[This Letter was published in the Irishman of February, 1850, some six weeks after Lalor’s death. Mitchel was then on board the Neptune off the Cape of Good Hope. – ED.]
Dublin: 8 Ontario Terrace, Rathmines,
4th January, 1848.
MY DEAR SIR, – For a month back I have been contemplating a letter to you, and have postponed it without any assignable reason. In fact and truth, I am ashamed to be forced to admit, that on the only question we ever differed about I was wholly wrong. Last summer the time had come for giving up the humbug of “conciliating classes” winning over landlords to nationality and the rest of it. Practically, last summer, I was unable for want of means to aid your schemes more than I did – I mean my own individual effort – but I ought to have urged the proper course upon our precious Council and Confederation, and, if needful, broken them up on that question.
There is no use now in regretting what I have done amiss hitherto; but I will tell you what has at last brought me to the right way of thinking. The Irish Council, in which I really had some hope, and with which I worked conscientiously, trying to bring out what good I thought was in them, turned out a mere fraud and delusion. When the subject of tenant-right was broached, they shunned it like poison, and the great aggregate of the “peers and commoners,” after dwindling down by degrees, as we came into the heart of the subject, at last came to the voting and division in a meeting of forty persons, among whom were not five landlords. I then made up my mind that all the symptoms of landlord nationality we had heard so much about were merely a screw applied to the English government. And when the coercion bill was introduced, and hailed with an atrocious howl of exultation by all the “better class,” and when nationality faded instantly thereupon from all their meetings, and all their organs at the press, I perceived the old alliance was struck once more, farther than ever, and this bill to disarm the people, and enable landlords to eject and distrain in peace and safety, was merely the first fruit of a new alliance between our ancient enemies, on the basis of the statis quo.
Then I was for saying so plainly in the Nation, and giving the people such advice as suited them in the circumstances – but I found that as I became more revolutionary, Duffy became more constitutional and safe, and insisted on preaching organisation, education and so forth, with a view to some constitutional and parliamentary proceeding, at some future day; and he, being Editor of the Nation, and this being the only occasion on which vital difference arose between us, I closed the connexion at once, and have not written a line for a month or more.
The Nation, I fear, has fallen into the merest old-womanly drivelling and snivelling, and the people are without a friend at the press.
In truth I fear it is but a lost people. I see nowhere any gleam of spirit, or spark of vitality in it. It is a people that will pay to the last – pay away its all to those demands – coin its very heart’s blood to pay withal. Yet it is not, I say to be abandoned in despair. So long as any true Irishman has a tongue, or pen, hand, heart or brain, there is a duty and necessity on him, for the awakening and salvation of this country.
What are you going or about to do? I have been urged greatly by my own relatives within the last month to betake myself quietly to my profession – that of an attorney – in which I had, and yet might have, good prospects; but I have chosen to put myself in the way of trying a fall with the enemy, on some ground or other. And so, as the most feasible thing for me, I am looking out for an opportunity of getting hold of some organ at the press. I was in Cork last week making enquiries about the Southern Reporter, which is for sale, and I think it is not improbable that it may be in my hands within a month; but if not some other will.
I should mention that Reilly broke off all connexion with the Nation at the same time I did, and for the same reasons. He is to go with me and help me wherever I go; so that I have no doubt we shall be able to gather an audience.
As for the Confederation, it seems likely soon to go smash upon the very same rock that broke up the Nation, and I have determined to change its milk-and-water course, or else to destroy it as a nuisance.
Father K. wrote to me some time ago that you had retired from interference with public affairs quite disheartened. I hope it is not so. The outlook before us is certainly dismal and black, but in any kind of storm or earthquake, there is hope. Anything that may awaken up the apathetic somnambulism in which the people walk. If not in “organisation” then in disorganisation – if not in the dawning of solar day, then in the shooting upward of internal fire, there may be help. It is better to reduce the island to a cinder than let it rot into an obscure quagmire, peopled with reptiles.
Pray write me a line and tell me what you think of all those matters.
Very truly yours,