[This continuation was published in Mitchel’s Irish Citizen (New York) in 1869-70.]
THE NEW YORK RECEPTION
Nov. 29th, 1853 — New York. — I undertake to continue the Journal of my life, and to take it up on the day I laid it down — that is, the day of my arrival in New York for the first time. What were my impressions of this great new country; what has befallen me here since that day, nearly sixteen years ago; what I have done, or tried to do; whither I have travelled within the United States and out of them, what part I have essayed to take in public affairs and what has come of it — this, I am told, might possess a certain amount of interest for some readers. If so, they shall have it.
It is at the beginning of a hard winter that my little household finds itself established in a house of Brooklyn. It was Meagher who showed me the way to this house, and who introduced me to my mother.
After a little while arrives a carriage bringing the rest of the “crowd,” including Pat Smyth, my rescuer and faithful friend. We dine quietly. In the evening comes John Dillon, with his wife — two very dear friends; Dr. Antisell, whom I had never met before: Michael Doheny, erst of Tipperary; and others too numerous to mention. It grows dusk, it grows dark, and we are seated at tea, when the sound of distant music is heard. It approaches; it is rolling out “Garryowen.” My friends all smile; they know this city; and they presently tell me that I must get up and prepare to receive the greetings of my friends. To my very great amazement. Union Street is quickly filled up with ranked men, glittering bayonets and waving banners. Civic societies and military companies are here pell-mell, all coming to welcome me to a land of liberty— to make me feel good (as they say here) after my long captivity. Now this is very kind, very natural. We all rush to the front windows; pull out the sashes; throw the hall-door open; receive deputations; make speeches; review military companies defiling through the hall; shake hands with the innumerable good fellows, Irish and American; and at last, about eleven o’clock, see the last of the processions, and as the music of the last band dies away we go to supper.
This sort of thing went on for three or four nights; there seemed no end to the societies, clubs, companies, that made it a point to come and welcome me to their hospitable land. Now, it would be a most formidable body of piratical looking fellows with glittering axes — the ship carpenters, at your service, bearded and brawny. And as to their hand-shake, one had better shake hands with a vice. Then would follow several delegations from benevolent societies, with ribbons in their buttonholes; and multitudes of little speeches had to be made; nonsensical enough, to be sure; but reporters of the morning papers were at our elbows taking down every word.
Now all this was very absurd; but I do affirm that it was exceedingly pleasant. Remember, that I had been five or six years in the solitude of Antarctic woods, and in the outer darkness of the ocean. It was not in nature that I should not enjoy these first holidays of freedom; and, besides, all the proceedings I have spoken of had a large, broad, free-and-easy, devil-may-care sort of air, yet all so kindly, genial, cordial — here in this large street, thronged with armed men, sometimes cheering, sometimes singing, there was not once the faintest symptom of disorder, nor did I see a single policeman. It began to be apparent to me that here I had got into a very different sort of country from any of those which I had seen before. It was too soon to speculate on the matter; I could only enjoy myself in the new and fresh and human atmosphere.
Hard frost for weeks; with light falls of snow; intensely cold, by the thermometer, but dry, bright and pleasant. Before going over to New York proper, we explore Brooklyn, a very beautiful city of at least two hundred thousand people; most of them foreigners, as one can easily perceive. Great multitudes of the business people of New York have their dwellings here and there are long, clean, quiet streets, shaded on either side by trees; showing but small sign of life or activity during the day — nurses and children, mainly; but every evening, and far into the night, ringing with music and vocal with songs of all nations. There is a very large Irish population in Brooklyn; still larger German; and I find plenty of Danes, Norwegians, and other Scandinavians
Friends conduct me to the most elevated regions of the city, especially a place called Fort Greene, a hill which commands a most magnificent prospect over the two great cities; over Staten Island and New Jersey, as far as the first ranges of the Alleghenys, the navy-yard on East River; the “Palisades” on the Hudson, and the densely packed smoky mass of New York itself (which I have never yet visited) stretching, with its mighty fringe of masts, away to the horizon.
A few days after my arrival comes a deputation from the “City Councils” of Brooklyn to request my attendance at a solemn procession, in my honour, around the city, and a reception in the City Hall. I feel bound, in this truthful Journal, to record and acknowledge all the public compliments and attentions which were offered to me in those early days; and the more bound, seeing that compliment and flattery were soon enough changed to horrible abuse — through my own fault, of course. Carriages came to the door; the Mayor of Brooklyn, Mr. Lambert, a quiet and well-bred gentleman, took charge of me. Long, dense ranks of men, armed and uniformed, were on hand by way of escort; and amongst these I was specially desired to notice a very fine body of men in buckskin breeches, old-fashioned blue coats and mediaeval hats — the “Continentals.” When I came out, in charge of the Mayor, I was greatly cheered, took off my hat to the Continentals, and we proceeded on our way; but I must say I felt somewhat ashamed, puzzled, almost alarmed, by all this demonstration. What in the world can I do for all these good folks, I asked myself, in return for so much generous kindness?
Slowly, and in grand state, we proceeded through the handsome streets of Brooklyn. Beautiful women waved handkerchiefs from the windows; some threw bouquets into the carriage, which the polite Mayor picked up and handed to me with a smile. Good God! what is all this for? What are these people going to make of me? City Hall; a quite stately building of white marble, with a fine piece of ornamental ground in front. Pictures, speechifications; introduction to the City Authorities; painful hand-shaking, and then home, where the Mayor delivers me back safely into the bosom of my family.
Dillon — I asked that evening — what is the exact sense of all this? What value am I to give for it? To what does it bid or oblige me? He laughed. Never mind, he answered; you will be asked to do nothing: you are free as the wind, and so are we all: but peste! in a democratic country, people must make capital. They are heartily welcome.
At last I go over to New York, by a steam ferry-boat which looks like a piece of a street cut off, crowded with vehicles and waggons, and having in the “ladies’ saloon” at least three hundred persons. Another vast ship of this kind rushes in as we rush out; and on our voyage of five minutes we meet another one crowded with people. Yet this is only one of half a dozen ferries. We land in New York at the foot of Fulton Street, which will bring us straight up to Broadway. Just here, close on the water, is one of the great markets of the city, the Fulton Market, a thoroughly disgraceful and squalid mass of shanties, such as would not be allowed to call itself a market in any city of Europe one-fourth the size of New York. Nevertheless, I admit they can show good beef and mutton here, and great variety of exquisite tropical fruits, but at enormous prices.
Fulton Street, William Street, Broadway: nothing to be said about these thoroughfares: a great crush of vehicles, of course: great packing and unpacking of heavy bales and boxes at the doors of wholesale warehouses. At the Broadway intersection of Fulton Street is a brown church, excessively ugly (St. Paul’s). Close by that is the lofty and massive Astor House, all of granite; looking highly respectable. Nearly opposite, the City Hall — the only object I have seen in New York that I would call architectural.
And now, having come to this City Hall, let me have done with it: for here, also, I had to be paraded, by way of public reception, flags flying, military presenting arms: innumerable introductions and congratulations; the thing was “put through.” It was a nuisance, but it came to an end; and then the Municipal Authorities (I forget the Mayor’s name) brought me back to Brooklyn.
In the midst of all these public honours, we did not forget our friends who were left behind us in Van Diemen’s Land. Smyth was eager to undertake the rescue of Smith O’Brien, and felt sure he could effect it. The committee that had charge of certain funds for Irish revolutionary purposes, thought it could not appropriate a part of those funds more wisely than in furnishing Mr. Smyth with the means of achieving that enterprise on which he had set his heart, and which my own case had proved to be possible. In short, he was supplied with the needful resources, and left us for England, intending to go out openly to Australia, making no secret of his object. How the English Government defeated him by pardoning O’Brien and his comrades I shall have to tell hereafter.
At the moment of my arrival in New York the great Crimean War was breaking out. Great and mighty armies were in preparation in English ports, destined to execute sharp and summary justice on the Czar of Russia. The Czar had just been discovered (in England) to be a liar, a thief, and a cheat; and his shield as a Knight of the Garter had been broken to pieces in the Chapel of Windsor and swept out upon the dust-heap, as the escutcheon of a dishonoured Knight.
I thought that I could foresee a war which would not confine itself to the Black Sea and Baltic; and with this hope resolved to establish a political organ in New York, for the behoof of our multitudinous Irish population in the United States.
So was conceived, within two weeks after my arrival, the first issue of the Citizen.
December, 1853. — I am in New York: “When I was at home I was in a better place,” as our friend said in the Forest of Arden. New York excels all the cities of the earth, as well in other respects (cela va sans dire), as in respect of wooden posts and poles. Poles and posts stand up here before you at every turn; the barbers’ poles are enormous; like the “masts of some tall admiral.” The telegraph poles, crossed by short yards, give to some streets the aspect of a pine forest, somewhat blighted, but still umbrageous. Then I back New York against all the cities of the habitable globe for flag-staves. Paris, indeed, has plenty of little stems, or stalks, or rather pegs, to hang out the tricolour upon; but, God bless you! it is nothing to New York. On every hotel is a great mast; every newspaper office must have one as tall as the next newspaper office can afford to set up; the City Hall — a really handsome and perfectly respectable building — has about four masts. There are upon the streets at least forty thousand poles, sustaining awnings in front of the shops, or, as they choose to call them here, “stores”; on the whole, it is wonderful to let your mind dwell upon the illimitable forests primeval of this Continent, and on the havoc that must have been made in them to supply the poles and posts of this city!
I am bound to say, also, that I find it, in other and more important respects, a very grand and wondrous city. Consider this one fact: Since I arrived here, only a few days ago, a great many thousands of Irish men and women (about eleven thousand per week) have been emptied out of emigrant ships upon those quays. This is not counting Germans. Now what becomes of these people? They are not to be seen crowding the streets and making mobs; they do not organise themselves to rob houses and cut throats; in fact, they are not seen at all: the potent vital force of this mighty country somehow absorbs them at once; they permeate and percolate through the community, and find their place and find their work. They get railroad cars on the very evening of their arrival, and are whirled away to where loving friends are awaiting them on the banks of the Wabash, or hard by some bright lake of Michigan; or else they get immediate occupation in the city itself, where there is always a fine demand for broad shoulders and willing hands. This phenomenon is, on the whole, the most wonderful and admirable thing I have seen in New York.
After all, this “Journal” of mine is not, strictly speaking, a Journal at all; though, for convenience, it is occasionally dated. In truth and fact, it is written long after its ostensible dates; and, therefore, I may inform my reader that this city of Brooklyn, where I am now inditing, and which was a place of some two hundred thousand inhabitants when I first entered it, is now a vast city of four hundred thousand. The village, when I saw it first, had no supply of water; and we drew our water from pumps at the street comers. Now every house has its own bath-room, and its water pipes, warm and cold. Our poor infant Brooklyn had no theatre; now it has one of the most superb opera-houses in the universe.
Thieves entered our house, several evenings in succession, and carried away everything in the hall; that is, overcoats, hats, umbrellas. I bought a new overcoat, for the weather was cold; that same evening it was carried off. Somebody was watching at the street comer to ascertain when anybody got an5rthing new and worth taking. The worst of it was, all my friends only laughed; said that the new arrival and the excitement and the confusion gave a chance to the thieves, and that a man must live. Went to the City Hall; demanded to see the head police authority; asked him in a rage whether this was a civilised country? He replied, with a smile, that he guessed so. When I told him my indignant story, and expected to find him excited by it, he merely took a memorandum and bowed me out; but from that day no thieves came to my hall. My impression is — and sixteen years’ observation and experience has confirmed it — that police duty (with all the grumbling of these folks, and they do grumble dreadfully) is better and more thoroughly done than in any city of Ireland or England. This vast city here, at least six times the size of Dublin, a huge seaport, too, always swarming with ragamuffin sailors; an enormous depot, too, of destitute and bewildered immigrants, has not so many policemen as Dublin, to keep its peace. As for nocturnal violence, I have this testimony to give: For more than a year I have had constant occasion to pass at all hours of the night through the streets of New York and Brooklyn, and to cross the ferries — I never yet witnessed any disorder, assault, or as much as rudeness. Have heard of such things, indeed, or read of them in the newspapers; but, as a general rule, did not believe them.
News coming in every day, which to me is exciting. Russians have destroyed the Turkish fleet in the harbour of Sinope; Turkish fleet caught in a trap; its commander being an Englishman, one “Slade.” Will these Turks never leam the lesson of Navarino, nor any other lesson? But the combined fleets of the French and English (sweet allies!) are on their way into the Black Sea; and, of course, the Russian navy will have to go up the river to Nicolaief, where it will be perfectly safe. Meanwhile the English will open the Circassian slave-trade in white girls, which the Russians had stopped. Not only that, but cheap Manchester fabrics will be poured into the ports of the Black Sea in payment for those girls. I am in a hurry to establish my newspaper, that I may help to do justice upon these British philanthropists.
I have mentioned that I had a public reception at the New York City Hall. Small and commonplace speeches must, of course, be made on such occasions. In responding to the polite Mayor, I made it a point to mention that I accepted honours of this kind in America expressly as an insult to the British Government, inasmuch as nobody could pay public respect to me without an outrage to that concern. The Mayor hummed and hawed. Coming out, as we passed through the corridor, a friendly New York Journalist took me apart for a moment. Don’t, he said, don’t say that kind of thing; these people do not mean any affront to the British Government at all; they mean to pay you a passing tribute of respect; take it as it comes, and don’t push it too far.
Now my friend, the New York Journalist, was perfectly right. It may be true that I saw no value in these public compliments except in so far as they were a denial, a defiance, a contradiction, and a snub to the Enemy’s Government; but it is also true that I was not entitled to dwell upon this view of the case, and to thrust my construction in public down the throats of my hospitable entertainers. On this one point, let it be admitted that I made a slight blunder. But when I found how little was really meant by the complimentary demonstrations, I must confess that I took but very slender interest in them.
Great banquet in the Broadway Theatre! — and this is positively the last occasion I shall have to acknowledge hospitalities from the City of New York. The Broadway Theatre does not exist now — was pulled down — and its place is covered with marble and iron buildings. On that illustrious occasion the pit was floored; the great area covered with tables; the boxes illuminated with women; a very eminent gentleman of New York (whom I do not Choose to name) presided and did the honours; a highly distinguished journalist expressed his enthusiastic sentiments. It is enough: I hope that I understand the demonstration just as it was intended, and no more and no less.
FOUNDATION OF “THE CITIZEN”
December, 1853. — The Press of New York, hitherto quite unknown to me, I have been, of course, studying diligently every morning; it is the most obvious and available map, or plan, or picture, one can obtain of any new community one enters. After the advertisements you read the leading articles; then you go into the selection of news; and on the whole you obtain a sort of general idea of the sort of folks you have got amongst, and what they are doing or thinking of. It is imposable to deny the great ability of the New York Press, which must have been improving considerably since the voyage of Mr. Martin Chuzzlewit. The Tribune is indeed a very admirably written newspaper; but very abhorrent to me by reason of its philanthropy, human progress, and other balderdash. They were all considerably bewildered now on the subject of the new war in Europe, not very well assured what they ought to say about it. From the long continued habit of merely echoing British sentiment regarding all European affairs, these organs of American opinion are just parroting the British prate — about Russia being a great public malefactor that must be punished; that the grand Omnipotent (and especially moral) Powers of Western Europe are now going to execute justice upon the wretched criminal, and so forth.
In short, I find, on my arrival here, a very slender acquaintance with the Eastern question. Our worthy Americans have been too much absorbed by contemplation of the West, and they have forgotten the East. Nevertheless, there is an East, as they will find. In the meantime all the absurd English insolence about Russia is reproduced here in a most docile spirit every day.
January 7th, 1854. — First number of the Citizen. I had announced it as about to be conducted by John Mitchel, “assisted by Thomas Francis Meagher,” and my friend had entered eagerly into the project; but in fact, he was at that moment starting on a tour to California: and neither then nor at any subsequent time had I much service from his dashing pen. My assistants, in fact, were John M’Clenahan and John Savage, both Irish, and both with some experience on the Press, and no small literary capacity.
It was a hazardous or, perhaps, audacious enterprise to undertake a weekly newspaper, so soon after my arrival in the country. Would have been wiser, probably, to enter, in New York, my own profession of the law, as some of my exiled friends had done; attended to the private interests of clients, and let the grand interests of universal mankind take care of themselves. But, in short, the new European war, promising to be a much grander European war than it turned out afterwards, excited me; and I resolved to use such influence as I might possess with our multitudinous Irish population in America, in order to direct their sympathies at least aright, and perhaps prepare the way for some noble enterprise in Ireland, if this gracious war should open a way for it. So came forth the first number of the Citizen, with this prospectus, in which I spoke for Meagher and myself: —
“The principal conductors are, in the first place. Irishmen by birth. In the second place, they are men who have endured years of penal exile at the hands of the British Government, for endeavouring to overthrow the dominion of that Government in their native country. In the third place, they are refugees on American soil, and aspirants to the privileges of American citizenship.
The principles and conduct of their new Journal will be in accordance with their position, their memories, and their aspirations. They refuse to believe that, prostrate and broken as the Irish nation is now, the cause of Irish independence is utterly lost.
They refuse to admit that any improvement in the material condition of those Irishmen who have survived the miseries of the last seven years (if any improvements there be) satisfies the honour, or fulfils the destiny, of an ancient and noble nation.
They refuse to believe that Irishmen at home are so abject as to be ‘loyal’ to the Sovereign of Great Britain, or that Irishmen in America can endure the thought of accepting the defeat which has driven them from the land of their fathers, and made that beloved land an object of pity and contempt to the whole earth.
The movement of all the Western and Southern nations of Europe is towards Republicanism. After a few years of dismal ‘peace’ and ‘order’ — after lying like a corpse, motionless, breathless, from her last giant struggle — with the fetters of her tyrants weighing down her limbs, and their bayonets at her breast — Europe is again ripening fast for another bursting forth of the precious and deathless spirit of freedom. The dumb masses of English life — men voteless, landless, rightless, who labour for ever in mines and factories, who have no part in the government of their own land, no interest in the oppression of Ireland, in the plunder of Asia, or in the European balance of power — those masses, we apprehend, were not finally crushed into the earth on the loth of April, 1848, as some persons believe — they are finding voice and spirit again. Germany and Italy are not dead — Hungary is not even asleep. War already rages in Europe; other wars are threatening — that is to say, promising; and all over Europe and America there are eyes watching and hearts burning for the occasion to turn all diplomacy and war to good account for the cause of Republican Freedom. Mankind is once more becoming charged with the electricity of Revolution, and one of the poles of that battery we believe to be situated somewhere in or about New York.”
MITCHEL AND THE RUSSIAN MINISTER
In the early months of this year, 1854, as the mighty preparations were slowly going forward for the Russian war, I, of course, steadily addressed myself, in the Citizen, to the task of exposing the odious designs of England, about all that Eastern business, in which, indeed, the policy of England has been more base and homicidal than anywhere else in the world, except only in Ireland. The war hung fire for a long time; the parties were evidently tender of hurting one another very much — that is, in vital parts; and though the English naval forces in the Baltic and Gulf of Bothnia burned many fishing villages, tore up the nets, plundered the stores, ravished the women and sailed away; yet no progress was made towards St. Petersburg by way pf the Gulf of Finland and Cronstadt. There was a most magnificent British fleet in the Baltic, commanded by Napier, an officer who had served of old in the war of 1812, in Chesapeake Bay, under Cockburn, and who, therefore, understood the whole art and mystery of destroying defenceless villages and robbing hen-roosts. He had also, this terrible old Admiral, declared, on starting from the Downs, that he was bound for “Hell or Petersburg,” and had bought and shipped along with him a droschky, Russian waggon of that name, in which he announced his intention of driving through the streets of Czar Peter’s city. Nothing seemed to be going forward, of a serious nature, for many months; and I became impatient. Went to Washington, travelling through the great cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, to see the Russian Minister at this capitol, Baron Stockl. Found him residing in a house at a place called Georgetown Heights, and when he received my card he came instantly to greet me with much warmth. He was a subscriber, he said, to the Citizen, and a “constant reader”; yet the Baron surmised, not without some show of reason, that the part I took in the impending war, endeavouring to turn away the sympathies of America from the allies, and engage them on the side of Russia, was instigated by my abhorrence of England only; not by any particular love for Russia. I admitted the impeachment; but tried to make the Minister understood that I was the enemy of England, only because England (that is the English Empire, English Government, English thing, as Cobbett called it) is the enemy of the human race; and the most authentic agent and vicegerent of the Fiend upon the earth.
This theory being settled I pressed the Minister to another matter; told him that the Irish in Ireland and Irish in America were most eagerly awaiting some chance of striking England a mortal blow; that in their present state of disarmament at home and restriction in America (through the neutrality laws), they could do nothing; but that they would be most happy to strike a blow, make a diversion for Russia — and for themselves — if some material aid could be only furnished them to make a beginning.
The Baron listened attentively; spoke with kindly warmth of Ireland and her cause; politely admitted my title to speak for my fellow countrymen of the National cause, and seemed a good deal moved by my representations that England could be so easily and so fatally struck to the heart by way of Ireland. But, he said (pointing to a map of Europe), you see, with Russia as a basis of operations, how can we stretch a hand to you in Ireland? The Baltic Sea is blocked up; so is the Black. Against the two combined navies of France and England we cannot even hold command of those inland seas, but must lay up our ships in fortified ports. Money, the Minister said, would do you no service (and this I admitted), because to introduce war material and stores you would need a covering force.
After a long conversation, the Baron took a memorandum which he requested me to make out for him, and asked me to meet him in New York three days later, at the Metropolitan Hotel. I did so; nothing came of it. Baron Stockl had no doubt of the hearty disposition of the Irish to fight on the side of Russia, or anybody else, if it was only against England; no doubt, either about the tremendous and decisive element which diversion would introduce into the pending war; but he did not see his way into the practical method of using this great force; and, to tell the truth, neither did I. Ireland was disarmed, cowed, pretty well starved out; and though full then, and at all times, of the choicest fighting material, yet men do need arms; for, as Dean Swift says very forcibly, “Eleven men armed to the teeth will always defeat one man in his shirt.”
So ended my tentative effort to make the Crimean War available for our Irish purposes.
But now came on the battle with the Know-Nothings, a species of miscreants who came up about that time. I shall have much to say concerning these desperadoes.
THE KNOW-NOTHING AGITATION
February, 1854. — I was in these early months of 1854 that the native American mind began to take genuine alarm about the “foreign vote,” and the Pope of Rome, and the Jesuits, and the perilous influx of “ignorant foreigners.” They thought, naturally, that their institutions (which require, as we know, high cultivation for their proper use and development) would be corrupted and destroyed by this unlimited influx of illiterate outsiders, especially Papists; persons who had not been educated in our common schools.
It was, of course, the British Press that inaugurated this noble American crusade. We do not take the liberty here of forming any sort of opinion that the British Press does not give the signal for. I find, in a residence of two or three months in America, that although politically (for the present) independent, we are intellectually and morally most intensely provincial and colonial. It suits the policy of Great Britain, whilst the wholesome process of making Ireland uninhabitable to the Irish is going on, that other lands also be made, to say the least, uncomfortable to them. It is a race of people to be extirpated and abolished, or else British civilisation can never have fair play. So British literature and the British Press gave the word, hoisted the signal, and American literature and the American Press (the most servile on earth) opened in full cry. We would never, never give up American liberties to the Pope of Rome, the Jesuits, and the Dominicans of the Inquisition.
To come down from those high considerations — which, in truth, nobody ever thought of for one moment — the case was this: — One party, the Democrats, held power and enjoyed the emoluments of office too long; the Whigs, Federals, Massachusetts Protectionists, felt that they should have their turn — so they raised a cry. They thought it would answer at least for a campaign; and it really did answer, to an extent I had never expected, amongst the uneducated people of this most noble country, a class of people, indeed, which I find to be in very enormous proportion to the rest. No old story out of Fox’s “Book of Martyrs” was too monstrous to be dwelt upon by the orators of this grand Protestant movement. The old women of all the three sexes — masculine, feminine, and neuter — were to be frightened and irritated, and this was easy enough.
An apostate Italian priest, named Gavazzi, had come but lately to this country, and had gone round lecturing against the Pope and the Irish servant girls. Two Englishmen had undertaken the business of street preachers in New York and Brooklyn, and had caused many Sunday riots in both cities; for, our young firemen and other rowdies are willing enough to be amused on a Sunday, and will turn out, with their revolvers in good repair if they have a chance to fight the Pope or his emissaries. They are not going to stand (our rowdies are not) invasion and conquest of this free country by armies of Dominican Friars, who will stretch us on the rack while they hold crucifixes to our noses. Perish the thought! In short, the patriotic rowdies very generally went into this Know-Nothing business. One of the English street preachers who disturbed our Sundays was Folgar; another was Orr, a crazy fellow, who was called the “Angel Gabriel” — indeed the create wore this device upon his hat.
On the whole, I think it would be hard to point out in the history of any civilised (or demi-civilised) country so foolish, so filthy, so imbecile a movement as this of the Know-Nothings, and the “mystery of iniquity,” in the densely populated parts of the city chiefly inhabited by Irish Catholics; and these, though patient and good-humoured, could not always endure the outrage. Brick-bats appeared in the air; then it turned out that the congregation of the street-preachers had all come armed with revolvers, then bludgeons, fence rails, and the like, came into requisition; heads broken on the one side, pistol-wounds received on the other. Such was the result of the day’s exercises. But the worst part of the affair was that while the anti-Papist mania was raging, not the slightest attempt was anywhere made to throw the shield of legal protection over the people thus menaced. In September, the “Protestant Association,” of New York, went over to New Jersey, made a procession in Newark, made a riot, and attacked and wrecked the Catholic church of that town. One man was killed, many others were l5adly wounded. It all happened at noon-day; nobody was ever even charged with having a hand in it, to say nothing of being brought to justice. In fact, there was a great general consent to suppress all evidence. Commenting on which the Citizen said: —
“Newark, it seems, has no adequate police force to rely upon in such an emergency for prevention of outrage. But has Newark no magistrates. New Jersey no supreme court for its punishment? Out of an armed mob who sack a church in open noon-day not one has been arrested. A man is killed; a coroner’s jury sits upon his body; but the jury know nothing. There is, in fact, no evidence to incriminate anybody. Witnesses ‘saw a man’ pursue the deceased with a gun; saw ‘two persons’ following Pigeon; ‘men in the procession’ fired shots, but nobody can tell who the man, the men, or the persons may be. John Wilson, of Lodge No. 4, swears he was in the procession, and ‘did not see anyone molest the Catholic church nor know that there was any row.’ One Sears, a Wesleyan teacher, ‘saw a woman, with a rifle or pistol, going from the rear of the church — doubtless, the woman who lay in wait there to shoot the procession — but ‘will not swear that it was not a broomstick!'”
The appearance of the scene of the outrage is thus described:
“The Catholic church which was destroyed is a German church, and is in William Street. It presents a truly desolate appearance. The fences are shattered, the shrubs about the door crushed and broken; and, in the interior, the altar overturned, the sacred utensils and sacerdotal robes strewed around and trampled upon — the organ broken to pieces. The images, consisting of a costly Munich figure of the Madonna, and Crucifix corresponding, together with the pictures, altar-piece, and a splendid holy-water font, were also destroyed.”
However, it swept over the country like a storm, and had many riots in the cities, and gave rise to very shameful outrages upon peaceable people. Of course, the Irish Orangemen dwelling in this country attached themselves to the new party, although themselves proscribed by it; but they understood well enough that its blows would be aimed mainly against the Catholic Irish; and they were always ready for that kind of game. I say Irish Orangemen, not Irish Protestants; for it would be grossly unjust to charge the great body of Protestants, whether in Ireland or the United States, with any participation in that shameful conspiracy. Thousands of Englishmen also joined the Know-Nothing Lodges, and wealthy English merchants in several cities contributed largely to election expenses for candidates of this party. In truth, the whole affair was rather British than American. It arose here after the famous agitation in England against “Papal Aggression”; it carefully reproduced all English abuse and calumny against Catholics, and even a wrecked church or two, not to fall behind our Anglo-Saxon exemplars.
I may as well mention two or three characteristic incidents of this odious affair, and so wash my hands of the whole vile business. All the summer, in this year 1854, the excitement kept increasing; there were riots excited (most naturally and necessarily) by the foul-mouthed vociferations of street-preachers Englishmen all — against Jezabel.
As to the Protestant Associations which sprang up and became rampant at that period they had various names. One, I think, was the Columbia Lodge, another the Mount Vernon — for they took care to give themselves patriotic American titles.
Here is a card that was sent to me announcing a sort of religious or comic meeting, which duly came off as advertised: —
BIBLE PRESENTATION to Mount Vernon Lodge No. 14 A.P.A., at 18th Street M. E. Church (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), on Tuesday evening, September 19th, 1854.
The following eminent speakers have been engaged: Rev. J. S. Inskip, Rev. T. L. Cuyler, Nathan Nisbet, Esq.; also the following popular singers: S. Brouwer, Esq.; James G. Scott, Esq.; Miss Rayner, Miss Hendricks.
The Waldense Guard have accepted an invitation to be present.
The Mount Vernon Lodge and its backers, bible-readers and comic singers, met accordingly and had a good time. One of the speakers explained that the organisation had been got up by some faithful Irish Protestants who desired to see as good and true-blue a body of Orangemen here as at home (a great acquisition it would be to American society), glorified the Battle of the Boyne, the Siege of Derry, and the sacking of Newark Catholic church; and declared that, Republican as he was, rather than let Catholics bear rule in this Republic, he would have another King William in America.
Of course the Bible was presented and received. “We Won’t Give up the Bible” was sung with much spirit to the tune of “We Won’t go Home till Morning,” and then the faithful were regaled by a comic song.
So ended the “exercises.”
Far away in Maine, at a place called Ellsworth, a most horrible deed was perpetrated. A poor old priest, named Bapst, was seized upon by a furious mob, dragged out of the house of a friend, where he was staying, marched through the streets of this town of enlightened New England, beaten, stripped naked, robbed of his watch, and his money, coated with tar and feathers, “ridden on a rail,” and so expelled from the place almost a dead man. Nobody at all in that place seemed to have interfered, or so much as remonstrated. Apparently, they were all in it; and, in fact, the thing was done in pursuance of a resolution passed at a town meeting. For poor Father Bapst, like many other Catholic clergymen, had objected against the young people of his flock being forced in the common schools to bolt King James’s Bible. He had done more; he had appealed to the laws of the State to protect his young flock against that illegal imposition. So, on the 8th of July, a town meeting unanimously adopted the following preamble and resolution, offered by G. W. Maddox, Esq.: —
“Whereas we have good reason to believe that we are indebted to one John Bapst, S.J., Catholic Priest, for the luxury of the present lawsuit now enjoyed by the School Committee of Ellsworth; therefore,
Resolved — That should the same Bapst be found again upon Ellsworth soil, we manifest our gratitude for his kindly interference with our free schools, and attempts to banish the Bible therefrom, by procuring for him and trying on an entire suit of new clothes, such as cannot be found at the shops of any tailor, and that when thus apparelled, he be presented with a free ticket to leave Ellsworth upon the first railroad operation that may go into effect.”
It is a community which carries into practice that which it has professed, so the next time this poor old Father came to Ellsworth in the course of his missionary labours he was used as I have mentioned. The worst of all remains. An attempt was made to have seven of the assailants of the priest indicted before the grand jury of Hancock County, at Ellsworth; it failed, the bill was thrown out, nobody would know anything, witnesses all Know-Nothings; and, indeed, it is highly probable that several members of that grand jury had themselves helped to compose the mob.
Such things as these occurring from time to time were excessively exasperating, and, I confess, that my enthusiasm about my new country began to abate. Take another sample or two: — In the last days of May, a fugitive slave from the South was arrested in Boston, and held by the proper authorities, to be returned to his master. A riot, or, rather an insurrection, at once arose, and raged in the streets and around the court-house for some days. It was instigated notoriously by a clergyman and a few well-known political agitators, and its object, of course, was to resist the enforcement of the law. The United States Marshal called for troops in order to maintain the law and suppress rioters. Amongst the troops were two companies of Irish militia, and these at once became a special cause of horror and excitation to the Know-Nothing; and “Higher Law” rabble. They did their duty, however, kept the streets clear; saw the poor fugitive shipped off to his owner, I am happy to say no Irishman took any part in that riot except on the side of law. The Irish soldiers were not charged, then or afterwards, with having maltreated anyone, or having used the least violence more than was needful to execute their orders. One Irishman, named Batchelder, was one of the deputy-marshals on duty in the court-house; and the court-house doors were forced, and Batchelder was shot dead upon the stairs. So far the affair bore an Abolitionist, not a Know-Nothing aspect; but most Abolitionists were also Know-Nothings; and from that day the people of Boston were resolute to have revenge upon those Irish soldiers who had kept law and order in their streets and prevented the party of “Higher Law” from working its wicked will. In short, very soon after, public opinion compelled the Know-Nothing Governor of the State to disband and disarm all the Irish militia!
The very same thing was done in the State of Wisconsin; Irish military organisations were suppressed, without even the excuse that they had executed their orders in obedience to the law.
On the 4th of July, this year, at Framingham, in Massachusetts, by way of celebrating Independence Day, the population solemnly burned the Constitution of the United States; on the same day, or within one week, three Catholic Churches were wrecked in New England. Whether all this meant Know-Nothing or Abolition fury, it signifies little now to enquire and determine. The Irish were hated, both as Catholics who disliked common schools, and as law-abiding men who would not burn the Constitution, but, on the contrary, would turn out and enforce its provisions. Hard times those, for my poor countrymen in America! I confess that I often found myself in a rage. There seemed to be developing in this people a spirit of lawlessness and brigandage, and how long such a country might be tenable I had doubts.
In the meantime some invitations which I received from various cities of the South tempted me to escape a little while from New York and visit that horrible slave-driving country, where I had not yet my well-stocked plantation.1 The good Southerners it appears had admired my audacity in declaring for negro slavery, though I had not been conscious of any act of daring at all. So I had a warm invitation from the Mayor and Council of the famous city of Richmond in Virginia. They desired to feast me there. I made up my mind to quit the feverish atmosphere of New York and breathe the air of the mountain woods.
The Journal describes Mitchel’s visit to Virginia, and incidentally contains this reflection on Washington:
“No more respectable man than this George Washington ever rose to power or fame in any nation. Not a great genius, if you like, but there is something greater than genius: Stainless good faith, inflexible justice, a modesty and moderation which in such a position as his was sublime; a large and generous patriotism; a brave calm soul that could steadily review the perils which must beset the new country, and, seeing them, warned his countrymen against them: pray God they may heed him. At anyrate I take off my hat reverently before the trees of Mount Vernon.”
It resumes: —
THE RELEASE OF SMITH O’BRIEN
June 3rd, 1854. — Returned to Brooklyn, and to my work on the Citizen. The news coming in from Europe twice or thrice a week is provoking. All the efforts of England and France are directed to the great end of confining and hemming in the war against Russia far away in the East, on the mouths of the Danube and within the sealed orifices of the Black and Baltic Seas; and even there to make it as small and tame a war as possible. In fact, although great allied fleets are occupying these two seas, the only service they have yet done is re-opening the slave trade in white girls from the Caucasus; a trade which the Russians had wholly stopped to the great injury of Moslem Zenanas. And, although large armies have long since arrived in Turkey, they have lain quite idle, while the Turkish army alone, under Omar Pasha, has bravely fought the Russians at every step of their advance towards the Danube. It will not, I fear, be a general European war this time; and as Russia, too, evidently can do nothing towards aiding our Irish insurrection, I have lost my interest in that war, save the general interest I feel in anything which may lead to the discomfiture and humiliation of England on any land or water.
It gives pleasure, also, to the well-regulated mind to perceive that public opinion in the United States is fast coming round to the Russian side. But this, after all, is but a speculative, contingent and conditional public opinion, conditional upon success; and why should it be otherwise? Americans have nothing at stake in the matter. One cannot see that they need care whether Russia succeeds in taking possession of Constantinople this time, or has to wait till the next time the Eastern question comes up. No matter; the cause of the allies is somewhat at a discount here; the high moral professions of England in undertaking this war begin to be understood: and this is my business. While I can hold a pen, it must forever be my most sacred duty to expose and turn inside out the hateful cant of that diabolical Power.
It has been mentioned that immediately after our arrival here our friend, Pat. J. Smyth, set forth on a new expedition to Van Diemen’s Land for the purpose of procuring the escape of Smith O’Brien. His experience in this kind of service had proved that it was practicable; and he knew that O’Brien would, on the next occasion, willingly adopt the same course which had been found effectual before; namely, surrender himself in the Police-office, withdrawing his parole by that act; and then suffering himself to be rescued and carried off. Money was supplied to Smyth for the needful expenses of the enterprise by the committee in New York which had charge of an Irish Revolutionary fund. He started first by way of Ireland and England, designing to take passage in one of the great Australian steamships from thence. It seems he took no trouble to conceal his mission; which, in fact, became known immediately to the enemy’s Government; and he had not long started on his voyage when Lord Palmerston announced in Parliament that Her Majesty was about to “pardon” Mr. Smith O’Brien. This announcement was made about the 1st of March last (1854), and the moment it appeared on this side of the Atlantic it was evident to those who understood the tricks of the English Government that a cheat was meant. The old Minister, with the air of frank bonhomie, which no rogue knew better how to assume, first praised Mr. O’Brien for having “acted as a gentleman” in observing his parole (as if his comrades had not done the same), stated that he (O’Brien) was now to be “permitted to apply for the means” of gaining his pardon and his liberty — that is to say, would get a pardon if he would beg for a pardon by written petition; such being the routine in such cases. But Lord Palmerston knew that Mr. O’Brien would never beg a pardon, and that therefore this gracious clemency would do him no good.
The motif of the cheat was also plain enough: first, it was believed highly probable that P. J. Smyth would accomplish his purpose to carry Mr. O’Brien to the United States; and next, the Government found it very hard just then to procure recruits for the army in Ireland. That service was becoming extremely odious there, and I am happy to say has been growing more and more hateful ever since. It was known that the liberation of O’Brien — or even the treacherous promise of his liberation — would be received as a great “boon” by our too warm-hearted and credulous people, and might make the work of recruiting sergeants easier. In fact, so much at a loss was the enemy for men at that moment that English agents were even commissioned to recruit American citizens in the United States, in breach of American laws; an attempt which was promptly checked, though not punished in so condign a manner as it ought to have been. In short, the Ministers, to “make capital” in Ireland for recruiting purposes, determined to talk of pardoning O’Brien, but not to do it if they could find any excuse. Remark, too, that this preliminary announcement of Lord Palmerston said not one word about John Martin and Kevin O’Doherty, who were O’Brien’s comrades, held as prisoners under the same conditions with him, and who had been prisoners to their own word only, as well as he; but with this difference, that whereas he had been only two years a prisoner on parole, they had both been four years in this situation. It is scarcely worth while to point out, in the case of a person like Lord Palmerston, that the reason assigned for liberating O’Brien — namely, that he had acted as a gentleman in keeping his parole — was therefore an untruth. The others had done so just twice as long, and there was no hint of pardoning them at all.
In the meantime liberator Smyth was doubling the Cape, and tearing through the Indian Ocean, with a very deliberate head and a very resolute heart. He had scarcely arrived at Melbourne, when he was overtaken by the Parliamentary report containing Palmerston’s announcement; and although he probably understood very well that it was intended as a fraud, yet it stayed his operation for a while. Mr. O’Brien never believed that the Government would really require of him to beg for pardon like a real convict, and was willing to abide the issue of this noble “clemency.” Smyth waited.
He waited for months, having a very shrewd suspicion that the “Government” would so offer their pardon that it could not be accepted, and that his own agency would have to come in at last. In fact, there was unaccountable delay. In Ireland people could make nothing of it. Mr. O’Brien’s family prepared to meet him on the Continent, for he was not to be permitted to set foot on Irish ground; but still he came not. He, on his side, together with Martin and O’Doherty, had been told they were to be pardoned, and made ready to sail; but were coldly informed by the local Government that there was no pardon for them yet. In fact, every steamer brought out fresh instructions; and our noble “Government” was puzzled. It went to their hearts to release these gentlemen without some word or sign of contrition; and this it was well known could not be accorded. The public feeling in Ireland was a good deal excited by the delay; one cause of this excitement being the exposure made by the New York Citizen of the treacherous scheme of the Minister to attract Irish recruits under a false pretence. In fact it was feared that not much progress could be made in conciliating the Irish, unless these prisoners should be actually and freely released without conditions or formalities. So the final instructions were at length despatched — to let those three gentlemen go. This was in July. At once there were demonstrations of respect and good-will towards the late prisoners on the part of the colonists of all nationalities. When they arrived at Launceston, on their way to Melbourne, the inhabitants presented them with an address and offered them a banquet, which they declined. On arrival, however, at the great city of Melbourne, the enthusiastic desire to greet them and welcome them back to freedom could not be resisted, and a grand banquet was organised.
Truly it might be supposed that the British Government had its appetite for political prisoners spoiled by this time. They do not agree with its constitution. O’Brien and his friends took care not to leave their penal colonies even, without showing plainly in what spirit they receive the gracious clemency of their Queen. At this great Melbourne feast, Mr. O’Brien, on the first public occasion he is allowed, even before he quits the British Colonies, and while yet under the shadow of the Union Jack, reasserts the principles and vindicates the cause that inspired him to contend for the liberties and the lives of his countrymen, in the Senate, “and if needful in the field.” He repels the mean attempt (base and false as he knows it to be) to conciliate his good humour, and at least purchase his silence by praising him at the expense of his comrades. He gives the coward, Palmerston, the lie direct. He scorns the idea of solicitation for anything — to the mortal enemies of his oppressed country.
In especial he rejects and repudiates all complimentary allusions of the minister to himself; and sets down his heel upon that hateful calumny — that Meagher, MacManus and this present writer, had broken our parole in leaving the island of bondage. Certainly not much was gained by the British Government in the whole affair of these “traitors” of ’48; yet still we see that there is a craving to chain up the hands that write, and gag the mouths that speak, of Ireland’s right against England’s wrong.
THE VIRGINIAN ADDRESS
June 24th. — I am on my way to Virginia in fulfilment of my promise to make an oration at the University Commencement. Received at the station by the presidents of the literary societies, and by old Doctor Gessner Harrison, President of the Board of Professors, to whose house I am at once conducted. The Annual Commencement here is always a kind of fete; the parents and friends of the students generally assemble in this holiday season to witness the ceremonies and to accompany their young friends to their homes: and as the University is quite thriving this year, with four hundred students and more, there is a large concourse of fashionable folk in Charlottesville and its neighbourhood. The weather is lovely, and the country in Albemarle County blooming like some great pleasure-ground; but the old pasture fields are blushing with the wild red strawberries which are especially fine and abundant in Virginia.
The day came, the 28th. Entering the stately Rotunda, under its colonnade of Corinthian pillars, and passing through a large octagonal hall, we enter the new and handsome building in the rear. Its benches are already crowded, mostly with ladies in bright summer costumes; the atmosphere is perfumed by a hundred bouquets and cooled by the fluttering of five hundred fans. At the upper end is a handsome carpeted platform, already occupied by professors, by State examiners, and other notabilities. At the other end is a gallery accommodating a fine band, brought especially from Baltimore, which makes some music in the intervals of the business.
Classes are called up; the names of students entitled to degrees are announced, and the students come up, one by one, to receive their due documents, sometimes accompanied by words of special praise and honour, which make the youths blush, but call forth a murmur of applause, and the general clapping of little gloved hands.
And this, then, is an University commencement. How different from those! I remember once, of a certain wintry morning — it was the Easter Commencement at Trinity College — where, in one of the great blank quadrangles, about a hundred and fifty students, in funereal black gowns, were clustered in front of a great, dismal, iron-grated entrance, in the portico of the “theatre.” Presently a procession of Fellows, also in trailing black robes, passed slowly through us, with their eyes on the ground; the iron gates were solemnly flung open, and all entered the noble hall, yet dim with the mist of night and cold as the nave of St. Patrick’s. When all were seated according to their classes, the grim Fellows went around slowly, administering certain oaths in Latin, in a low voice, and with a demeanour perfectly stony. That was all; it was all over in an hour, and we were directed to call at the porter’s lodge for the parchment testimonium of our degrees. We came out with a feeling of depression, and shivering with mere cold. No gala gathering of friends there — no music, no flowers nor fans, nor bright eyes raining influence!
Which is the better system — the Dublin or the Charlottesville one? I mean better in an academic point of view; for which is the pleasanter no one need doubt. Well, the degrees are awarded, and an address made by the President. After some music from the band my time came, and I was nervous, for I saw very well my audience was a critical one — some of the foremost Virginians were upon that platform — and I knew that I was going to shock some of the current and accepted opinions of our times. The address was on “Progress in the Nineteenth Century,” and the drift of it was to show that there is no progress at all; that is, making men wiser, happier, or better than they were thirty centuries ago; but admitting, also, that they are no worse, no more foolish, no more wretched than they were at that period and ever since. Of course, gas, steam, printing press, upholstering, and magnetic telegraphs could not be denied; but they were put aside as altogether irrelevant to the inquiry. I could see that those around, how courteously soever they listened, and even sometimes applauded, did not in their own hearts assent to my conclusions. That over, and more than due applause given, two or three representative students, who had just graduated, delivered very eloquent speeches. Then, after music, and more music, the assembly began to break up. There were introductions and polite greetings, next — after some walking in the grounds — a quiet dinner at Dr. Harrison’s where I had the pleasure of meeting two or three of the professors.
Next day but one I determined to proceed homeward by a road new to me; in short to cross the Blue Ridge by a railway to Staunton, and thence go down the valley of the Shenandoah, by Winchester to Harper’s Ferry. Four of the students whose home lay beyond the mountains were to start with me. First, however, I had to pass another day at the University, and spent the evening at the house of one of the professors, where I met old Andrew Stevenson, former Minister to London, who once took it into his head to challenge O’Connell. O’Connell was not at that time a fighting man, but one of his sons offered himself as a substitute; a proposal which was declined. Mr. Stevenson is a very loquacious old gentleman; talks well, but too much [he has died since].
This visit to the Virginia University has been to me a very great pleasure as well as a high honour. The weather has been charming, the people all kind. It forms a bright picture which I hang up in the chambers of my memory, framed with gold and wreathed with flowers. After some friendly farewells we are off, my four companions and myself, and it happened that one of these students was named Grattan, Irish by descent; and he had actually the thin aquiline nose, the eye and the jaw of the other Grattan whom you wot of. He said his father’s people were of that family, but how near of kin he knew not.2
We soon get among the hills, the radices of the Blue Ridge, which we have to cross by Rockfish gap, a depression in the range where it is not more than 1,500 feet above the sea. I snuff with delight the keen air of the forest-covered hills, laden with the odours of tannin and terebinth.
IRISH ORGANISATIONS IN AMERICA
August, 1854. — Again at work upon the Citizen in New York. Of course this journal was not undertaken without certain definite purposes. One purpose was to advocate and maintain the full rights of Irish adopted citizens to all the privileges and powers which purport to be conferred upon them by the Act of Naturalisation; and here we are met by this new and violent outbreak of Native-Americanism, whose aim is avowedly to deprive them of those powers and privileges both as foreigners and as Catholics. Another of our purposes was to make clear and plain to naturalised Irishmen themselves what their rights are as American citizens, and what they may lawfully and conscientiously do in the direction of liberating their native country from British dominion — a dear and cherished aspiration with them in the past, as it must be in the future; and here also we were met by a very general discouragement and apathy, resulting from the many futile associations which have existed here since 1848 — revolutionary societies for Ireland, under various successive names — most of them appealing for subscriptions in money, as if some immediate or early attack were in contemplation upon the British power. The money subscriptions had all been lost, squandered, sometimes stolen, by persons purporting to be treasurers and secretaries, and it soon became evident that the vast mass of our people here were shy of such organisations, although as zealous as ever to give of their substance and of their blood in the good cause of Ireland, if only they could see their way. Many of these were tired and disgusted by the mere delay — continual payments of money to one society or another, and nothing done or begun. For our people are enthusiastic, fiery, impatient, eager for quick results, and willingly lend an ear to sanguine promises. They saw there was on this Continent a mighty Irish power; they knew that one hundred thousand Irishmen would joyfully spring to arms if they could but get within reach of the tyrants who oppressed their kinsmen at home; and now, instead of seeing any chance of getting across the Atlantic with arms in their hands, what they did see was an enormous migration, or rather flight, of their friends and kindred across the same Atlantic — but the wrong way. On the quays of New York, in the year 1854, many as thirty thousand Irish were landed within one month, so sweeping was the effect of the British policy of extirpation.
It has been mentioned that shortly after my arrival in this country I had joined one of these revolutionary societies. The men who formed it meant well. Many of them were devoted and self-sacrificing, and would have certainly hailed and welcomed a chance of trying conclusions with the enemy, in arms, upon Irish ground. But this organisation soon broke up. It did not collect nor ask for subscriptions in money; and, therefore, as nobody was enabled to “make a living” by it, and as the same fatal impossibility of action was too obvious here again, men became lukewarm. For my own part, when I saw that the war with Russia was going to be confined to the East — that Russia herself, as the Russian Minister explained to me, could not help us at all, and that France was in fast alliance with our enemy, I knew that no opportunity for Ireland would arise this year, and, therefore, quietly withdrew from the organisation. Too plain that a better opportunity must be waited for.
Another and more general purpose of the Citizen was to lay before our Irish-Americans, from week to week, the true nature of British policy in Europe, in America, and in Ireland, and to refute and expose the treacherous representations of all these things which were constantly put forward by the English Press, and too often adopted upon trust by that of the United States. If nothing decisive could just yet be done, still a clear understanding of that atrocious British policy, in its minutest details, would prepare the minds and hearts of our people to act the more zealously when the day of action came.
THE CONTROVERSY WITH ARCHBISHOP HUGHES
A great controversy existed that year concerning the temporal sovereignty of the Pope, who had lately been reinstated in his dominions by French arms. Now, the conductors of the Citizen were Democrats, chiefly with a view to the destinies of Ireland, because it was plain that the British dominion once overthrown, there was nothing possible for Ireland, except a Republic, which might, as in France, take the form of a military monarchy, and perhaps with much advantage. At anyrate, the Citizen had loudly affirmed the right of the people to abolish its existing government and to substitute another; and agreed that if the people of the Roman States were dissatisfied with their form of government, they had the same right which other people had to change it — peaceably if they could, violently if they must.
I have since had reason to think that we had been considerably misled by English “Liberal,” French, and American representatives as to the feelings of the Roman people; and it was not they who were eager for revolution, but the Mazzinis, Garibaldis, and Gavazzis, and the grasping power of Sardinia, that were moving hell and earth to abolish the Papacy, both spiritual and civil. It gives me pleasure now that during all that year of editing upon the Citizen I never spoke of those Italian agitators save with abhorrence and contempt; and if once, in the former part of my Journal (Jail Journal), I alluded to them with something like respect, it was in ignorance of their actual doings during the five years of my imprisonment at the world’s end.
However, the doctrine of the Citizen, that the Romans had a right to change the government of Rome, scandalised a great many of the Catholic clergy of the United States, and Archbishop Hughes came out and scathed us in the newspapers. I am not patient of ecclesiastical censure; and replied, perhaps too bitterly; and more than once. It was an unfortunate controversy for me, and for the purposes and objects of the Citizen, inasmuch as most of the readers of that paper, those indeed to whom it was mainly addressed, were just the flocks of this very prelate and of the rest of the Catholic clergy. Independently, however, of the effect of the dispute upon the fortunes of the Citizen, I do admit, now, after fifteen years that I would if I could erase from the page and from all men’s memory, about three-fourths of what I then wrote and published to the address of Archbishop Hughes. This I say not by way of atonement to his memory — for he deserved harsh usage and could stand it and repay it — but by way of justice to myself only.
It is flagrant summer weather; more intense heat here in New York than I have ever experienced in any other country, even in the Tropics. In Tahiti, in Cuba, I have never seen the thermometer stand higher than 87 in the shade. Here 97 is common enough and 92 Fahrenheit a very usual summer heat. We cast about for some place at the seaside, and there is no great city in the world having so many and so beautiful sea-bathing retreats within easy reach. Generally, however, these places are occupied by vast hotels or public boarding-houses, where people live in crowds, as New Yorkers delight to live, and where the main occupation of the women is dressing, that of the men lounging, smoking with their heels on a balcony rail, with occasionally a boating or fishing party. There are nowhere hereabouts quiet cottages by the seaside which you can rent for the season, where you can live as at home and wear what you please — such as I remember at Warrenpoint and Newcastle and Bundoran. At last we selected a place in Connecticut called Stonington; whereto Mr. Dillon’s family and our own betook ourselves, taking passage in an enormous steam-vessel, quite as huge as any line-of-battle ship, two or three of which rush every evening through the “East River” and Long Island Sound, bound to various points in Connecticut and Rhode Island, making connection with lines of railway to Boston.
This Stonington is situated on a narrow strip of land running out southwards into the sea; there are several quiet streets of private houses all built of wood and painted white; the streets shaded as usual by trees. It is a place of intensely puritanical aspect, and anything more dreary than a Sunday in Stonington (Sabbath they call it) cannot well be conceived. People go with a grim and mortified aspect to their various conventicles; march back again to their houses, where every window-blind is strictly closed. No creature is on the streets; nobody looks out of any window. They never issue out for a ramble or for a drive on Sunday evening; and I believe that if a piano were heard in one of those wooden houses rattling out “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” or if there were a sound of dancing feet, the inhabitants would be in as great commotion as they were when a British fleet opened its broadsides. For Stonington has its place in history; and its boast is that a British squadron did actually bombard it in August, 1814, and that although several houses were knocked to pieces nobody was hurt. They had also traditions here that some stout-hearted Stonington people did respond to the English broadsides by certain shots from two or three old cannon they had, and, even, that one shot did strike an English ship in the hull. At all events, the English having done all the mischief they could, made no landing but hauled off. It was only one of many similar brutalities perpetrated upon unprotected coast towns and villages by the British in that last war; and the families along Chesapeake Bay will long remember, and hand down in tradition, the black story of men-of-war’s boats, crowded with armed ruffians who came up and robbed their storehouses and winecellars, carried off chickens, stole their negroes, insulted the women, burned the houses, and sailed away. No people on earth is so perfect in that species of warfare as our Anglo-Saxon brethren; a fact which the desolated Finland villages, harried in the late Russian war, can attest. Stonington, however, on the occasion in question, made so stout a show of resistance that the British hearts of oak thought it would not pay to come ashore.
“ANGLO-SAXONISM” IN NEW YORK
New York, 1854. — The English and French armies having, after long delay, at last ventured on an invasion of the Crimea, and beaten an opposing force on the Alma River — what is this we read in vast capital letters on all street comers? — “Fall of Sebastopol!” Irresistible English and French armies have marched straight upon the city and its fortifications; the city is taken; all the great line of fortifications, together with the Russian fleet, destroyed; Russian army annihilated. Prince Menschikoff a prisoner, and the war ended in a rapture of triumph! For all this, to be sure, there was not even the slightest shadow of foundation. It was, on the very face of it, a wild canard, intended to operate upon the money market; yet the startling story rung over the whole earth. The American newspapers, finding that the English ones pretended to believe in that grand event, did themselves most implicitly believe it, commented on it with much Anglo-Saxon complacency, and caused stocks to rise and fall in Wall Street. Nothing has ever caused in London such a paroxysm of idiotic joy. Great meeting at once, with Lord Mayor to preside.
“First of all,” cried his lordship, “I call for three cheers for the Queen!”
“The Czar Nicholas,” said the London Times, “has fallen from his high estate, his armies are scattered to the wind, his ships seized or sunk, his forts and arsenals blown about his ears!” Here is the rapture of the London Daily News — reproduced here in every newspaper: —
“Let the reader fancy to himself the roaring and reverberation of all this artillery in a space of three miles long. Let him fancy in addition, the thundering broadsides from the allied fleets off the mouth of the harbour. Let him add to this the noise and clamour of the assault and defence of the North Fort on the heights immediately behind the Double Battery; and, after its fall, of the artillery, Minie rifles, and platoon firing of the allied troops. To all this let him again add the noise of explosions, now of a fort, now of a man-of-war. Let him conceive the hollow of the harbour thus filled with smoke and flame, resounding with the deep roar of artillery and the pattering of firearms, the solid earth shaking with the reverberation of the rent and tormented atmosphere. And, last of all, let him imagine, in the midst of this artificial volcanic eruption, masses of human beings interchanging sabre blows and bayonet thrusts, closing in death-grapples, panting with exhaustion, fevered with quenchless thirst, writhing in mortal agony. Of the Russians, eighteen thousand are said to have been killed in this man-made hell. How many of the allies have fallen is still unknown.”
In fact, for a few days New York was very much inclined to vote itself an Anglo-Saxon city, for our worthy people here do shift and veer somewhat in their ethnological affiliations, and although as a general rule, Anglo-Saxon enough, yet they become more intensely British in sympathy — feel, as it were, the Saxon fibres throbbing more strongly whenever our transatlantic brethren have some mighty success. Of all the newspapers in the United States, the Citizen was the only one which instantly pointed out the necessary and obvious falsehood of this monstrous canard. In truth, I do always take a saturnine pleasure in ripping up any bag of gas and letting its contents escape into the atmosphere. But nobody minded me for three or four days; everyone was dancing an insane war-dance. However, four days after the grand news came another steamer — the sublime drama of the “Fall of Sebastopol” had vanished. Not only had Sebastopol not fallen, but it was manifest that Prince Menschikoff did not apprehend anything of the sort. The city holds a Russian army, another Russian army is outside, and it is clear that the English and French allies must prepare to winter in the mud. Still there is not the least sign of this gracious war spreading over Europe, and I lose all interest in a petty little siege in Crim Tartary.
NEW YORK AND THE IRISH POLITICAL PRISONERS
October 25th. — At last we have certain news of the release of Mr. Smith O’Brien and his comrades from their imprisonment. I have received a letter from John Martin, dated Paris, October 3rd. Here is one extract: —
“I left Melbourne, in company with O’Brien, in the steamer Norma, on the 26th July. Contrary to the anticipations of both O’Brien and myself, the ‘pardon’ was not attended by any conditions whatever. We had nothing to do, except on the appearance of the notice in the Gazette, go away at our pleasure. No forms to sign, no applications to make — nothing whatever to do in the matter. You are probably aware that the ‘pardons’ themselves did not reach the Tasmanian Government until five or six weeks after the news of the announcement by the British Minister in the British Parliament.”
So after Lord Palmerston’s announcement — (“It is the intention of her Majesty’s Government to advise the Crown to extend to Mr. Smith O’Brien an act of clemency, and to allow him to apply for the means of placing himself at liberty”) — after that announcement, some six weeks after, her Majesty’s Government changed its mind, and let Mr. O’Brien and his friends go free without applying for the means, etc.
It seems, also, that this was contrary to the anticipations of the exiles themselves, who were acquainted with the usual routine, and were, of course, resolved never to comply with it.
The whole truth of this matter is that Lord Palmerston, an excessively cunning old intriguer, had intended to make our friends an illusory offer of pardon, and, on their refusing it (with the conditions) had intended to turn his candid countenance to all mankind and say — “Behold! these headstrong convicts will not accept their gracious Sovereign’s pardon!” But his lordship became convinced that his predetermined trick was watched, had been already exposed, and would be mercilessly exhibited to the world. Besides, he knew that P. J. Smyth was then in Van Diemen’s Land, and would be sure to rescue O’Brien at last, if any further paltering took place about his release. So, at length, after six weeks’ delay, ministers made up their mind to put on the false pretence of doing a generous action — for which our friends take care to say they do not thank Her Majesty or her advisers.
December 14th. — New York, feeling less Anglo-Saxon than it was a few weeks ago, is bestirring itself to do honour to Smith O’Brien and his associates, Messrs. Martin and O’Doherty, on the occasion of their release. A requisition has been extensively signed by prominent citizens, headed by the names of Jacob A. Westervelt, Mayor; A. C. Kingsland, Ex-Mayor; Fernando Wood, Mayor elect; and exhibiting such other names as Robert Emmet, Thomas Addis Emmet, Charles O’Connor, Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, and others well known, calling a great meeting at the Tabernacle to adopt and transmit an address to Mr. O’Brien, “expressive of admiration for his lofty integrity,” and all the rest of it. On this occasion I am in high good-humour — forbear even to intimate that all the parade is only to make capital for certain politicians with the multitude of Irish voters. What if it be so? Is it not gratif5dng that the said politicians know they can make their capital with our people only by sympathising with rebels and affronting the English Government? Accordingly I accept in gracious-wise this New York demonstration, and treat of it in the Citizen thus: —
“It is no mere Irish movement, this spontaneous impulse of the people to do honour to a brave and good man. The requisition proceeded from the Chief Magistrate, and from some of the most notable citizens of New York, and arose from the same honest impulse that made even the colonists of Van Diemen’s Land and the citizens of Melbourne (all British subjects themselves, and more or less ‘loyal’) rise as one man to congratulate him and his worthy associates on their release, and to give expression to that spontaneous instinctive admiration for heroic constancy in adversity and a stainless character, which is bounded by no latitude nor longitude, religion or nationality.
Neither is it a movement of American politicians to buy ‘Irish votes.’ The elections are over. O’Brien is not to come to America; is no way likely to be of the slightest service to any one of the struggling parties. Even the very Know-Nothings are in good humour; for this is a question of paying honour to a foreigner who has the good taste to know his own place — namely, the other side of the Atlantic.
Over this meeting and address there rests no shadow of a cloud. No selfish or partisan design can be supposed to pollute it. The men of a great American city, who have eyes to see and hearts to appreciate what is good and noble, stretch forth their hands in hearty greeting across the sea, to welcome to freedom and home the illustrious though unfortunate champion of an oppressed land. Six years he has been counted among the felonious off-scourings of British gaols; but the citizens of New York (who do not happen to be a packed jury of the Queen of England) assure him of their esteem and admiration, and with the same breath virtually fling back the foul name of felon and traitor in the teeth of his enemies.
There is an additional significance in the proceeding, inasmuch as the liberation of O’Brien was really decreed and accomplished in New York, not in London. It was because they knew the indefatigable agent of the New York Irish Directory had just returned to his mission in Australia, bound to rescue O’Brien out of the hands of his gaolers by force — that it occurred to the prudent British Government to make a virtue of necessity and release him. The very next mail steamer after Mr. Smyth sailed carried out to Australia the preliminary announcement of their insolent ‘pardon.’
O’Brien and his associates, however, not only did not purchase their freedom by the smallest semblance of submission, or hint of contrition, but took the very earliest public occasion, even while still in the power of British officials, to repel the treacherous compliment offered him by the Government at the expense of his friends and late associates — and further to inform them distinctly that he did not thank them for ‘pardon.’
Whatever may become of the cause of Ireland, here at least is one other reversal of a fictitious jury’s fraudulent verdict — one other emphatic contradiction by the voice of freemen to the loud British falsehood that has dared to call an Irish Rebel Felon.”
The old “Tabernacle” crowded to its utmost capacity, with a vast and enthusiastic assemblage, consisting mainly of Irishmen, but with a large admixture of native citizens. A platform thronged with well-known faces, on whose successive appearance deafening cheers arise. The proceedings were already half over when the fine face and grey hair of Robert Emmet were first recognised in this group. He was unwell, and had dragged himself from his bed to participate in the tribute of respect to his noble countryman. When this fine old man, who had shared as a boy, the captivity of his father, Thomas Addis Emmet, at Fort George, was recognised by the multitude, one tempestuous peal of applause seemed to rend the walls of the building.
When the applause had subsided, Mr. Robert Emmet moved the adoption of the Address. He said: —
“I regret that I am not in a condition to respond to the enthusiasm with which you have received me this evening. I feared very much, until within the last half hour, that it would not have been in my power to have presented myself before you; and let me assure you that it required some effort to do it — an effort, however, which the strong desire that I had to be present on an occasion when the object was to express the feelings entertained by the Irish population of the city to their renowned compatriot, William Smith O’Brien, rendered imperative. I should never have forgiven myself, fellow-citizens, if I had not made that effort, because I feel that my past life, and my past history, and the traditions of my family (tremendous cheering, prolonged for several minutes) are intimately connected with aspirations for Irish freedom (renewed cheers). I say, gentlemen, that those feelings and that conscientiousness compelled me to make an effort to be here. I felt it was my duty to be present upon any occasion when the name of Smith O’Brien was to be received with honour by his countrymen, and when a proper tribute was to be paid to him for the sufferings which he has endured in the cause of our common country (cheers). I well recollect, fellow-citizens, the last occasion upon which we met in this very building, and it was not the only occasion when we met for the purpose of giving a helping hand to that cause in which he has suffered (hear, hear, and cheers). Whatever may have been the fate of that cause — however disastrous its results may have been — we have the satisfaction of knowing that we did our duty at the time (applause). And I thank God, fellow-citizens, that I have lived long enough to see those noble martyrs to liberty who have suffered from the fatal result of that cause in Ireland, to see them disenthralled, and the majority of them amongst us at this moment (cheers). I trust, fellow-citizens, without knowing what Smith O’Brien’s views may be with regard to his future career — what part of the world he intends to cast his lot in — I trust one of the effects of this meeting, and the address that you have heard this evening, will be to induce him, at all events, to pay us a visit here (loud cheers). I trust before I die to be able to take that honest man and patriot by the hand.
Their efforts, aspirations, sacrifices, in the cause of Irish freedom are intimately known, and the recollection of them will not quickly perish in a country which, itself the great school and model of them, has been taught to admire in others the virtues which ennoble equally the martyrs as well as the heroes of a revolution.”
Other associates of Mr. O’Brien were present — Meagher, O’Gorman, Doheny, Dillon, and the present writer. We were there to enjoy the scene, not to take part in it; but were all called upon imperatively by the audience — obliged, in short, to come to the front to say a few hearty words.
On the whole, I must admit, though hard to please, the occasion was one of immingled gratification. We knew well how these words of cheer, coming from the grand free city of New York, would soothe the spirit of the brave and impenitent rebel.
RETIREMENT FROM “THE CITIZEN“
It was almost the last public event in this city with which I was to have any concern for some time. This month of December the Citizen is one year old. In that time I have had much and delightful intercourse with those old friends whom I had known intimately in Ireland, and who were afterwards fain to shelter under the Stars and Stripes. Most of them lived in the city itself, others were scattered far and wide over the Union. Williams, once known as “Shamrock,” was Professor of Greek in a Jesuits’ College at Mobile, and during this year I did not see him, though we afterwards met in New Orleans. Joseph Brenan was in New Orleans, labouring as a journalist. He came to New York and contributed a little to the Citizen; but my poor friend was almost blind, and after some months returned to the South. Of all old associates I had most eager desire to see once more the face of Thomas Devin Reilly. He was in Washington, and within the first three months of my residence here I was several times hindered in plans to go and visit him, when one day, early in March of this year, came news of his sudden death. The restless, fiery, noble life was extinguished in a moment, without any known disease, at thirty years of age.
Eyesight fails me for the hard work of a newspaper. I determine to seek retirement somewhere far away in the wooded mountains of the interior; give up the Citizen bodily to John M’Clenahan, pass another Polar winter in Brooklyn, and on a certain spring day, after taking leave of my friends, find myself, with all my household, on board the steamship Nashville, bound for Charleston, from whence we were to penetrate the interior as far as the shady valleys of East Tennessee. Here new scenes and a new kind of life awaits us.
From this period the Journal deals mainly with Mitchel’s life in the United States, and with his attitude towards its public questions. In 1859, when he paid his first visit to France, in the expectation of an outbreak of war between France and England he met the gallant Miles Byrne, one of the insurgent leaders in Wexford, in 1798, and then a retired Colonel of the French army, and a warm friendship subsisted between them. “In the Rue Montaigne, close by the Champs Elysee,” Mitchel writes under date of October, 1859, “dwells Miles Byrne, one of the noblest specimens of our countrymen — a warlike relic of New Ross and of Oulart — now an officer en retraite of the French army.” … “Alas!” he writes later, “since that day I have stood by his bier in the church of St. Philip de Roule.”
The Franco-Austrian war of 1859 raised the military reputation of Marshal MacMahon to the first degree, and gave him a world-renown. Nationalist Ireland subscribed and presented him with a sword of honour, and Mitchel participated in the presentation. Under date of September, 1860, he writes in his Journal: —
Two delegates arrive from Ireland, charged to present a sword of honour to Marshal MacMahon. They are Dr. Sigerson and Mr. T. D. Sullivan; with them is associated Mr. Leonard, and they courteously invite me to make one of the party. The Marshal is now at Chalons, where 40,000 men have been under canvas all the summer; and after some negotiations with his staff officers, Sunday is appointed for our interview. Early in the morning we start by the Strasburg railroad; our party being also somewhat sanctified by the presence of Father Dempsey from Dublin…. Bearing the case containing the treasure, we swept up the rich vale of Maone, past Meaux and the grey cathedral towers of Bossuet, and into the Epemay station, where everyone breakfasts, seeing that Epemay is a famous centre of the champagne trade. At last we arrived in the old town of Chalons…. About two o’clock we reach certain low buildings which turn out to be the Marshal’s headquarters at Mourmelon…. Mass is over, and the troops have just been dismissed from their Sunday morning’s church parade. A sentry brings out an officer; the officer brings a higher officer, an aide to the Marshal, who ushers us into a small plain building, where we find a most modest reception-room. Several officers of rank are in the room, who all know the purport of our visit, and inform us the Marshal was expecting us. Within a minute or two he enters, a middle-sized man, with grey hair and moustache. His Chief-of-Staff introduces us all by name, whereupon Mr. Leonard, being the best French orator of our party, takes up the sheathed sword with its sword-belt and makes a short and feeling address. Then, holding it near the point, he presents its hilt to the Marshal. The honest resolute face of the latter bore marks of real emotion as he received it, and shortly, in a somewhat husky voice, he expressed his sense of the honour that had been done him by the people of his fathers. Lastly, he said he should ever cherish the gift of his Irish kinsmen and would transmit it to his young son, Patrick. After this, the blade was drawn and duly admired, and its Irish inscription explained…. The Marshal conversed a little with each of us in turn; and, then rising, said his brother-in-law, the young Due de Castries, was to place himself at our disposition and show us the camp until dinner time.
In the evening about six o’clock we were again at headquarters, when a brilliant company soon arrived on horseback, the Marshal galloping at their head. When they dismounted, the Marshal presented us to General Sutton de Clonard, General Dillon and several other officers of high rank, all covered with crosses and orders. He told us he had invited specially for that day officers of Irish extraction. Then they had all to inspect the sword, and they said many nice and pleasant things about it until dinner was announced, which took place in a separate building, beautifully decorated with flowers, and having in the centre a magnificent bouquet sent specially by the Duchess. After dinner we all repaired to the Marshal’s rooms and smoked. We were very cordially invited to stay for a review of the troops the next day, and elegant tents had been provided for our lodging. General Sutton offered to mount me for the review, and pressed me to stay; but we all thought it best to return to Paris. The whole proceeding, on the part of the Marshal and his officers, was exceedingly gracious and in very good taste.
Mitchel’s family consisted of three sons and three daughters. His eldest and youngest sons were slain and his remaining son was severely wounded in the American Civil War. His eldest daughter, Henrietta, died in the same period. She had joined the Catholic Church, and her fervent piety and sweet disposition caused her death to be lamented as the passing of a saint by the nuns of her community. His daughter, Isabella, also became a Catholic and married Dr. Sloane. His daughter, Minnie, married Colonel Page of the Confederate Army. In his Journal of January, 1861, Mitchel narrates the circumstances attending his daughter, Henrietta’s, change of religion: —
Our eldest daughter, Henrietta, has this winter become a Catholic. It was no new whim on her part, for long since, while we were living at Washington, she had formed the same wish very strongly, influenced partly, as I suppose, by her intimacy with two young ladies of a Maryland Catholic family, who were our next-door neighbours. I knew also that she was greatly influenced by her very strong Irish feeling, and had a kind of sentiment that one cannot be thoroughly Irish without being Catholic. For that time, however, we had objected to any decided and public step being taken in this direction. She was too young to have duly studied the question and to know her own mind thoroughly; but I said that if, after two or three years, she should still entertain the same wish, I would not utter one word to dissuade her. Since our arrival in France she had been placed at school in the Convent of Sacre Coeur, and has become greatly attached to one of the good ladies of that house, Madame D—, a very excellent and accomplished woman. This condition of things was not calculated to abate her Catholic zeal; and, in short, the time came when my poor daughter declared that she must be a Catholic, could not have without being a Catholic. I did not think her parents had the right, and indeed they had not the disposition, to cross her wish any farther. So, on a certain day, she and another young lady were to be baptised in the chapel of the Convent. The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Moilot, heard of it and wrote to the Reverend Mother of the House to the effect that, as several conversions of Protestant pupils, which had lately taken place in the convents had given rise to imputations of undue influence, and conversion by surprise, as it were, and had afterwards given umbrage to the relatives, he should require that, before any further step was taken, I should be asked for a written consent. Madame D— showed me the letter, and I instantly wrote the required consent. For this acquiescence I was most earnestly blamed by some of my connections in the north of Ireland, who wrote to me urging that I ought to exert my authority to stop such an apostacy. What would they have me do? Shut up my daughter in her room and give her the Westminster Confession to read! How should I like this usage myself? Here was a girl of nineteen, full of intelligence and spirit, gentle and affectionate, who had never given her father or mother one moment’s uneasiness upon her account, deliberately declaring that she desired to embrace the ancient faith of her forefathers. In short, I believe that I acted aright. For the short remainder of her days she lived a devout Catholic; and so she died. She lies buried in the Cemetery of Mount Parnasse.
MITCHEL AND VICTOR HUGO
Under date of February, 1862, Mitchel enters this comment and estimate of Hugo: —
This Victor Hugo is running crazy, but with a most mischievous craze; for with all his perversity of moral sentiment, the man has often an eloquence of convulsive and epileptic strength, and in the whirl of his stark madness he sometimes gives a ringing sentence that smites like a forge-hammer. This spasmodic eloquence, I suppose, must be the secret of his power; for though he has a vivid imagination there is nothing beautiful in it. His imagination revels in filth, ugliness, loathsomeness, physical and moral. Enough of Victor Hugo.
MITCHEL AND FENIANISM
Mitchel’s sympathies were naturally with the object of Fenianism, but his direct connection with the Fenian movement lasted for but a short period. Writing in his Journal at New York in November, 1865, he details the circumstances under which he joined the Fenian organisation:
Since I arrived in New York I have also been making inquiries with regard to the Fenian organisation. It has become very extensive, and the Ianguage of Andrew Johnson to the deputation of that body respecting my release leads me to think that the United States Government may really contemplate the policy of permitting, or at least conniving at any enterprise the Irish-Americans may undertake. All through the war they have been buoyed up by this hope, and have been directly encouraged to entertain it — that when the South should be effectually subdued they would be let loose upon England. The Fenian organisation had spread like wildfire through the army, and there are now many thousands of disbanded soldiers who would desire nothing in the world so much as the chance of embarking on board a few transport ships for the shores of Ireland. I must say that my countrymen, with their enthusiastic and credulous nature, have had every excuse for falling into this delusion, if delusion it be. The bitter feeling of humiliation throughout the land of having been obliged by English menaces to restore Mr. Mason and Mr. Slidell, the ferocious language held against England both in Congress and in the Press on account of the fitting out of Confederate cruisers in British ports, and the consequent widely-spread destruction of American shipping; all this made it natural to believe that the Washington Government might be perfectly willing to use such a powerful and zealous force as these mustered-out Irish soldiers, and might look on while they worked their will. I have anxiously endeavoured to get some idea of the real strength, in men and money, which would be available for such an enterprise; and that strength is undoubtedly very great. Ireland, too, is as deeply disaffected as ever; and with the certainty of being joined at once by large forces of the peasantry, I should never hesitate to land in Ireland with but five thousand of these American veterans and arms for thirty or forty thousand more. In short, I became excited like the rest. I saw the chiefs of the Organisation here, Roberts, O’Mahony, etc., and also a body called the “Senate” composed of men from other towns, some of whom I had known before, and who all seemed hopeful and resolute.
There was no sign of any interruption to their designs on the part of the Government; the preparations were well known, and the intention not concealed; yet no proclamation had been issued to stop these proceedings.
For myself I had been in almost total ignorance of all this till the present moment. Shut up in the Southern States during the war, and afterwards immured so many months, still more closely in a fortress of State, I had no opportunity of watching the progress of the Organisation; and when it broke upon me here, it loomed large and imposing. In short, if this gallant game is to be set afoot I must have a share in it; and when I was informed that its leaders here wished me to go to Paris as its agent for the safe transmission of funds to Ireland — a thing which had been attended with much loss through the interceptions of the enemy’s Government — I accepted the mission, joined the Organisation, started for Richmond to see my family and make some arrangements for them during my absence; and here I am now (loth Nov.) about to start for France on board l’Europe, one of the French line of steamships for Brest and Havre.
A brief residence in Paris sufficed to bring Mitchel many a disillusionment. He found that among the rank and file, the sincere and disinterested supporters of the Organisation, there was an exaggerated conception of the actual position of the movement both in Ireland and America. Soon the American Organisation, which it was believed in Ireland could almost dictate terms to the American Government, if necessary, got hopelessly sundered. In Ireland itself the Organisation was far from being in the efficient state in which it had been represented to be. In January, 1866, Mitchel writes: —
Letters from Father John Kenyon and others in Ireland upon whom I relied kept me more fully informed about matters in that country than I could hope to be through other channels. I had also repeated letters from Mr. Stephens, who had escaped from Richmond prison, and was then living secretly in Dublin; but I do not think it right to print these letters or any part of them. It is enough to say that the piece of duty which I had undertaken had come to be done in a perfunctory kind of manner, though with the utmost exactitude, and as it occupied but little time, I applied myself to other matters. A weekly letter to the New York News; some study in the great libraries, and visits to certain acquaintances and friends, whom I had known during former residences in Paris, filled up my lonely time.
One damp and dismal evening I entered my lodging about eight o’clock, intending to have the wood fire lighted in my small salon, and to read. I opened the door with my key, and was surprised to find my rooms already flaring with light; a fire blazing on the hearth, and a candle burning on the table. Two ladies and a gentleman rose on my entrance. I took off my hat, and bowed and stared: the dazzle of light and my own defect of eyesight prevented me from recognising anyone. At last both ladies laughed, and then I knew — it was my two sisters and my brother William who had come over to visit me. Needless to say that this enlivened the dull hours and days for awhile.
Spies have been hovering round me here; and some of the men who come over to me from Ireland say they think they have even recognised Irish detectives near the gateway of this house. It is highly probable, and to me altogether indifferent, but for the consideration that many of my messengers to Ireland may be dogged, followed to England, and there arrested with the money of the Irish Republic on their persons. This makes a good deal of caution needful in receiving and sending away the messengers.
March, 1866. — At last the evident attention of spies became a little provoking to me.
His prompt and summary disposal of those “spies of Lord Cowley, the English ambassador,” and the assurance given him by M. Piétri, private secretary to the Emperor, and Préfet of Police, that he would be relieved of their attentions, is told in his Journal — after which, in April of the same year, he writes:
If some unexpected event does not detain me I might as well return home soon. It is quite out of the question to open any kind of negotiation with the Emperor or his Ministers. While France is at peace with England, they would not even listen; and the attempt might even embarrass my movements in this country, which are now quite free. Indeed the Private Secretary of the Emperor, M. Pietri, who is also Préfet of Police, told me the Government was disposed to be very friendly towards me, and even appreciated my reserve, in so cautiously abstaining from any effort which might lead to questions and explanations between the two Governments. This is all very well, but it leaves me in a position of utter nullity. Our worthy friends in New York (who thought the American Government were going to let them become belligerents, with the United States for a base of operations against England) have evidently supposed that I might arrange matters with the Emperor of the French so as to occupy France as a revolutionary workshop in the cause of Ireland; and on the 17th of February last I actually received by express from New York a large package which I found to consist of “Bonds of the Irish Republic” and a letter along with them from “Headquarters,” requesting me to “have them sold in France.”
Later, disheartened by dissensions in the United States, and convinced that nothing in the way of armed revolt in Ireland could succeed while England was at peace with the Great Powers, Mitchel determined to sever his connection with Fenianism, of which he wrote, June, 1866: —
In short, the thing is at an end for all good purposes, and an Irish cause must embody itself in other and stronger forms. That cause can never die; but too plainly it has been damaged, both in force and reputation, by the senseless bursting up of the Organisation in the United States. And, perhaps, it could only burst up and go to pieces. There has been no opportunity to do anything against our enemy — while she is at peace with the world. A wave, when it comes against the cliff, can but break into foam and froth. To end the record of my connection with “Fenianism,” I may mention that on the 22nd of June I wrote to Stephens, then at the head of the fragmentary Organisation in New York, informing him that I would no longer take charge of funds intended for Ireland; that if any drafts or bills had been already sent to me, and were then on their way at the time of the receipt of this letter, I should take care of such funds, as usual: but nothing more — suggesting at the same time that as Mr. E. O’Leary was then in Paris, the brother of John O’Leary, he might be charged with the money business for the future.
MITCHEL AT THE IRISH COLLEGE
In September, 1866, Mitchel’s two closest friends, John Martin and Father Kenyon, P.P., of Templederry, in Tipperary, visited him in Paris, and during Father Kenyon’s stay, Mitchel visited the Irish College in Paris with him, for the first time. In the Journal he thus describes the visit:
John Martin and Father Kenyon have come to Paris and have taken up their abode in the same house where I reside… The worthy priest of Templederry is now very frail, and has had several narrow escapes for his life lately; but is as gay and jovial and witty as ever. Over these pleasant days in Paris impends a kind of shadow. We three, old friends, when we part this time, will probably never meet again, all together;3 and this unspoken thought saddens a little our gayest moments. A curious incident befel one day, which I must mention, to my own credit and glorification. Father John and I were on our way homeward, and had arrived in the open place of the Pantheon, when he said to me, “I am going to call on Dr. Lynch, President of the Irish College — come with me.” I tried to excuse myself, said I had never been in the Irish College, and rather thought Dr. Lynch considered me a dangerous and ultra-revolutionary character — that, in fact, I had better not put the President’s politeness to too severe a test, by presenting myself before him. Father John would hear no excuse.
“I am going,” said he, “you can come where I do, perhaps.”
“Yes, anywhere, bring me where you choose,”
We turned into the narrow Irish Street (rue des Irlandais), one side of which is occupied by the massive building of the Irish College, with the tricolour flag over its great entrance gate; for this is a Government institution. The door was opened for us by a fine Tipperary man, nearly seven feet in stature, who spoke French like an angel, and took our card; we waiting in an ante-chamber within the gate. Presently he came back, smiling cordially, and said he was desired to bring us up to Dr. Lynch’s parlour. Passing through the port cochere we had a glimpse of the interior quadrangle, with some shady trees and patches of grass. The reverend President received us with the utmost courtesy; and after some conversation, he conducted us through the great public rooms of the institution, lecture-room, library and so forth, and exhibited a complete set of the Nation newspaper, bound in green folio volumes, the gift of Colonel Byrne. We took our leave, and the President escorted us down the great staircase and into the broad port cochere, where a scene awaited us, which neither Dr. Lynch nor we had expected. It appears the tall Tipperary man who took our cards had communicated the names of the visitors; it happened to be the hour for walking and recreation, when all the inmates of the college were in the garden, and when we descended the last step of the staircase and issued into the broad passage, we found all the students and all the professors ranged in two dense lines on either side; a very fine-looking crowd of young Irishmen, representing every county and barony in the island, and all destined for the Priesthood in their own country. When I made my appearance by the side of Dr. Lynch, three cheers, loud, long and hearty, burst from the crowd; cheers such as that quiet quarter has not often heard, ringing through the peaceful region of Sainte Genevieve and causing the Sergents de ville in distant streets to prick up their ears. As Father Kenyon and I passed between these ranks, the cheer was renewed with wild energy….
As Father John and I passed out together, and along the short rue des Irlandais, tears sprang in his eyes, and for a minute he was silent; then, “God bless the boys,” he said, “God bless the boys, anyhow; they’re always right.”
We passed several days in and around Paris, we three, but with an occasional sad feeling that the three, John Kenyon, John Martin, and John Mitchel, might probably never meet again.
NAPOLEON’S IRISH LEGION
In the Journal of 1866 Mitchel wrote: —
I shall soon have been a year absent from home, and may soon, perhaps, return without much danger of being arrested by the reconstnictionists4 without any charge against me. My time here, notwithstanding the short visit of my friends, has on the whole passed heavily enough. Yet I had again a few pleasant days down upon the coast of Normandie, where another old friend (erst Nicaragua) is living with his family he has a house at Bemieras-sur-Mer, one of a long line of coast villages; and within two miles is Courseulles, where John Leonard has his summer cottage. I often go to Mrs. Byrne, the widow of my admirable old friend, Miles Byrne, once of Oulart Hill, then of the Irish Legion, more lately chef de battalion in the regular army; but for many years before his death in retirement. I may mention how he came to be in the regular service though a foreigner. When by the Vienna treaties, at the close of the great Napoleonic wars, it was stipulated that France should disband her Irish Legion, this was at first done quite abruptly and harshly; and the officers of the Legion were ordered off to live under a kind of surveillance in various towns of France; but by degrees those of them who happened to command some influence, or who were favourably known for gallant service, received commissions in regiments of the line at their old grade, and were undistinguishable amongst French officers, except by those who knew their history. No Irish Legion however, was ever known in France again, nor will there be, unless — in certain contingencies. Mrs. Byrne has just published the fine old hero’s personal recollections of his life and services, all written by himself in his latter days, and deeply interesting to his countrymen, though told with the simplicity of a soldier. The work is brought out both in French and English; and Mrs. Byrne has been so kind as to present me with a copy of each.
MITCHEL’S FINAL DEPARTURE FROM FRANCE
Mitchel left France finally at the close of 1866 and returned to the United States where all but a few weeks of the remainder of his life was spent:
I prepare myself to quit France once more and return to America — this is home — if, indeed, a man deprived of his own country can ever be said to have a home again in this world. Your exile becomes restless, and, finding himself in one hemisphere, thinks he ought to be in another. Three times I have crossed over to France, returned twice to the United States, and am now to return the third time. After all, there dwells my household, and one cannot live forever astride upon the Atlantic Ocean. There is charming autumnal weather now in France, which I enjoy in an unquiet kind of way. Profitons de nos derniers beaux jours. I go to pay my last visits to certain friends, French and Irish, to the family of Bramet at Choisy, to the Bayers in Paris, and the ladies kiss me on both cheeks, and send kind messages to my family; to the good Pere Hogan at the seminary of St. Sulpice; to M. Marie-Martin and his wife, at whose pleasant house I have often visited; to my friends the Leonards, now returned from their sea-bathing, and to the worthy and admirable Mr. Doherty, aged, white-haired, yet still young in heart; also to the grave of my daughter Henrietta in the cemetery of Mount Parnasse, whither I carry a lauriertin (what we call laurustinas), in a large pot, and place it on the tombstone, and Adieu!
The journey to Brest and voyage to New York are described, and the “Journal” concludes:
Again, the heights of Nevisink, Sandy Hook, and Staten Island with its villages and villas. Thirteen years ago I closed another Journal on entering this harbour of New York — then for the first time — and here once more I cast anchor.
1 A jocose allusion to the passage in Mitchel’s public letter to James Haughton in which he wrote: “We for our part wish we had a good plantation, well-stocked with healthy negroes in Alabama.” This passage used to be hysterically quoted by the Abolitionist press.
2 In 1869 when the Grattan statue in College Green, Dublin, was projected, Mitchel contributed the proceeds of some of his lectures to its erection.
3 The presentiment was fulfilled. Mitchel and Father Kenyon never met again, the latter dying in Tipperary in 1869.
4 The reference is to Mitchel’s American home and his imprisonment by the Federal Government after the defeat of the Southern Confederacy.