Island with stately buildings. Williamsburg on this side; Jersey City on that — a constellation of cities! — a ganglion of human life!
We come up to the pier. My brother and Meagher step on board to welcome us — we go into a boat, which takes us to a steam-ferry; without entering the city at all, we pass straight over to Brooklyn, where my mother awaits our arrival; and here ends my Journal.