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From The Irish Felon (Vo. 4), 15 July, 1848.
MY LORD – You will remark that this letter is more polite than usual. And for three reasons – first, for that politeness is cheap, and that a Lord Lieutenant who will proclaim and arrest old women caught hawking, according to their wonted trade, in the public streets a mere newspaper, is a very despotic and desperate character, with whom one should keep their manners withal; second, for that I am beginning to have a sort of ridiculous regard for you personally, quite cognate to my own character; inasmuch as you have at last thrown away that sham about legal institutions and “courts of justice,” and have taken the high hand in defiance and most proper contempt for your “law;” and thirdly, because I can afford to be polite to you now, inasmuch as you are beaten.
Yes, I say, beaten. Your “rule” in Ireland was a very fine moral sham while it lasted, as a moral phantasmagory. And the “morality” of the matter was its whole strength. With your red-faced hirelings, whom you call “Judges,” munging sanctimoniously about law – with your twelve respectable suborned persons in the box, swearing oaths, and most religiously breaking them according to their conscience – your usurpation here had a “cloak,” a mask, hard to make people see through.
Under it you could kidnap, rob, and murder quite decently. Under it you kidnapped my glorious friend – under it you transported one young fine fellow for teaching his brethren how to carry the arms common to men – under it you arraigned me for a “crime,” and it please you, so utterly and ridiculously uncriminal, that even your own lawyers would not stoop to prosecute me. Ah! The sham was getting very contemptible – the veil wearing very thin. Like a high-souled Chief Governor, as you are, you fling it aside, and I esteem you for that. It was very base and contemptible, that packing of juries – that stabbing of men with your weapon hid under a bit of parchment.
But I will not dwell on this subject. You have given up your hypocrisy; given up even the semblance of packed juries, and going on with your “law.” You arrested my friend, JOHN MARTIN, for felony, and sent him for trial – that is, this newspaper, for trial; for if it were not felonious, he was not a felon – and the matter of its felony was a question for the discriminating consciences of a packed jury, according to “law,” and not a question for you.
But, nobly and gallantly, I must confess, you anticipated your packed jury, brought in a verdict of felony by yourself, and seized the last number – and not alone that, but even, without seeing this publication – without having any means of approximating to a guess whether or not it would contain the Lord’s prayer, or an alarming article by a disaffected detective, you have issued a proclamation against its sale, a big-lettered, important proclamation, headed “Clarendon, to all old women, &c.” And British rule, in your hands, has come to this. It is too good.
Too good, my lord. Really, it will gladden the soul of my poor friend, in his chains, when he shall hear you are come to fight with old women in the streets of Dublin – even there you may be beaten – they have dreadful tongues, I warn you – impar congressus Achillei.
And now you have given up court and form of law, and all semblance of legitimate “governing.” You, a constitutional Whig, have had recourse to house-breaking, domiciliary visits in the night time, and “illegal” seizures of effects, to sustain your rule. So weak is it, that you, worshipping from your infancy, of course, as enlightened Whig noblemen do, “freedom of opinion” and “freedom of discussion,” yet have had to stoop to swindling to suppress this paper. You take our money for our stamps, and then our stamps – even one of your shop-keeping jurors would blush at the imputation. However, I notice in it that defiance of all morality, and appearance of morality, that bold, unmasked tyranny, which promises well for my country.
Yes! You cannot stop now. Oh, my lord; rule this nation while you can, in the way you have at last begun openly to rule it. While it submits to it, it deserves it; and you are quite right in the course you are pursuing. Suppress opinion; swindle newspapers; seize presses; prevent and disperse meetings; permit no Irishman to utter a word or write a syllable which may displease you. We have no right to utter or write here: “freedom of the press” is one of the British “palladiums” which you can suspend, retain, and put by, whenever you please; and I am delighted it is gone at last.
Now nothing remains for those would make their thoughts known in this country but to speak them with their arms in their hands. Drive them to that, my lord, and I will worship you. Reply to every argument with the policeman’s baton – to every question of right with the bayonet. Beat, trample on, lash into human passion the pallid and nerveless population of this city. Prick them till they wince; and beat the fools about the noddle till they recover reason; flog them at the triangle; drag them in the gutter; decorate them with the pitch cap, and let the lamp posts bear their wonted vintage; till at last they be compelled to escape agony by squelching you as a hideous nuisance – to take you by the neck, tyranny, gaoler, assassin, and hurl you and your “dominion” off this Irish soil into the sea.
You are hurrying to that fast; and do not let me stop you, my lord. Leave no act of tyranny undone, no scheme of outrage untried, to drive this forlorn people to that – then “you will have them,” as the Times says; or else – they you.
And it is a mighty stake you put upon this chance. Think of it: the whole British empire, from Irish landlord to English cotton-spinner, with all its convolutions of class and grade in man-driving; from the serf in Connaught to the serf in Hindustan, with all the intermediate contortions of human suffering, in every corner of the earth; all now depending for their fall on the work of your hands.
Really, my lord, I covet your position by times. Standing amid the ruins of this accursed empire, some gladsome man, in ages hereafter, will surely discover you were its most mortal enemy. He may speculate whether you were really, or not, an “agitator” in disguise, or else an agent of Russia – but this he will find, that you were the first to knock a prop from under the crutched Colossus, and bring it rolling, heaving into fragments to the earth.
He will find, moreover, that you were either a traitor to your own nation; or else, a mere imbecile, made by circumstances, and moved to action by appearances – and yet he will draw this moral from it all, that in every breath that moves of Irish air, in every outrage of your agents, in every “Mistake” of your conclave, in every arrest, in the very men you imprison – in every attempt to turn the key upon a nation, and lock “treason” up, till it well out from your gaols – in every move of the people, in all the bustling, heaving hither and thither, in all the convulsion which may intervene between this and your fall, come when it may – the man you have kidnapped has conquered you, he who said, “I will take their British empire by the throat, and throw it.”
My lord, if that is about to come to pass, as I think it is, I would wish, with your leave, to wait for it; and if this letter be not felonious, as I think it is not – as I hope it is not, for the sake of others – you may not hear from me in this manner again. I do not fear or covet the inside of a gaol, or the deck of a transport hulk; and I have shown you that already. Now, it seems to me – and, you know, we have no secrets – that every man who is fit for any thing, ought to stay out; and I mean to stay out.
Of treason and felony, enough has been written for the present. It has done its work right well; but “brevier leads” are not the leads to take down a battalion withal; nor yet are “minion” and “nonpareil” the “leading columns” on which I wish to stake my liberty and life, or on which my liberty or life lost would be of the highest service to my country.
And now, my lord, good-bye. Adieu. I take my leave, not without regret, of a nobleman with whom I have carried on a correspondence, to me truly agreeable – a correspondence which I may possibly renew, if there be a necessity. But our present parting has this additional element of regret – that, as I have said, I was beginning to have a sort of regard for you, for the open slap-dash style of tyranny upon which you have entered. I am sure I shall think more highly of you as you proceed.
Possibly we may never meet; but should your present course bring us into closer collision than may be agreeable to either of us, I shall have the pleasure of knowing that courtesy has not been wanting on my part. There is now a pitched battle between you and my country; and, as the knights of old used to couch lance in grace, before they couched in earnest; as in the tournament of the ring, the brawny boxer grips his foeman’s hand before he squares to action – so, as one humble Irishman, would I now beg your lordship to accept the considerations of distinguished respect, with which I have the honour to be, my lord,
Your mortal enemy,
THOMAS DEVIN REILLY
July 14th, 1848.