The “First of Living Historians,” as several newspapers designate this gentleman, is only now really opening his batteries. He has by no means done with his victim, but presses on, “blow on blow.” Even since the termination of the lectures and counter lectures, by the Historian and by Father Burke, there has been published, in this country and in England, the first volume of a new and elaborate work: – The English in Ireland, in the Eighteenth Century: By James Anthony Froude, M.A., a work which sheds additional darkness on a subject which the author has already done much to overwhelm in obscurity. This darkness I shall endeavor presently to dispel in some degree. Meantime the pens not only of national writers in Ireland, but of many fair-minded journalists both in England and in the United States, are busily employed in making indignant exposures of the spirit and tone of the Historian, as well as of his alleged facts and authorities. The controversy, then, is only beginning.
This grand plea, lately brought forward so gravely by the Historian, and as gravely tried before the imaginary tribunal of our American public, this indeed is finished, and got out of the way. Now that all those pleadings are before us, as well as the fresh and formidable indictment set forth in the new book, it may be expedient to review the whole matter. The lectures are carefully reported on either side, and the reports are doubtless generally correct; but still (at least so far as Mr. Froude’s share in them is concerned,) they do not seem to have been revised by the author and published as his very words, so that you cannot absolutely hold him to words, figures, dates, and citations of authorities.
Here, in this book, we have him, with his litera scripta, “inverted commas” and all. It may indeed be regretted that the eloquent Father Burke gave any countenance to the Sham Trial; that he innocently accepted the tribunal and pleaded to the declaration, in the name of his country; thus materially helping the general plan of the crusade: also that, after bandying compliments with the learned gentleman on the other side, gratuitously affirming and proclaiming that person’s honesty, and saying that he loved him, Father Burke ended by giving up the whole case, concurring in his adversary’s practical conclusion, turning to his countrymen and telling them plainly that they can do nothing, nothing, at home or abroad, to relieve their native island of British domination; and in short that they had better “wait for the New Zealander!” “Attendez sous l’orme” is the ironical French proverb to this same effect. “Wait for the New Zealander” will become proverbial in Ireland, in the same derisive sense. When that predestined savage shall be seen squatting upon the. broken arch and sketching the ruins of London, then Ireland will arise, great, glorious, and free, first flower, etc.! Also, when the sky falls, shan’t we have larks?
And so, at the end of the sham “trial,” the Historian comes forward with a kind of playful insolence, and seizes on his small triumph with a sneer; congratulates everybody that “for practical objects” he and his opponent are agreed, offers him his hand, and kindly says, “any how, I hope we part in good humor.” Oh! certainly; all the good humor in life, so far as he and Father Burke are concerned: and the sham court rises, with a laugh – solvuntur risu.
But there are others concerned in this crusading mission of the Historian. And there is, and was, no tribunal at all: it was only the agreeable Englishman’s device to flatter this great American people, by presenting a sort of mimicry of a Geneva Arbitration to settle international differences by the high and mighty award of American public opinion. I decline to plead at all before the American public: because Irishmen are themselves the best and sole judges of the rights and the wrongs of their own land. Neither can I be a client of the excellent and eloquent Father Burke in this cause; indeed he excludes me; for, in his second lecture, he accepts with thanks and effusion Fronde’s statement, that, after the “Reformation,” “the cause of the Catholic Religion and Irish independence became inseparably and irrevocably one.” As a non-Catholic, then, I am ruled out of court, as well as Grattan and Tone and O’Brien and Davis. We are not quite Irish, under this rule. Counsel on the other side, indeed, is willing to take us under his protection: he treats the Irish Protestants as his peculiar and favored clients; but I repudiate his advocacy even more earnestly than the Dominican’s. He has obliging things to say concerning Irish Protestants when they are useful slaves of British policy: and not being a slave to that policy, I cannot hope to profit by the author’s advocacy. From my own point of view, then, I shall adventure to survey the whole field on which our Irish cause lately appeared to be debated so earnestly, but from which the two adversaries have walked off together almost hand-in-hand, with all the complacency in the world.
The truth is, and it may as well be said, that many of Father Burke’s countrymen have felt disappointed at the soft and tender usage which he gave, throughout, to that loud and furious enemy of our native island. Surely, the Dominican could have struck heavier blows, but that something held his hand. Yet it is not easy to understand what moved Father Burke to such tenderness of courtesy: for, assuredly, the First Living Historian prepared the campaign of this foray of his in a manner irritating enough to provoke a saint.
The Historian had written his book, and had sent it to the press, a book full charged with venomous loathing and contempt of the Irish name and nation; and seems to have judged it expedient, for some reason or another, to condense the substance of it into lectures, and to come over and discharge them in American cities, where he supposed he would be sure of a favorable hearing for any abuse of Irish and Catholics amongst the preponderating masses of American Protestants. I suppose he had been told so by some “Christian young men.” At any rate, the thing would make a stir, and advertise his book. At the very moment when it was convenient for him he was invited by the “Literary Bureau.” Whether this was a happy coincidence, or whether he invited the Bureau to invite him -, cannot now be guessed; nor is it worth while. His subject was to be “The Relations between England and Ireland;” and his coming was heralded by a pamphlet containing first a facsimile of his letter of acceptance, and then many pages presenting selected passages from his works, entitled “Gems from Fronde.” This pamphlet was largely circulated gratuitously. In the letter he considerately says – “I should like it to be understood by the Irish in New York generally, that I am neither going to flatter them nor flatter England.” Were “the Irish in New York generally” fondly soothing themselves with the idea that Fronde was coming to flatter them? Who saw any sign of such pleasing anticipations? In truth, we are not much used to flattery, save – from a politician, now and then, about election times. And those who know very much of the “First Historian’s” previous writings could scarcely have looked for anything very fulsome in the way of sycophancy at his hands. Indeed in these very “Gems,” strung together on the thread of this pamphlet, there is but one passage referring to Ireland, which begins thus –
“Sadder history, in the compass of the world’s great chronicle, there is none than the history of the Irish: so courageous, yet so like cowards: so interesting, yet so resolute to forfeit all honorable claims to interest. In thinking of them, we can but shake our heads,” etc.
I do not well know how courageous men contrive to be “like cowards:” yet after all, it seems our people are “interesting:” he never denies this: “interesting” yet “resolute to forfeit honorable claims to interest!” Not only a dishonorable people, but resolutely and irrevocably determined that no honorable person can concern himself about any of them. Differ, we Irish may, on politics, on religion, on many matters of human conduct and life, but at least on one point we are agreed – we are unanimously and irremediably resolved to be dishonorable! This is bad indeed. Let me add to this “Gem” another jewel of my own selection from the new volume just published –
“The sun never shone on a lovelier country, as nature made it. They have pared its forests to the stump, till it shivers in damp and desolation. The perceptions of taste which belong to the higher orders of understanding are as completely absent as truthfulness of spirit is absent, or cleanliness of person and habit.”
No: assuredly the First Living Historian had no mission to flatter the Irish race. But let readers bear in mind the phrase, “They have pared its forests to the stump,” until we have advanced a little further with this modest review.
England, the country of the Historian, is in these days disquieted once more by a revival of national spirit and national pretensions in Ireland. “Home-Rule” has become a political test. “Irish ideas,” even, which England has so often before felt it her duty to stifle in blood – these very Irish ideas are now again put forward as the only just basis on which the island should be governed: and, worse than all, many of the best of the Protestants are cordially uniting with their Catholic fellow-countrymen in demanding some approach to self-government. British policy had often been interfered with by such demonstrations before; and had usually, at least since the “Reformation,” found its best safety in promoting religious animosities. The same course must be taken now again: hatred and spite of Protestant against Catholic must be kindled again and fed with fresh fuel, or all is lost. Prudent British Statesmen look anxiously around and survey the situation; they see a considerable Protestant recrudescence in several parts of the world, provoked ostensibly by the late Council of the Vatican, with its definition of the ancient doctrine of Papal Infallibility. They see prosperous and triumphant Germany girding up its loins to do battle with the dreadful Pope; and Prince Bismarck is prosecuting bishops and thundering against Jesuits. And so in the very latest Irish papers I read, without surprise –
“On Monday, criminal informations were filed in the Crown Office, Dublin, in the names of Mr. Christopher Palles and Mr. W. Lane Joynt, against his Lordship the Bishop of Clonfert, twenty-three Catholic clergymen of the county Galway, Captain Nolan, and Mr. Sebastian Nolan. All these gentlemen are charged with the use of undue influence, and the Court of Queen’s Bench is asked to ‘award due process of law’ against them. The venue is laid in the county Galway, and it appears that, as the informations are equivalent to bills found by a Grand Jury on an indictment, the next step will be to put the Bishop of Clonfert and his fellow-defendants in the dock of the County Court-house, in Galway, and call on them to plead.”
The “undue influence” was in representing to their flocks that it would be committing a sin to vote for Gladstone’s candidate: and a crying sin it certainly would have been; and who could more properly warn them against sin than their clergy? However, the prosecution itself will excite spite and rage, unmanly exultation amongst the Orangemen, bitter and vindictive wrath amongst the Catholics; and thus a great point is gained, to begin with. Next, it is at any time easy to create exasperation amongst the more ignorant Protestants, by pointing out the so-called presumption of the Catholic Church; and facilities are given to carry on the unholy work of lashing the two parties to fury by the agitation now existing on the question of public education. Shall the education of children be made carefully irreligious? or shall all the people be required to pay for an irreligious education, though they cannot use the article? Or shall parents be at liberty, if they choose, to give to their children a separate denominational education, without being compelled also to pay for the State-education of other people’s children? Easy enough to alarm the ignorant persons aforesaid, by a suggestion that this latter plan is nothing but a device of the Jesuits to bring back the Inquisition. Then, in turning their eyes anxiously around the horizon, those prudent English Statesmen take careful note of the signs of the times in the United States.
Here, also, the State and denominational school systems are eagerly debated. Here, also, the ignorant masses have been taught to believe that the Infallibility of the Pope, and especially the “Syllabus” are only an insidious machinery for troubling the peace of States and Governments, and making us all vassals to “the Woman who sitteth upon Seven Hills.” The English know, also, (for they have both spies and agents busy here,) that, ever since the close of the war, there has been gradually reviving a strong, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish feeling, which awaits only a good stirring example, set in England, to follow suit as usual. An excitement can always be stirred up in America on this principle. It was the “Ecclesiastical Titles Act” to restrain Papal Aggression, that gave birth to our shabby Know-Nothing crusade; and a few bloody riots were duly enacted, a church or two wrecked, a good priest “ridden on a rail,” and tarred and feathered by the principal inhabitants of a New England town. A renewal of all this would be invaluable for exasperating the so-desirable religious rage in Ireland.
And there is more in it. Certain millions of the Irish people, extirpated out of their own land, and escaped from the British famines, are now dwelling, they and their children, upon this continent; and everybody knows that they watch with keen interest every National movement of their kindred at home, with the stern determination to bear a hand in the final settlement of that question. Nothing could possibly be more serviceable to Gladstone’s policy than the successful arousing of strong dislike and contempt on the part of the Protestant-American people against their Catholic and Irish fellow-citizens. Now no man in all England could be found so fitted for this dreadful office as the First Living Historian.
Froude’s qualifications for his mission (besides a most fluent and sensational rhetoric) are twofold. First, he hates the Catholic Church, and has at his fingers’ ends all the foulest imputations and all the diabolical language of abuse usually employed these last three hundred years to cover that Church with a robe of blackest horror: second, he claims for his own country an absolute right to possess and govern Ireland at her own will and for her own profit. As I read these pages of the “First Historian,” I confess that I warm towards him a little: he does not cant much, for an Englishman, but pours forth his insults upon the people and upon their religion with a rather honest kind of cynical brutality. He tells us in plain words that “superior strength is the equivalent of superior merit:” in other words it is “superior merit:” and referring to Ireland and her rights, forsooth, he says: –
“There neither is nor can be an inherent privilege in any person or set of persons to live unworthily at their own wills, when they can be led or driven into more honorable courses; and the rights of man – if such rights there be – are not to liberty, but to wise direction and control:” – that is, control by us English. There is another passage which I like even better –
“The consent of man was not asked when he was born into the world: his consent will not be asked when his time comes to die. As little has his consent to do with the laws which, while he lives, he is bound to obey. Let a nation be justly governed,” etc.,
– that is, by us English.
As for the Catholic Church in Ireland, the only defect he finds in the course of English policy is, that there was not persecution violent enough and constant enough exercised upon that Church. Here are his words –
“No government need keep terms with such a creed when there is power to abolish it. To call the repression of opinions which had issued so many times in blood and revolt by the name of religious persecution, is mere abuse of words while at the same time the best minds in England really believed that, besides its treasonable aspects, the Roman Catholic religion was intellectually degrading and spiritually poisonous.”
These, you observe, were not the worst minds in England, but the best; and the Historian most heartily agrees with them. But the author is not altogether averse from “reconciling the loyal priests and the Government, by subsidizing a power which had proved too strong to be violently overthrown”. On the same page he cites with approbation the words of a pamphlet which seems one of his favourite authorities –
“Possibly it might be a good plan to abolish the payment of dues, offerings and fees from the poor Papists to the priests, and settle salaries for them. Their interests would then be closely tied to those of the State, and they might be managed like cannons, whose mouths are still pointed as they please who fill their bellies.”
The reader has now a clear enough idea of the high qualifications of this Historian to do the Queen’s business in Ireland.
The adventurers under Henry II., came to “take charge” of the Irish, says this Historian, in his preliminary chapter. “The Normans,” he assures us, were a people “whose peculiar mission was to govern men:” and it seems they could not help it. Who can resist his fate? –
“They were born rulers of men, and were forced, by the same necessity which has brought the decrepit kingdoms of Asia under the authority of England and Russia, to take the management, eight centuries ago, of the anarchic nations of Western Europe.”
It was hard on the Norman people! For these poor devoted rulers of men were forced “by the same necessity,” to do much forgery, perjury and murder to carry out their missioned task. Neither will our rulers of men altogether give us up when we escape from under their clutch: their care and sympathy follow us round the world. Here, for example, the Irish-Americans who have been living on good enough terms with native American and other citizens, and who have been doing much honest work here, making themselves independent, marrying and giving in marriage, procreating a good breed, which is to have its full share in the labor and the thought and the honorable effort of every kind upon this Continent in the future, – these Irish-Americans find themselves followed, even here, from time to time, by agents and emissaries of those blessed governors of men, whose task is to lower us in the eyes of our fellow-citizens, and to make them understand that we are not fit to be trusted as citizens of this or any other country. These English have taken direction of our people, once for all, and cannot without a pang give up the management of us. Though we take the wings of the morning and nee to the uttermost ends of the earth, even there will their hand lead us and their right hand hold us! Even here we find, at every turn, a vigilant English “ruler of men” cooling our friends, heating our enemies, carefully warning our neighbors that we are false, treacherous, cowardly, and cruel, that we never knew what to do with our own country, when we had one, and will surely do what in us lies to ruin America as we ruined Ireland.
I cannot but admire the Historian when, in one of his lectures, he comes to deal with the apparently simple suggestion that, inasmuch as England has shown nothing but imbecility and stupidity in her dealings with Ireland for seven hundred years, and has brought the island to be a world’s wonder for its long agony of misery, famine, and discontent, she had better perhaps relieve herself of the charge and let Ireland alone. At this idea he breaks out into a foam of rage. What! let Ireland govern herself! No, never! Anything but that. England will never consent either to Home Rule, or to any altered arrangement which might put Ireland into the way of being able to extort Home Rule: – never, until England is beaten to her knees: never! Never!
Bravo! First Historian! Beaten to her knees, quotha? Beaten to her mouth and nose must she be. It is precisely the sentiment which I have myself often written and uttered. The British Empire must utterly perish, that is, be dismembered as an Empire, – or “Ireland must die a daily death, and suffer an endless martyrdom.”
Mr. Froude seems to admit all this: confesses with a charming ingenuousness that Ireland has been always not only unjustly and cruelly, but stupidly, governed by England: that she is now so governed, and is likely to be: nay that Ireland has ample provocation and perfect right to take up arms and establish her independence on the field. Very well then, says the Historian, draw your sword and come on! This is a curiously happy sarcasm, addressed to a nation carefully disarmed by law, and whose houses are at all times subject to search for any kind of weapon. A gang of robbers seize a traveller, tie him to a tree, disarm him, strip him, rob him of his money: he cries out and remonstrates; calls them a pack of rascals, demands to be let loose: but one of the brigands replies to him; “Friend, you have no right to liberty unless you fight for it. Your arguments are good, are unanswerable: therefore, will you fight us all, there as you stand, with your hands tied behind your back to that tree? If you cannot do this, stop your vain arguments and ‘blatant’ bawlings, – enough to disgust the very owls in the trees.” As Dean Swift said, concerning the book of Molyneux: “In reason, all government, without the consent of ill-governed, is the very definition of slavery; but, in fact, eleven men, well armed, will certainly subdue one single man in his shirt”
Here, then, is the whole political theory and principle of the Historian. We have you clown, throttled, stripped, disarmed, garotted: our treatment of you and of your country has been stupid, and a scandal: it is going to be in the future what it has been in the past: and now, what are you going to do about it? I must confess that I like this Crusader of the Period for so honest an exposition of his principles; and feel inclined to take his part against the savage, word-catching critics who have been finding him guilty of misquotations, mistranslations, and even ignorant blunders, as they fondly dream.
And does a citizen of Brooklyn, indeed, or that keen Scotchman, Mr. Hosack, or the Quarterly Review, and “fifty others,” do they, or does any of them, innocently imagine that they can corner the First Living Historian, by pointing out misquotations, falsified authorities and the like? The Historian defies them. He has composed his “History of England” from “perhaps two hundred thousand documents,” and, with a calm irony, invites his critics to follow him through those two hundred thousand pigeon-holes, some in the British Museum, some in the State-Paper Office, some in Trinity College Library, or elsewhere; and he cannot think of replying to any special charge of fraud or forgery, unless his accusers go through all those references. “I have read everything myself,” he observes in his last lecture. “I have made my own extracts from papers which I might never see a second time.” And again – “It often happens that half a letter is in one collection and half in another. There will be two letters from the same person and the same place, on the same subject and on the same day. One may be among the State Papers, another in the British Museum. I will not say that passages from two such letters may not at times appear in my text as if they were one.” But he has done his utmost, as he assures us, to tell the truth. And those who doubt it have only to go through his 200,000 pigeon-holes.
Thus a rabbit squats at one of the burrows of his intricate warren, and invites the terriers to chase: they give chase: there are a thousand galleries, corridors, labyrinths: the rabbit’s ears are seen for a moment peeping at one of the holes: the dog goes for him; but in the twinkling of an eye the rabbit’s fud is seen at another hole forty yards off. No straightforward terrier can follow him up, though a well-trained ferret might. Thus, when the Historian brandishes before us the 200,000 authorities which we must master before we can “convict” him of even one error, he intimidates the simple mind. In vain the citizen of Brooklyn points out that the Historian has printed a L as from Randolph, in Edinburgh, which was never written by said Randolph, attributing to Queen Mary of Scotland an atrocious and blood-thirsty saying, which she never said. He replies that, if Randolph, in Edinburgh, did not write that letter, yet another man somewhere in England did write another letter: and although that other letter does not attribute the blood-thirsty utterance to Queen Mary at all, yet the Historian denies that he has been convicted: no, only accused by the citizen of Brooklyn. If he answered the citizen he would have to answer “fifty others” – so many are the charges which have been made against him: and with a frank and noble candor he offers to submit the examination of his authorities to a commission of five Irish Judges (out of twelve), with the Irish Lord Chancellor to preside: they are to examine the 200,000 authorities, and if they find that he has been unfaithful in citing any one, he will expunge that passage: can a candid Historian do more?
Some persons may term this proposal an illusory kind of challenge: because the human mind is incapable of conceiving the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and four of the Judges quitting the bench, where they have their own business to mind, flinging off wigs and ermine, burying themselves for (let us say) seven years in the crypts of record-offices, museums and college libraries, closely following the Historian as he fits his references or parts of them to a MS. in London, then dives and reappears in Dublin to find the other lines of the letter. Not seven years, but seventeen, would be needful for this labor: and the enemies of our First Historian will be sure to say that he never would have proposed such an inquiry but that he knows it to be impossible. I suggest, then, that he add to the list of Commissioners the name of General Grant.
In short, the Historian is too hard a nut for these word-catching critics to crack. Let them not imagine that they can impale such a man as this upon the horn of an inverted comma, or hang him at the tail of a semi-colon. It is in vain for the citizen of Brooklyn, or fifty others, to taunt him with misquotations; he smiles in front of his 200,000 pigeon-holes, and says to them, “Come on, then, gentlemen, follow! follow! – or send on the Lord Chancellor or the President: either do this, or forever hold your peace.” It is in vain also that another small critic points out how the First Historian, having occasion to refer to the oil-bottle of Rheims, speaks of the bottle as a man, and calls him “Saint Ampoul.” Do they think they have caught him here! Vain dreams! Mr. Froude connait son Rabelais: and knows that famous voyage which Pantagruel made to consult the Oracle of the Holy Bottle, whose name was Bac-Buc; and this is the very Saint, and the very bottle, which the learned person means. – Ah! critics, you are not going to trip up the First Living Historian in this flimsy kind of way! I am now in good humor with the Crusader of the Period and in the next chapter shall come closer to him.