(Written January, 1914.)
Every man born in Ireland holds a “hereditary brief” for the opponents of English sway, wherever they may be. The tribunal of history in his own land is closed to him; he must appeal to another Court; he must seek the ear of those who make history elsewhere. The Irishman is denied the right of having a history, as he is denied the right of having a country. He must recover both. For him there is to be no past, any more than a future. And if he seeks the record of his race in the only schools or books open to him he will find that hope has been shut out of the school and fame taken out of the story.
The late John Richard Green, one of the greatest of English historians was attracted to Ireland by a noble sympathy for the fallen he shared with very few of his countrymen. We are told that he sympathised with the spirit of Irish nationality.
“A State,” he would say, “is accidental; it can be made or unmade; but a nation is something real which can be neither made or destroyed.”
He had once planned a history of Ireland, “but abandoned the idea because the continuous record of misery and misgovernment was too painful to contemplate.” “The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told.” All pleasure lies in contrast. The history of Ireland offers no contrast; it is a tale of unmitigated wrong.
It is too full of graves, and the ghosts are not laid yet. As well write the history of a churchyard. Forty years before John Richard Green thus explained why he had abandoned the plan of the graveyard, Victor Hugo lashed the front of England with this very thong. “Ireland turned into a cemetery; Poland transported to Siberia; all Italy a galleys—there is where we stand in this month of November 1831!”
The history of Ireland remains to be written, because the purpose of Ireland remains yet to be achieved. The widow of John Richard Green has laid the foundations of that temple of hope in which the youth of Ireland must enter and be sworn to the task that yet remains for Irishmen to accomplish.
And so in these opening days of 1914 I bring, with a message of hope, these scattered thoughts upon the British Empire and its approaching dissolution to lay before the youth of Ireland. I say approaching dissolution advisedly, for the signs are there to be read. “Home Rule” will not save it. The attempt now being made to bribe Ireland and the Greater Ireland beyond the seas, to the side of the Elsewhere Empire by what has been aptly termed a ticket-of-leave bill will not suffice. The issue lies in stronger hands. Even could the two Irelands be won by the dole now offered of a subordinate Parliament in Dublin, its hands tied so that it must be impotent for any national effort, “a Parliament,” as Mr. Herbert Samuel says, “for the local affairs of Irishmen,” there are other and more powerful agencies that no measure of “conciliation within the Empire” can permanently win to that system of world exploitation centred in London.
“I would let the Irish have Home Rule,” said recently Mr. Winston Churchill, “for their own idiotic affairs.” But the last word came from Lord Morley, the “father of Home Rule.” “Give it them,” he said, in friendly, private counsel, “give it them; let them have the full savour of their own dunghill civilization.”
But the last word of all will come, not from Lord Morley or “Home Rule,” but from the land and the myriad peoples whose ancient civilization, Lord Morley, like every precedent Satrap, has striven to bury under the dunghill of British supremacy in India, and to hide the very outlines of the ancient body in the set designs of a new purpose.
Civilization has her triumphs of destruction no less than of construction, as the submerged pillars of Philæ attest. In India the task is to obliterate by construction.
The draughtsman now succeeds the storming parties of the past and wipes out with rule and compass what even pillage had spared. The capital of British India is to be “the new Delhi,” planned in Whitehall, but paid for in India—the apotheosis of dung. The new India will make short work of “the new Delhi.”
“An unplumbed, salt, estranging sea,”‘ of moral and spiritual separation sets between the imperial conception as nourished in Britain, and the growing hope of the great millions of mankind who make up the greatest realm of her Empire.
Ireland might be bought or bribed, at any rate in this generation, to forfeit her national ideals and barter the aspiration that six centuries of contact with England have failed to kill; but the three hundred and fifty millions of Indian mankind can never be won, or bought, or bribed in the end.
Even if Ireland forgot the deathless words of Grattan, delivered in the subordinate Parliament of 1780, those words will find a response in the hearts of men who never heard of Grattan. For the voice of the Irish patriot was, in truth, a world voice—a summons to every audience wherever men gather in quest of freedom. The prophesy Grattan uttered in the name of Ireland assuredly will be fulfilled, and that in the lifetime of many of us, in that greater Ireland England holds in the Eastern Seas by the very same title of raid, conquest and spoliation that has given her our own land.
Substitute “India” for “Ireland” and the Grattan of 1780 becomes the Indian patriot of to-day.
“I never will be satisfied so long as the meanest cottager in Ireland has a link of the British chain clanking in his rags; he may be naked, he shall not be in irons; and I do see the time is at hand; the spirit is gone forth, the declaration is planted; and though great men should apostasize, yet the cause will live; and though the public speaker should die, yet the immortal lire shall outlast the organ which conveyed it, and the breath of liberty, like the word of the holy man will not die with the prophet, but survive him.”
Were Ireland to accept the bribe now offered she would indeed justify the reproach of Wilfrid Blunt: but she Avould become something else than “a weapon of offence in England’s hands against the freedom of the world elsewhere;” she would share, and rightly share, the fate of the parasite growth that, having gripped her trunk so tightly, has by that aid reached the sunlight. The British Empire is no northern oak tree. It is a creeping, climbing plant that has fastened on the limbs of others and grown great from a sap not its own. If we seek an analogy for it in the vegetable and not in the animal world we must go to the forests of the tropics and not to the northern woodlands. In the great swamps at the mouth of the Amazon, the naturalist Bates describes a monstrous liana, the “Sipo Matador,” or Murdering Creeper, that far more fitly than the oak tree of the north typifies John Bull and the place he has won in the sunlight by the once strong limbs of Ireland.
Speaking of the forests around Pará, Bates says:—”In these tropical forests each plant and tree seems to be striving to outvie its fellows, struggling upwards towards light and air—branch and leaf and stem—regardless of its neighbors. Parasitic plants are seen fastening with firm grip on others, making use of them with reckless indifference as instruments for their own advancement. Live and let live is clearly not the maxim taught in these wildernesses. There is one land of parasitic tree very common near Pará which exhibits this feature in a very prominent manner. It is called the “Sipo Matador,” or Murderer Liana. It belongs to the fig order, and has been described and figured by von Martius in the Atlas to Spix and Martius’s Travels. I observed many specimens. The base of its stem would be unable to bear the weight of the upper growth; it is obliged, therefore, to support itself on a tree of another species. In this it is not essentially different from other climbing trees and plants, but the way the Matador sets about it is peculiar and produces certainly a disagreeable impression. It springs up close to the tree on which it intends to fix itself, and the wood of its stem grows by spreading itself like a plastic mould over one side of the trunk of its supporter. It then puts forth, from each side, an arm-like branch, which grows rapidly, and looks as though a stream of sap were flowing and hardening as it went. This adheres closely to the trunk of the victim, and the two arms meet at the opposite side and blend together. These arms are put forth at somewhat regular intervals in mounting upwards, and the victim, when its strangler is full grown, becomes tightly clasped by a number of inflexible rings. These rings gradually grow larger as the Murderer flourishes, rearing its crown of foliage to the sky mingled with that of its neighbour, and in course of time they kill it by stopping the flow of its sap. The strange spectale then remains of the selfish parasite clasping in its arms the lifeless and decaying body of its victim, which had been a help to its own growth. Its ends have been served—it has flowered and fruited, reproduced and disseminated its kind; and now when the dead trunk moulders away its own end approaches; its support is gone and itself also falls.”
The analogy is almost the most perfect in literature, and if we would not see it made perfect in history we must get rid of the parasite grip before we are quite strangled. If we would not share the coming darkness we must shake off the murderer’s hold, before murderer and victim fall together. That fall is close at hand. A brave hand may yet cut the “Sipo Matador,” and the slayer be slain before he has quite stifled his victim.
If that hand be not a European one, then may it come, bronzed, keen and supple from the tropic calm! The birds of the forest are on the wing.
Regions Cæsar never knew, including Hibernia, have come, under the eagles, nay, the vultures, of imperial Britain. But the Lion’s maw is full.
At length the overgorged Beast of Prey, with all the diseases in his veins that overeating brings, finds that his claws are not so sharp as they were, that his belly is much heavier when he tries to leap, and that it is now chiefly by his Voice he still scares his enemies.
The Empire of England dates from Tudor times. Henry VIII was the first John Bull. With the conquered Irish and the wealth derived from their rich country England set out to lay low every free people that had a country worth invading and who, by reason of their non-imperial instincts, were not prepared to meet her on equal terms. India she overran by the same methods as had given her Ireland.
Wholesale plunder, treachery and deceit met at her Council Board under a succession of Governors and Viceroys, whose policy was that of Captain Kidd, and whose anteroom of State led every native prince to the slippery plank. The thing became the most colossal success upon earth. No people were found able to withstand such a combination. How could peoples still nursed in the belief of some diviner will ruling men’s minds resist such attack?
For one brief space Napoleon reared his head; and had he cast his vision to Ireland instead of to Egypt he would have found out the secret of the Pirate’s Stronghold. But the fates willed otherwise; the time was not yet. He sailed for Alexandria, lured by a dream, instead of for Cork; and the older Imperialists beat the new Imperialist and secured a fresh century of unprecedented triumph. The Pyramids looked down on Waterloo; but the headlands of Bantry Bay concealed the mastery, and the mystery, of the seas.
With 1815 was born the Era of Charles Peace, no less than of John Bull— on Sundays and Saint’s days a Churchwarden, who carried the plate; on week days a burglar who lifted it. Truly, as John Mitchel said on his convict hulk, “On English felony the sun never sets.” May it set in 1915!
From Napoleon’s downfall to the battle of Colenso, the Empire founded by Henry VIII has swelled to monstrous size. Innumerable free peoples have bit the dust and died with plaintive cry to heaven. The wealth of London has increased a thousand fold, and the giant hotels and caravauserais have grown, at the millionaire’s touch, to rival the palaces of the Caesars.
“All’s well with God’s world”—and poet and plagiarist, courtier and courtesan, Kipling and cant— these now dally by the banks of the Thames and dine off the peoples of the earth, just as once the degenerate populace of imperial Rome fed upon the peoples of the Pyramids. But the thing is near the end. The “secret of Empire” is no longer the sole possession of England. Other peoples are learning to think imperially. The Goths and the Visigoths of modern civilization are upon the horizon. Action must soon follow thought. London, like Rome, will have strange guests. They will not pay their hotel bills. Their day is not yet, but it is at hand. “Home Rule” assemblies and Indian “Legislative Councils” may prolong the darkness: but the dawn is in the sky. And in the downfall of the Tudor Empire, both Ireland and India shall escape from the destruction and join again the free civilizations of the earth.
The birds of the forest are on the wing.
It is an Empire in these straits that turns to America, through Ireland, to save it. And the price it offers is—war with Germany. France may serve for a time; but France, like Germany, is in Europe, and in the end it is all Europe and not only Germany England assails. Permanent confinement of the white races, as distinct from the Anglo-Saxon variety, can only be achieved by the active support and close alliance of the American people. These people are to-day. unhappily, republicans and freemen, and have no ill-will for Germany and a positive distaste for imperialism. It is not really in their blood. That blood is mainly Irish and German, the blood of men not distinguished in the past for successful piracy and addicted rather to the ways of peace. The wars that Germany has waged have been wars of defence, or wars to accomplish the unity of her people. Irish wars have been only against one enemy, and ending always in material disaster, they have conferred always amoral gain. Their memory uplifts the Irish heart: for no nation, no people can reproach Ireland with having wronged them. She has injured no man.
And now, to-day, it is the great free race of this common origin of peace-loving peoples, filling another continent, that is being appealed to by every agency of crafty diplomacy, in every garb but that of truth, to aid the enemy of both and the arch-disturber of the old world. The jailer of Ireland seeks Irish-American support to keep Ireland in prison; the intriguer against Germany would win German-American goodwill against its parent stock. There can be no peace for mankind; no limit to the intrigues set on foot to assure Great Britain “the mastery of the seas.”
If “America” will but see things aright, as a good “Anglo-Saxon” people should, she will take her place beside, nay, even a little in front of John Bull in the plunder of the earth. Were the “Anglo-Saxon Alliance” ever consummated it would be the biggest crime in human history. That alliance is meant by the chief party seeking it, to be a perpetual threat to the peoples of Europe, nay, to the whole of mankind outside the allied ranks. And, instead of bringing peace it must assuredly bring the most distracting and disastrous conflict that lias ever stained the world with blood.
John Bull has now become the great variety artist, one, in truth, whose infinite variety detection cannot stale any more than Customs officers can arrest the artist’s baggage.
At one moment the “Shirt King,” being prosecuted for the sale of cheap cottons as “Irish linen” in London; the next he lands the “Bloater King” in New York, offering small fish as something very like a whale. And the offer in both cases is made in the tongue of Shakespeare.
That tongue has infinite uses: from China it sounds the “Call for prayer,” and lo, the Book of Dividend opens at the right text. Were Bull ever caught in the act, and put from the trade of international opium-dosing to that of picking oakum and the treadmill, we should hear him exclaim, as he went out of sight, “Behold me weaving the threads of democratic destiny as I climb the Golden Stair!”
The rôles are endless. In Ireland, the conversion of Irishmen into cattle; in England, the conversion of Irish cattle into men; in India and Egypt the suppression of the native Press; in America the subsidizing of the non-native Press. The tongue of Shakespeare has infinite uses. He only poached deer—it would poach Dreadnoughts. The emanations of Thames sewage are all over the world, and the sewers are running still. The penalty for pollution of the Thames is a high one; but the prize for the pollution of the Mississipi is higher still: the fountains of the deep, the mastery of the great waters, these are the things John Bull seeks on the shores of the “Father of Waters.”
The sunset of a fading Empire would turn those waters into blood. The British Empire was not founded in peace; how, then, can it be kept by peace or ensured by peace treaties? It was born of pillage and bloodshed, and has been maintained by both; and it cannot now be secured by a common language any more than by a common Bible. The lands called the British Empire belong to many races, and it is only by the sword and not by the Book of Peace or any pact of peace that those races can be kept from the ownership of their own countries.
The “Anglo-Saxon Alliance” means a compact to ensure slavery and beget war. The people who fought the greatest war in modern history to release slaves are not likely to begin the greatest war in all history to beget slaves.
Let the truth be known in America that England wants to turn the great Republic of freemen into the imperial ally of the great Empire of bought men, and that day the “Anglo-Saxon Alliance” gives place to the Declaration of Independence.
The true alliance to aim at for all who love peace is the friendly Union of Germany, America and Ireland. These are the true United States of the world.
Ireland, the link between Europe and America, must be freed by both.
Denied to-day free intercourse with either, she yet forms in the great designs of Providence the natural bond to bring the old world and the new together.
May 1915 lay the foundations of this—the true Hundred Years of Peace!