From the Irish Felon (Vo. 1), June 24, 1848.
THAT I am compelled to address you now, my lord, you are the sole cause. You have not forgotten how he, whose humble follower I am, used, much to your terror and uneasiness, week by week, to tell you all our secrets, one by one, without equivocation or bombast – a plan I promise you to follow to the best of my ability, while this hand remains without a weapon or a hand-cuff.
But an eminent diplomatist, like your lordship, a mild and equable chief governor, who can walk from that den of conspirators you call your privy council, with the blood of men marked out for slaughter clotting round your soul, into a philosophic reunion of bullock-feeders and men-starvers, and there talk blandly and glibly of the “state of the country” you willfully devastate- a man like you, who can plot in your chamber with that recreant bravo you call your “Catholic Attorney-General,” and his sheriffs, and jurors, to take away honest men’s liberties and lives; and then ride out in gilded caparison, with the tailoring of a soldier on you, and look Heaven in the face, and man – a “Lord Lieutenant,” I say, with a convenient conscience of that kind, might forget the truculent, base, and cowardly manner in which you have done into the slavery of the hulks in a distant island, your mortal enemy, and my immortal friend. I will take care you shall not.
Step by step, and week by week, free or chained, with pen in hand, by word of mouth, in prayer to God, I will repeat your infamy, and make others repeat it, till the Irish winds that whistle round by day, and the serpent conscience which coils you round by night, scowling on you, shall alike hiss in your ears the one word, “assassin.”
MY LORD ASSASSIN! – For I am not so shallow a democrat as not to acknowledge the titles men have fairly won – you had a noble enemy, and you dealt ignobly with him – you had a chivalrous opponent, and you met him like a coward – you had a man of proud heart and loving soul, great and original, who challenged, defied, and terrified you in the open day, in the world’s hearing, and you, skulking behind a lawyer’s gown, and a judge’s petticoats, and a jury of packed, purchasable bankrupts, conspired against him in the dark, and did him into irons by a method so old, so worn, so mean, so very contemptible, so transparent in its infamy and its action, so utterly base and cowardly, that the most vulgar cut-throat, the poorest Tipperary “Thug,” who takes his enemy down from behind a ditch, decently, is a noble and brave man in the world’s estimation compared with you. I would wash the feet of that man before I would defile my hand with yours. Oh, my lord assassin, it was very poor, and very base.
Just think of it: in the 18th year of the reformed constitution of England, of the popular, the liberal reform bill, in the administration of the “liberty-of-the-subject” Whigs, of the “justice-to-Ireland” Whigs, of the virtuous “advance-of-civilization” Whigs, you, a Whig, enlightened, ameliorative, a liberty-of-opinion, truth-loving Whig – had a bill run through your great London Club, declaring that to speak or write the truth in Ireland would thenceforth be felony.
To be sure you might as well have said, to eat breakfast, or say “good morrow,” in Ireland would thenceforth be felony; and, indeed, had you refused to “govern” the country without a bill against breakfasting, or bidding “good morrow,” you would have got it too. Well, you got your bill; and indeed, it was needful, for, there was just one man in Ireland who kept speaking the truth – so palpably lying is your rule here – and you declared that he and you could not be free in Ireland together.
You had an army at your back, a hireling press at your back, a police system, a web of detectives girding us round, paid pamphleteers, printing presses, landlords, merchants, itching to prove their loyalty to you, and their willingness to shoot and slay the people – you had a middle class of “lion-and-unicorn jurors” panting for the box – you had a coercion bill to disarm the poor, and hirelings to commit “outrages” wheresoever you pleased.
All was not sufficient without your bill. The one voice of outspoken truth was stronger than all your machinery of “government.” How that voice, ringing along, drove you in affright, to call again and again your garrison in arms, and keep them accounted and screwed up in belt and knapsack night and day, till they all bet mutinied.
How it struck on the soldier’s ear, as he stood in rank with gun at the “present,” and palsied his arm, and manned anew the heart near choked with pipeclay. How it followed him into his barrack-room or his canteen, and made him there an inditer and preacher of treason. How it even pierced the green and blue coats of your constabulary and police, and nigh smashed that right arm of your “constitutional government.” How serenely it soared above your hireling press, nor stooped to notice them. How it met your masked pamphleteers and exposed you – your landlords in their damning crimes, and made them pale – your merchants in their banks and counting-houses, and shook their bubble credit – your very jurors in their shops, and frighted them.
Well, you had your bill to iron one man, if he would further dare to utter that voice of truth. He did utter it – you seized him. There was a plain case for an impartial jury. But you shrunk, cowardlike, from even a risk like that. No, the thing must be surely done, since it is to be done. How like the vulgar criminal you worked – bidding FRENCH to bid PONDER to bid HAMILTON to bid WHEELER and MONAGHAN, junior, to do the deed you feared yourself to do; and then banishing your accomplices – one to England and the other to Connaught.
And the judges – a hungry partisan, too hungry to hide the palsied passion in his face, and a ci-devant Tory, turned Whig and Judge – none other would suit you. Well, the deed was done, and then – how characteristically vulgar have been all your acts? – You cheated his brother from seeing him; and as the common murderer hopes for quiet in his soul once the victim of his crime is hidden from the eyes of men, you hurried away stealthily your victim by back ways to shipboard, and sent him off any whither from you.
Never, my lord assassin, was there a greater proof of the power of one truthful man, and the littleness, the conscious criminality, the conscious imbecility, of your rule. There you were, with your garrison in arms, your whole machinery of slaughter, and oppression, and resistance round about you, victorious in your crime, and you dared not let MITCHEL remain forty-eight hours in Dublin.
If you had, my lord – but you dared not. No, even in a lone island, at the far end of Ireland, in a fortalice, even there his presence was too much – away with him, hide him from you and the people whom, in him, you outraged – not till the topmast of the Scourge had sunk into the far Atlantic – not till the hero was engulfed in the illimitable mouth of ocean, with a ridge of blue sea running between him and the land he loved with a woman’s love and a man’s heroism, did you, and “the crown and government” of your mistress, dare to feel secure.
And are you not secure – what, not yet? Did that not polite paragon of detectives, Inspector GUY, restore the imperiled “constitution” to its former secure basis, save the “crown and government” of your United Kingdom, and put it to bed, at ease and quiet, for a century more or so, when he entered this office, and took into custody some hundred weight of innocent type, as if there were no type in Ireland which could be made to print felony but that. And then, when, by your order, the same GUY invaded the private dwelling of a lady whom your cowardice had bereaved, and knocked about the furniture, and opened the trunks, and rummaged the clothing – were not these proofs of the firm, vigorous, and enlightened away of a polite and ameliorative nobleman. “It was a glorious victory.”
And yet, my lord “governor,” this is not “government,” nor even a decent sham of “governing,” but very indecent and contemptible in its way. You have not conquered – in nothing have you conquered – least of all in conquering the felonious spirit and tendency of leaden type, as I mean to show you before you and I have done with one another.
You have made a pirate raid upon a fallen nation, and carried off, by trick and stealth, a priceless genius. But you have not crushed felony, or terrified felons out of their wits, as you see. And if, my lord, we, of this paper, cannot equal our predecessor in power and effect, it is the difference of talent, not of will. Yes, you have transported one man – but you have raised up a hero, a beacon-light to thousands on thousands, a true man to a nation lost in idol-worship, an inspiring example to a dispirited race.
You have severed one family, but you have united millions. Recollect, my lord, what you found the national struggle to be – no struggle, but a groping of stupid, quarreling men, after the one ignis fatuus, who, when they crossed each other in the luckless hunt, exchanged fisty-cuffs, and set off again – you found it not alone a sham to all the world, but a stale sham; one side of which was a money swindle, and the other platform bombast.
Well, see the change – the track which your pirate craft left upon the sea was followed by the weeping eyes of a people, no longer groping in the dark – but of a people struck with the terrible reality of their position – with eyes opened to their frightful slavery, uniting in their sorrow, in despite of “leaders,” against you and your nation.
Yes! You – you have buried “Repeal” – delved it a grave, deep – deep as your infamy. You have sanctified Republicanism in Ireland, my lord – given to it the glory of sacrifice, of suffering, which “Repeal” had not – raised round it a halo of martyrdom, sure type of sanctity and eternal life. You have crowned it in the dock with the laurels of a conqueror.
I put it to you, my lord, I put it to your spies, your better classes, your magisterial eavesdroppers, is not this the truth – is not this the way you have “secured the crown and government of the United Kingdom.” It is on the lips of every man, loyal or disloyal, Irish or anti-Irish, Tory or Whig, and yet, perhaps it is “felony” for me to write it. Be it so – then you have your resource-pack. Your Attorney-General has declared he cannot convict without packing; let him, therefore, “do his duty.” But what will this effect for you? – Will more packing, more assassinations, more transportations, “govern the country.”
You are an overgrown schoolboy too well informed to believe that. No, my Lord Earl, it is not the banishment of ten or twenty, or ten thousand men, as felons, can make this nation “loyal” to your rule. Were I an Englishman, I would arraign you for “felony.” But, being Irish, I tell you neither of us are felons. You have no right to be here, and you do but right to prove it, and you can take no quicker or surer way of proving it than by jury-packing; for there are in Ireland six millions felons, heart and soul, and twelve of them in the box would not “do the Queen’s business.” No, it is in your bankrupt courts, in your whitewashing establishments, not “sanatory,” but very noxious, in “compounding establishments,” not medicinal, but of credit, in falling houses and falling natures, you must look for such.
Well suppose them eked out, sworn and perjured – suppose a dozen or two more of us banished, or, for that matter hanged; for your farrago about capital punishments, and blood spilling, and the “spirit of the age,” is really very nauseous, what then – you have “governed the country” at last? Go to the waving fields of wheat, and you will find blades there, some on straw, of vegetable matter, others on ash poles, of shining steel – go to the districts under notice to quit, or in arrear, and by the idle spade in the chimney-nook, or hidden in some ditchside night hand, you will find, if you are cunning enough, brown barrels, with the stock and lock, and their owners, connected in clubs, meeting, thinking, brooding, looking down at the gladsome crops, and then up to Heaven, and then – Yes! I have lived to see the Irish peasant hang his weapon by his bedside, and utter that most felonious prayer to GOD, by GOD’s lips taught them, “Give us this day our daily bread!” That country, were I not here to tell it you, you cannot “govern.”
And were it not so, my lord – were Ireland cowed, broken, “pacificated” into a huge grave, is your “crown and government” secure? I will reason calmly with you – if I can. I will suppose my country sunk in the Atlantic, or towed away to the Bermudas – I will suppose that, in a financial and wealth-producing respect, the aristocracy of your country can exist without her – is their “crown and government” (for their Queen is the mere block of a gilded symbol) – is, I say, their “crown and government,” for all that, secure?
You are a well-read nobleman, no doubt – a politician who reads the papers, if you do not think – a diplomatist who has travelled Europe, if you have made little by your journeying except the dignity of a pamphlet peddler – a trade you hawk in largely here. Yet, perhaps, you can follow me, as I note down a few facts about your country and its relation to the rest of the world, worth remembering in your present position. I will for the nonce become one of your lordship’s “practical instructors,” and, if you hearken to me, perhaps not the worst of them.
Note, then, first, that England, or “the empire,” as you please, has hitherto “secured” herself, or, at least, made out life tolerably well, not by any innate physical power of her own, not by the warlike spirit of her people, or the relative superiority of their bleeps muscles, or by their numbers – not by fertile fields or mines of precious metals stored in her bosom, nor yet by honesty or good-will, but, limited as she is in population, possessing a poor soil methodically cultivated, a rank rogue in character and fact, and hated by all people of the earth who knew her; she has existed 1st – by a name for “liberty” her aristocrats made out for her somehow I never could discover: 2nd – by false credit made out of a complicated commercial system in particular, and robbery in general; 3rd – by keeping up a “balancing” relation with the tyrants of the rest of Europe, so that no matter how the game ran she had always partners, and partners who could play and pay well and ably; and fourthly – by her naturally defensible positions, like a redoubt to Europe, moated round with seas.
Now, I mean to show you, my lord diplomatist, that she stands in Europe, in those days of political tempest, without a single one of these means of existence, of defence, of security – having not a single new one. And I do this principally for the purposes of convincing you and others that to transport JOHN MITCHEL, or any one man, and especially any one Irishman, for the purpose of “securing” or propping up this tumbling empire must have been the vengeful and purposeless act of cold-blooded assassins – to convince you, if, indeed, you doubt the fact which none but a fool could doubt, that the “felony” which threatens, has threatened, will threaten, the security of this empire, until that “security” is utterly gone, until word and thought become act and deed, and the empire roll down, crashing to the earth, from pinnacle to basement – that the “felony” which does threaten this ruin, and will effect it, is not to be found in the writings of any one man, or dozen or men, in the acts of any one man or dozen or men, nor yet in type, nor printing case, nor printer’s devil, but in the crimes and infamies of the English aristocracy, now hated, accursed, and imbecile, in the plundering system of the English plutocracy, now run aground and bankrupt in their plunder, in the rags, the starved faces, the idle hands, the loosened passions of the English “mobocracy,” as you call that once noble people you have stripped, pauperised, demoralised, and now flung out of your factories to breathe the air, not smoke, and win the rights of animals since you have refused them the rights of men – in these, thou English aristocrat, in the state of England’s own heart, in her “classes” warring for existence against each other, and against the people, upon whose blood and marrow they have lived; in her relation to the brave peoples she has basely subjugated; in the crimes of Hindustan – the fierce shout of vengeance of the Sikh and Afghan, we hear even now, booming gloriously from the heart of Asia to us, afflicted brothers; in the uprising of the Canadians, whom she can no longer cheat with a “constitution” out of liberty – in her relation to the rest of Europe – envied and hated by the Russian, outwitted in Turkey, scorned by the Italy she trepanned and deceived, execrated, aye, execrated by France – alone in Europe, without a tyranny to subsidise, or the means of subsidising him, haughtily jilted by even her old stale handmaid Spain, and defied and cursed by all America, wherever an Irishman has set his foot, or an English ship has tumbled out on her shores the Irish offal of her cannibal rule – alone in the world, I say, with her powerless hand unraised against any nation, flout, and taunt, and baulk her as it may, and with every nation’s hand raised against her – here, my lord, on the world’s whole face, in the earth’s heart, in the anima mundi, in the sentence of history, in the vengeance of a just God, and not in this paper or any other paper, or this type, or any other type, you will find that “felony” which is the doom of your empire, which you cannot incarcerate, try by a packed jury, chain, transport, hang, or slay.
Do I speak the truth? Where, now, is that prestige for “liberty,” that name of “land of liberty,” that bombastic lie about “free institutions,” by which, for so long, England made a fair face to the world? In the Bermudas, my lord? Yes! You have set yourself in the face of Europe – not in array of battle, but more deadly to you, of opinion. Twelve months ago, and more, what you call “liberal ideas,” that is, the idea that man may speak the truth in him, and yet live unchained, started in Rome; and spreading from the Tiber, saved all who received it, ruined all who opposed it; spread northward, and smashed Austria; southward, and freed Sicily, even at the expense of “the crown and government of one United Kingdom;” westward, and liberated France, creating one Count NEUILLY.
“Freedom of political writing,” is a right, a truth, as old in Europe now, as fully acknowledged in Europe now, as the right of human existence. The smallest city of Italy, the most trifling state of Germany, has won that “free institution;” and it was in these times, in times of peace, openly and publicly before the earth, you ostentatiously destroyed that poor “freedom” here. “Land of liberty,” forsooth! Even the late tyranny of the French nation did not outrage God and justice so, as to transport, for fourteen years, a brave and gifted man, for writing the truth against him. No, my lord! To the Piombi of Venice – to that Austrian gaol of Spielberg, where the carcase of MARONCELLI corroded to atoms in its chains – to these dens of tyranny must you go to find any likeness to your impious rule.
And where is the Austrian empire now? Where the tyranny of Lombardy? Where the jailor of Spielberg? In the Alps, my lord, a runaway caitiff from his capital, hiding like a brigand, as he is – his fairest province, his Ireland, his Italy that was now free from his grasp in arms – his second dependency, Hungary, no more dependent, but glorying in Hungarian liberty, won with Hungarian blood – his empire dissolved into its several just existences – his capital, from which he fled disguised, by stealth, in the hands of his people. I wish you and yours so successful an escape.
But I must close this letter. It is already over long, I fear, for those who will read it, besides you. Next week you shall receive some further practical instruction from,
My Lord Assassin,
Your enemy to the death,
THOMAS DEVIN REILLY
12, Trinity-Street, Saturday, 24th June, 1848.