[chapter 8][p. 264]
“Oh! could we from death but recover.”
THE GRAVE OF CHARLES WOLFE.
IT was in the cottage of Dr. Power that unexpectedly the sweet strains of the “Soldier’s Grave” were struck by Mrs. P., and awakened again those sensations which were stirred, when in the city of New York, a few days before sailing for Ireland, I heard them for the first time; and here was told that the author was sleeping in a humble burying-ground but two miles from the spot.
In two days Mrs. P. accompanied me to the strangers’ churchyard adjoining an old crumbling ivy-covered ruin of a church, where sleep together in a rank grass-grown spot, the sailor and the soldier who dies from home, in this harbor, and where seldom a foot tramples on the wild weed that grows tall in the uneven inclosure where they sleep. Here and there a coarse monument tells that Captain M., or Lieutenant G. died in this harbor, Anno Domini, but Charles Wolfe was not among them, his was a bed detached, and confined within the wall of one corner of the church, with a humble flat stone over his breast. The roof of [p. 265] the church is gone, and the entrance to his grave, when the sexton is not there to unlock it, is over the wall by climbing a ladder. A look through the key-hole showed that luxuriant weeds and stones from the crumbling wall had well-nigh concealed the epitaph, which told his age and death. His short story was easily rehearsed; for like all true merit, he was unostentatious, and asked not that the world should honor him. His birth-place was Dublin, in 1791, a descendant of the military hero Wolfe, who was slain at Quebec. He was sent to Bath, in England, in 1801, to school, where his mother removed at the death of his father, then to Dr. Evans’s, then to Winchester, where his amiable disposition made him greatly beloved, and his classical attainments gained him great distinction without flattering his vanity. He never in one instance received a reprimand from a teacher, and his sister adds, that to her recollection he never acted contrary to his mother’s wishes during his life. He cheerfully gave up the idea of a military profession, which he had imbibed, because he found it was unpleasant to his mother. In 1808 the family returned to Ireland, and in 1809 he entered Dublin College. He soon distinguished himself as a poet; his Jugurtha Incoraratus was written in the first year of college, the year when his mother died, an event which left a lasting impression in his heart. He soon after won a prize and became a college tutor, obtained a scholarship, and his talents for prose and verse, as well as oratory, soon manifested themselves.[p. 266]
The poem which gave him such deserved celebrity was published without his knowledge, and it originated in his mind by reading a paragraph, as follows. Sir John Moore had often said, that if he was killed in battle, he wished to be buried where he fell.
“The body was removed at midnight to the citadel of Corunna. A grave was dug for him on the rampart there, by a party of the 9th Regiment, the aide-decamps attending by turns. No coffin could be procured, and the officers of his staff wrapped the body, dressed as it was, in a military cloak and blankets. The interment was hastened, for about eight in the morning some firing was heard, and the officers feared if a serious attack were made they should be ordered away, and not suffered to pay him that last duty. The officers of his army bore him to the grave — the funeral service was read by the chaplain, and the corpse was covered with earth.”
Thus they buried him at dead of night, and —
“He lay like a warrior taking his rest,
With his martial cloak about him.”
His biographer says, had he written no other poetry, this poem would have entitled him to the name of poet of poets. He had one peculiarity: in reading, he analyzed the subject to its origin, and there tarried so long, that he seldom perused it to the end — he digested thoroughly what he did read, but seldom read a book through. He was an enthusiastic admirer of the scenery of his own country. Lough Bray, Wicklow, [p. 267] and the Dargle, have been graphically portrayed by his pen.
He became pious, but humbly laid his attainments at the foot of the, cross, and in November, 1817, he took an obscure country curacy in the North, where his indefatigable labors and affectionate heart won him the love of all his flock, especially the poor, but who could not appreciate his talents, nor “enter into the deep feelings of his soul.”
Here he labored, and here he loved to labor; and would have died among the simple flock he loved for Christ’s sake; but his friends removed him to the seaside at Cove. His sermons were but precepts of which he was a living example. His sickness and closing scene were replete with all that is lovely in the Christian character. To his relatives who stood round him, he said, “the peace of God overshadow them, dwell in them, and reign over them;” and to a relative who hung over him, he said, “Close this eye, the other is closed already — and now farewell.”
Thus this poet and Christian died, and thus is he buried, in that lonely deserted place, among the dead of almost every clime, who have been huddled and housed here, apart from country and kindred, and where few but strangers’ feet ever tread the way to their isolated resting-place.
There was something to me quite forbidding in the associations that hung around the grave of Charles Wolfe, in that deserted corner: — [p. 268]
“O, breathe not his name, let him sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonored his relics are laid;
Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed,
As the night dew that falls on the grass o’er his head.”
The summer of 1848 was pleasant and unusually sunny, and the hopes of the poor peasant revived as he saw the potato looking up again, in freshness and strength; but alas! a few days laid all his prospects in the dust.
A brother of Theobald Mathew had planted a field of twenty-seven acres, in almost certain faith that they would not be blasted; for weeks they flourished, and promised to yield an abundant crop. The poor people in the neighborhood were blessing the good God for the beautiful patch of the “kind gintleman,” and seemed as happy as though they were ripening for their own use. They have been known to go and look into the field, and take off their hats, and in humble adoration bless the name of God, for his great mercy in sending them the potato again. This was their usual practice when they saw a field looking vigorous. But in one night the spoiler came — this beautiful field in the morning had, in isolated spots, the withering touch of the fatal disease. In a few days the rich extensive crop would not pay the laborer for his toil in gathering it. All was over, and in silent despondency each one submitted to the stroke. The “still small voice” seemed to say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It was something for which man could not reprove his brother; and he dared not reproach his God. “And [p. 269] what,” said an old woman, sitting by her vegetable stall, “would become of us miserable bodies, if God Almighty had sent the blast on us, and left the potato?”
This was in the autumn of 1845, when but a partial failure took place — the blast had not then fallen on man but it did fall, and swept them down as grass before the mower’s scythe, yet not one of the victims, through long months of starvation, was heard to murmur against God. They thanked his holy name, both when they saw the potato grow in luxuriance, and when they saw it dried, as by a scorching heat. It was one of the most touching, striking features of the famine, to see a family looking into a withered patch, which the day before looked promising, and hear the exclamations of wonder and praise, weeping and thanksgiving, mingled together, “He’s sent the blast, blessed be his holy name!” “His blessed will be done — and we’ll all die with hunger and praise God we’re all poor sinners,” &c. They literally and practically carried out the principle of one in ancient days, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;” for though year after year they saw the root on which they and their fathers had lived, melt away, yet they would not be persuaded but that the good God would give them the potato again; and in 1846-7-8-9, when each successive year had produced the same if not worse effects, they yet persisted in saving, oftentimes by stealth, some part of a sound potato, to keep it from the hungry mouths of their children, that they might put it in [p. 270] the ground, and “Plaise God we will have the potato again,” would be the persevering reply to all expostulation. So wedded are they to this root, that notwithstanding many know and deeply feel that it has been their rod of oppression, yet they emphatically “kiss the rod, and Him that hath appointed it;” and could a decree now go forth that the potato should be restored to its pristine soundness and health, and that the present generation and their posterity forever should feed on this root exclusively, and have work six days a-week, at fourpence or sixpence a-day, there would be a universal jubilee kept through mountain and glen, and bonfires would from hill-top to bog extinguish the light of moon and star, for many a joyful night. And let it be expected by those who would do good to Ireland, and elevate her in the scale of being, that it will be many a long year before the sickle will be as joyfully and heartily worked as the spade. This spade has a thousand associations, entwining in and about the hearts of parent and child, which no other instrument of husbandry can claim; it has cut the turf that lighted up the mud-wall cabin, and boiled the “blessed potato;” it has dug the pit in front of the cabin for the duck-pond; it has piled the manure-heap at the corner, mountain high; it has planted the ridge which furnished their daily bread; it has made the ditch, and repaired the road; it has stood by the hearth or door through many a dark and stormy night, to guard the little stack for the cow against the tithe gatherer; it has been a fireside and field-companion; and above all, [p. 271] and over all, it has measured and hollowed out many a last sleeping bed for a darling child, a beloved husband or wife, and in the dark days of the famine it has often been the only companion to accompany the father, mother, husband, wife, or child, who has had the corpse of a hunger-stricken relative in a sack or tied to the back, to convey it to the dread uncoffined pit, where are tumbled, in horrid confusion, the starved dead of all ages.
The sickle has not that claim to the affections of what is genteelly called the “lower order.” It is more aristocratic in its station and occupation. It has been used in the hands of the poor, to reap down the fields of the rich “for naught;” it has cut the wheat and the barley for the tax-gatherer, the landlord, and the surpliced “hireling,” who “reaps where he sowed not,” and “gathers where he has not strewed.”
With all these considerations, it must be expected that this instrument will be approached with caution, if not suspicion; and wonder not if they feel like David, when the armor of Saul was put on him, to go out and meet Goliath; “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” He who would reform, must not only know what is to be done, but how it is best to do it effectually. The Irish will never be laughed or preached out of their relish for the potato, neither should it be attempted; let them love it — let them cultivate it, but let it not be like the grass of the field for the bullock, who is adapted entirely to that food, and which has never failed to give him a supply. Learn the Irish by [p. 272] use that they need not relish the potato less, but they may love the bread and other esculents more, that should one fail, they may turn to another with convenience. Give them good healthy food as substitutes, and cast the musty, sour Indian meal, with the “black bread” away — frighten them not with sickening dangerous food, and tell them it is because they are dainty and savage that they do not relish it. If what is given them be “good enough for kings,” then let kings eat it; for if God has “made of one blood all the nations of the earth,” he may have made the palate, too, somewhat similar. If bread will strengthen John Russell’s heart, it will the “bog-trotter’s” also; if a fine-spun broadcloth, with gilt buttons, becomes the backs of the Queen’s ministers, then surely a coarser texture, without patch or rent, would not fit ungracefully on the shoulders of Paddy. Let him, if made in the image of God, be a man too; and let him not be thought presuming, if he be one of the Queen’s subjects, should he aspire to mediocrity among the humblest who call themselves so. If the Irish say most heartily, “Long live the Queen,” let the Queen respond heartily, and “while I live I will do good to my Irish subjects.” If the sixty-two mud-wall huts to each hundred in the worst parts, and twenty-three in the best, as Mr. Bright asserts, look a little untidy in an isle where castles and rich domains dot the green surface, why not substitute the comely cottage? and if the manure-heap be unseemly to the eyes and unsavory to the nose, plant in its stead the vine and the rose — [p. 273] for be assured, in no isle of the sea will they bloom fairer.
England has held this pretty gem of the ocean by the cable of king and queenship for centuries, floating and dashing alternately in the vascillating uncertain waves of hope and desperation, casting in oil when the tempest runs highest — pulling the cord gently, and whispering “Sister,” when she finds her loosening her holdings to make for a more open sea; and then promises to repair her breaches, and make her to “sing as in the days of her youth.” But there she is, rocking and floating still, her wild tresses disheveled, her head uncovered, and her feet still bare. One hundred and thirty years ago, she had one hundred and sixty families that had no chimneys in their hovels; now she has sixty-two in one hundred not fit for man to inhabit in one part, and on an average of something like forty-four or forty-five through the whole island, from which the beaver and woodchuck might blush to be found peeping. Why, in the name of all that is common sense or common decency, if she cannot be remodeled, if she is rooted and grounded in her everlasting filth, her disgusting tatters, and frightful rags, is she not cut loose and left to sink or swim, as best she can manage? If she can be transformed into anything like comeliness, why is she hung out a never-fading, never-dying scarecrow to all the world beside? If the last four years have not turned her inside out, and shown her, in the face of heaven, to the nations of the earth — if any deformity remains which is yet to be served up, [p. 274] for one, I pray, “have me excused.” If England by this time do not know of what sort this her “sister island” is, if she do not understand either her disease or her cure, all may be given up as lost, for until “the elements shall melt with fervent heat,” the earth disclose her slain, and the “sea give up her dead,” can any more that is forbidding, revolting, and even terrific, be held out to the world, than has that island presented for ages gone by; and if she is loved, why not cherish her? if hated, why not wholly cast her off?
To the words of the faithful, fearless, warm-hearted John Bright, let the philanthropist respond — “Abolition of primogeniture for underived property — registry of property — reduction of the enormous charges for stamps for the sale and purchase of land — security of tenure for the practical laborers of the soil — abolition of the Established Church in Ireland — extension of the suffrage — and reinforcement of the representature in the Imperial Parliament.
“If the aristocracy of the United Kingdom have heaped evils unnumbered upon Ireland, why should not the people of the United Kingdom make ample restitution?” And let all the people rise, and say in one united doxology, “Amen, so let it be.”
While lingering in and about Cork, among all its gardens and pleasant walks, a spot two miles from Blarney Castle, well known for the past five years as [p. 275] the “Water Cure” establishment, kept by Dr. Barter, should not be passed over in silence. The Doctor has persevered through and over all prejudices, sufficient to make the place a very desirable one on many accounts. Its location is well chosen, standing on an airy, sightly eminence, looking down upon the rich vales and woods of Blarney, its own backwoods left, with the exception of a few foot-paths and seats, to its natural wildness; its picturesque bathing-house or cottage, and its cultivated farm, of which the Doctor is the principal manager, make it, taken as a whole, a place of interesting resort. The house for patients is large and pleasant, its inmates made up of such as have hope if not faith, that plunging and dipping, showering and drinking cold water, possesses special, if not super-excellencies in the healing way, when applied scientifically, more than when old Dame Nature, in her homespun manner, tells them to drink when they are thirsty, and wash when they are smutty. His terms are calculated better for the purses of the higher classes than for the poorer sort, consequently he does not keep a hospital of charity, and those who resort there for a time, find good intelligent company, and when not made into mummies, or ducking and sweating, can walk or ride, read or chat, as they may find it most congenial. The table is abundantly supplied with eatables, so that flesh-eaters as well as anti-flesh-eaters may have all they can rationally ask, the only prohibition being tea and coffee. Many have tested the efficacy and declared it good, and it would seem [p. 276] impossible that a summer could be passed on that mountain, with the pure breezes of Ireland fanning the blood, and the sparkling water kissing the skin, and not be “cured of whatever disease he had,” if the disease had not passed the healing art.
The Doctor is a great agriculturist, and if he had the bogs and hunting-grounds made over to him, famine if not pestilence would vanish from that rich soil. He thinks much and talks when disposed, and is physiologist enough to know that flesh and gravies are not the food suited to the system of any invalid; yet with a desire to please, or to retain invalids in his house, he practices these inconsistencies, as he candidly acknowledges them.
A week was pleasantly passed in. the house and upon the premises; and were a spot preeminently happy for everything needful and social to be chosen, that might be the one to meet all cases. Whoever is devotional may have his Bible and prayers; whoever is merry may have psalms and the piano; whoever wants exercise may find battledoors, swings, and woody walks; and whoever wants bathing can find bathing-tubs, and cold or warm water.
A funeral under any circumstances, or among any people, whether Christian or pagan, has a solemnity which casts a shade, for a moment at least, over all levity; and never probably in war or peace, in pomp or destitution, among civilized or uncivilized, was there [p. 277] a procession bearing to its last home a body from which the soul had fled, which did not produce on the minds of the multitude a check if not a reflection, that the “deep, damp vault,” where the departed is about to be shut from the light of the world and the converse of his fellow-men, was a mysterious hiding-place, into which secret the souls of the living did not wish to enter.
It was about midsummer on a sunny morning, when looking from the door of William Martin, in Cork, a procession unexpectedly moved before my vision, and never in the short space of a moment did more painful and pleasant remembrances pass in review. Painful, because were again presented the friends, who in my native land, one by one as they departed, rose in succession before me, and because I knew there were sorrowing hearts in that train — and mine well knew the pangs of such; but pleasant, because in the comely throng, who with slow and solemn step measured the distance, the unnatural custom which mock fashion has introduced was not manifest. Woman was in that procession, precisely the procession where she belongs — woman, whose heart emphatically can “weep with those that weep,” — woman, who loves to the last, and acts to the last; why, tell us why, should she not follow to the narrow, dark house, the relative she has cherished, or the neighbor she has valued and loved; the friend with whom she may have taken “sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company?” Why should she not go “in company” now “to the [p. 278] house appointed for all living,” and where she shall, in her own due time, be transported? Pleasant, too, because the vain trappings of hireling undertakers, “nodding plumes,” mourning horses and black hearses were not there. It was simply and truly a Friend’s funeral.
Not stopping to inquire the name or age of the deceased, or who would accompany me, I crossed the street and joined the procession. Like the burial in the city of Nain eighteen hundred years ago, “much people of the city” were there. A mile or more through the town, gave time for that reflection so suitable and profitable when the soul is necessarily summoned to the face of that “King of Terrors,” and there interrogated as to its present state and future destiny. Slowly and silently the entrance to that inclosure, where the dead were congregated, was opened and passed; and as with the pen of a diamond was that panorama impressed on my eye and heart. It was a square of smooth green, with the exception of the unpretending hillocks, which without a stone told that the dead lay there. The whole inclosure was surrounded by trees of rich summer foliage; these, as they waved gracefully over the wall, shed a trembling shadow upon the emerald covering of the beds of the sleeping, and the still house of death was quietly approached, and every member of that Society sat down together to this mourning feast, and there in solemn sweet silence waited to hear what God would say. The narrow bed was open before them — the plain coffin that [p. 279] inclosed the body of the dead was waiting to enter — an interval of some thirty minutes of solemn silence was broken by a deep-toned measured voice; and never before did the words, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” so sweetly, so solemnly, so unearthly, fall on my ear — as if standing on the Isle of Patmos, the voice that spake to John, seemed to reverberate through that assembly, that to me appeared as if already standing on “Mount Zion before the Lamb.” The sentences were short and pithy, and from them I ascertained that the departed before us was an aged female, who had fulfilled as a faithful hireling her day, and had come to the grave “like a shock of corn fully ripe.” He praised her not in studied eulogiums — he held her not up between us and the Lamb who redeemed her, as a bright pattern for our imitation; but he said deeply and emphatically, “Yea, they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” He dwelt a moment on that sweet rest prepared for the people of God, and if any were there who had not entered into it, surely they must then have felt a desire.
He was followed by one who addressed the Majesty of heaven with that adoration which always marks the manner of one whose supplications emanate from the deep working of the Holy Spirit within the soul, and that speaks because it feels, and feels because it has something to feel. It was done — the coffin was carefully let down to its long resting-place — “Dust to dust” met, green sod was fitly placed on her breast, [p. 280] nor was the silence in the least broken till all had passed the inclosure.
I would not exchange that hour for a thousand dinner parties of fashionable professors, or pompous burials of the titled great, who have lived but to be honored, and whose true epitaph could only be —
“He lived and died.”
The time was drawing nigh when effects must be gathered, and Cork must be left. The season had been spent most pleasantly and profitably, for cultivated minds were ever at hand, and hospitable boards were always made welcome. To designate who was the kindest, would be a difficulty wholly uncalled for, as all and every one were more than courteous. Justice compels an acknowledgment of one distinguished favor, which was and is more prized for the manner in which it was done. The Irish, I have before remarked, are in their habit of giving, most nobly removcd from an ostentatious display, or from a manner which makes the recipient feel that he is so deeply indebted that he can never be discharged.
In the year 1845, I stopped in the house of Mrs. Fisher, who generously refused any compensation; when the second visit was made to that city, I again took lodgings with her, determining to pay; but as she was generous in the first instance, I did not inquire terms, lest she might suppose it an indirect suggestion for a second gift. On my departure the bill was called for, fifteen weeks’ uncontrolled access to drawing-room [p. 281] or parlor, and good lodging. Not a shilling was demanded and not a shilling would she accept. This was hospitality, apparently “without grudging,” and certainly without display.
I sailed from that harbor with a heart full of gratitude to all with whom I had been conversant, and full of sorrow, that my eyes would never again see those kind friends who had made my stay so pleasant, and the last farewell of the kind Theobald Mathew, and the hospitable, intelligent Beales, who were ready at the packet, was the finishing touch to sensations already too pressing upon me.
The captain had generously given my passage, and ordered the steward to see that all and everything was prepared for my comfort. This, by my own negligence, or in some other way, was not performed, and the night to me was a sad one. When all had stepped on shore, and the ring of the packet bell died on the ear, I sat down upon the side of the vessel, and with feelings much like those when sailing out of New York, a passive, stoical indifference, amounting almost to selfishness, passed over me; and I turned away, and could not or would not look upon the sweet hills that hung over the Lee, and scarcely did I see the wave of the handkerchiefs on that lovely South Terrace, as the steamer sailed, where I had enjoyed so much. The passage was rough, the wind high, and the night long, cold and dreary. Wrapping my cloak about me, I had reclined under a little awning on the deck, not once asking for a berth in the cabin, and not till a stranger [p. 282] aroused me, and said, “It is both imprudent and late to be stopping here,” did my stupor leave me in the least. Then it was too late to find a bed, and the remainder of the night was passed as uncomfortably as it commenced.
It was not wholly the parting with kind friends, or shutting my eyes forever on waters, flowers, rich valleys and hills, that so unnerved me; but it was Ireland, that land of song and of sorrow, that I was leaving forever. It was Ireland, where I had been so strangely sent, so strangely preserved, and to which I was so strangely linked, by sights of suffering and unparalleled woe. It was Ireland that was still drinking that fathomless cup of misery extreme, whose bottom has yet never been sounded, and whose brim is still running over, welling up and oozing out, in spite of long and deep draughts continually tasted. The visitor among strangers, who is receiving tokens of kindness and presents of remembrance, in the routine of other engagements may not examine and appreciate all in possession, till the hurry is past, the visit ended; and then coolly and calmly the parcel is opened, and every memento, however valuable or trifling, has a just estimate, if judgment be competent to the task. My parcel was left untouched that night; passive, enduring, as if covered suddenly by an avalanche, which only left room for breathing, with no room for struggling, was all that could effectually be done.
The morning found me in Dublin; and here new trials were in waiting. My trunk, containing nearly [p. 283] all that was valuable in wearing apparel, was left in the care of the poor woman where I had lodged through the winter. She had before been intrusted with it, and her honesty had never been doubted. Her husband had become intemperate, and she had been placed in this great house by the landlady to keep it, and wait on lodgers, who paid her what they saw fit. The lodgers had left, all but one, and she had no resources; her children, three in number, were crying for bread. She went to the trunk, took a dress, and carried it to one of the nuisances — a pawnbroker’s — and procured bread. She took a second and third, until the trunk was emptied of garments to the number of fourteen, together with a few valuable books and other etceteras, among which was a silver teaspoon, which had seen nearly half a century, and had been the admiration of many a Connaught and Kerry wight, when sitting with them around the basket of potatoes. This, which was carried in my pocket, wrapped in clean paper, served for knife and fork, tea-cup, plate, and saucer, during every tour over mountain and bog. Blessed companion! it had become “part and parcel” of myself; beside it was a true born American, and had an indenture made by an agonized child when in the act of taking medicine. Sacred relic!
Bridget met me at the door — the usual gladness and hearty salutation were wanting. “How are you, Bridget, and how are the children?” was answered by, “Bad enough, God knows; and bad luck to you.” “What luck to me?” “Your clothes are gone, and I [p. 284] couldn’t help it.” Not in the least suspecting her integrity, the natural inquiry was, “Has the house been robbed?” Frankly, she replied, “No, but I have taken them; my children were starving with hunger; I found the trunk open, which a painter who went into the chamber opened, as I supposed. You had long been gone, it was uncertain when you would return, and I might and should redeem them in a few weeks, and they are all in the pawn.” The cause and effect were both before me in a true light, and the question is left to mothers, how they might have acted in a case like this. She had heard me say that life was more valuable than property, and when that was in peril, property became the moral right of him who had tried every expedient to save life, but especially when the taking of it did not threaten the same condition of that in which he was placed. She had said, “I will never see my children die for bread; I will work, I will beg, and when neither will do, I would go and stand on that bridge (which was under the window), and if asking would not do, I would seize the first that my hands could wrench from any one passing.” She had flung me back on my principles, by acting up to hers, and what could be said. She could have been transported; and the whole city, who knew the affair, and had never been hungry, neither entered into her starving case nor pitied me for my foolish forbearance. The rich landlady who had recommended her to me coolly said she would put her out of the house, and she did so; and I found poor Bridget in a miserable hovel, with no means [p. 285] of support, and regretted that the landlady had ever known the circumstance. All the garments but one were found, but many of them too mildewed to be worth redeeming; the missing one was the best, and doubtless was taken by the painter. But the spoon — ah, the lucky spoon! It is now in a closet, where I am sitting, in London, doubly, yes, trebly valued for its extensive travels and fortunate escapes. I look at it, and think of the peasant children, and the potato, and poor Bridget and the pawnbroker.
The reader is left to name this tale “Lights ” or “Shades ” of Ireland, as best suits his principles; for myself, in my heart, I could not pronounce the woman a thief, and would as soon have trusted her in all common cases after this as before, and am glad that her children did not starve when my garments were lying useless.
The time for a little review of the past, and preparation for the future, had now come. Ireland had been explored, and England was in prospect. The Americans had written that the last donation was on the ocean, and probably no more would be sent. Why should my stay be protracted; for the inward voice was continually urging, “I have finished the work that thou gayest me to do.” Far, far be it from me to say that this work was well finished; many, many mistakes might be corrected, but this I would candidly and humbly say, they were not willful, but ignorant or misjudging ones. So faithful was conscience in her scrutinizing, that hours, yes days, when sitting alone in a chamber [p. 286] at Richard Webb’s, preparing for London, she would ask, and earnestly too, Had I done what I could? — had I not sometimes consulted my own ease? — had I labored to the extent, with hands, feet, money, tongue, pen, and influence, to do, by little or by great means, what my Master had required? — had I not sometimes, when condemning the whisky-drinking and wine-bibbing of the clergy and gentry, spent a penny on some little relish to take with my bread, when that penny would have given a poor laboring man a pound of meal, and my bread could have been taken without it? had I not burned a candle an hour, when neither reading or working, or put an additional piece of turf on the grate, when the poor, sick, dying cabiners had not either? — had I not paid a shilling for riding, when my feet were able for the journey? But above all, that trunk of clothes! When packing it to leave, the question was suggested, Is not this laying up treasures on earth? and should “moth corrupt,” or “thieves break through and steal,” my hoarding would be justly rebuked. I had often thought, as the last alternative, of selling everything for bread to give the starving, that could possibly be spared, without leaving myself in a suffering state. This had not been done, the clothes were hoarded, and the virtual thieves — the pawnbrokers — had taken if not stolen them. This was followed by the startling passage, “If thine own conscience condemn thee, God is greater than thy conscience, and knoweth all things.” Oh! what searching of heart is there contained in the Holy Scriptures. Then again — [p. 287] had I by precept and example presented Christ, and so walked in him that all who saw me took knowledge that I had learned of Him? — had the words of eternal life been read and explained in every place where God gave me ability and opportunity, as might have been — had I been as faithful in rebuking the sins of the great, where opportunity presented, as I had those of the mean and despised? — had “a gift ever blinded my eyes,” to lead me unjustly to favor the giver, and had the kindly heartfelt welcomes of the poor been as grateful in some lowly mud cabin, and the humble invitation to a dinner of potatoes as flattering as the polished salutations of the rich, with the proffered arm of the master of the feast to sit down to a sumptuous table with honorable invited guests? Had I rejoiced with “exceeding great joy,” when my name had been cast out as evil, when reviled, and all manner of evil falsely said against me? — had that legacy of long standing and sure title been as salutary and as gratefully received, as would have been a bequest from the government, for sacrifices made for the poor? All this and more sunk deep, and remained long, when conscience arraigned me for rendering the stewardship of that four years’ labor. “What hast thou done with thy Lord’s money?” Ah! what indeed? Has a portion been given to “seven, and also to eight?” — has the bread been cast upon the waters; and shall I find it after many days? To the cross I flee, there let me hide — simply, simply, solely there I cling.
Turning from myself, and the retrospect of the past [p. 288] four years, the coming out from Cork, at the last and almost finishing touch of the whole, presented, Theobald Mathew, with the impression made on my mind, when he stood on the dock, by the packet, on the Lee, as the vessel sailed away. His countenance is a marked one, and would be distinguished as such in a crowd of strangers. But grief and blasted hopes have so scathed his warm heart, that though he retains that benignity of expression so peculiarly his own, yet the pencil of sorrow has so shaded it, continued anxiety has so paralyzed that hope which ever is, and ever must be the wellspring of the soul, that there seems a trembling doubting in every feature, whether to settle into a desponding passiveness, or struggle to maintain that wonted complacency which has seemed an innate and inseparable part of his whole constitution. The scourge that has laid waste his people has withered, has scathed his very soul. He stood “between the living and the dead,” like a Phineas, till the plague was measurably stayed, when, in letting go his strained grasp, he found, he felt that his own hand had been weakened, and though he complained not, he saw, he knew that many who had cried “Hosanna,” if they did not say “crucify him, crucify him,” would turn away and walk no more with him. The palsy that shook his body was a faint shadow of the palsy that withered the springs of his heart, and dried up the life-blood of his soul. Great as was his goodness, and good as was his greatness, they neither of them had power to sustain a fabric whose framework was gentleness and confiding love. [p. 289] When the blast swept over him, and he felt his feet sliding, he reached out his believing hand to the supports he thought near him — they were gone! It was then that the “iron entered into his soul,” — it was then that he found that love dies with money, and popularity thrives best when its hand is fullest, and needs it the least; — it was then that he found experimentally that benevolence must be content with its own reward, till the “time of the restitution of all things,” when every man shall be rewarded according to his works; and that though he might have given “all his goods to feed the poor,” his recompense in return from his fellow man might only be, “Who hath required this at your hands?” When a man is in trouble and his feet are fast sliding, the prompt inquiry is, “What brought him here? — Has he been industrious, has he been honest, has he been temperate?” But when he is in prosperity, and the tide of fortune flows smoothly, who inquires whether he honestly, industriously, or soberly acquired this prosperity? Who stands aloof from sharing his honors, which flow from his abundance, lest these honors come from an abundance too unjustly acquired? Has he robbed the poor and despoiled the widow and fatherless to fill his granaries and decorate his halls? Who has any right to investigate that? — Let every man mind his own business, is the rebuke. Theobald Mathew was in debt — how came he there? Why everybody knew it was not to aggrandize himself; but he is in debt — he must have been imprudent if not dishonest! True, he was, as the world calls it, in [p. 290] debt, but virtually he owes no man anything — the world never has, the world never will, the world never can repay him; his debt is giving to the poor, when the poor were dying, what he then thought was justly his own, and justly tangible; and that depravity is to be pitied that imputes blame to generosity like this — a generosity which seeks not its own, but the good of those that are ready to perish. He loved his country — he loved his fellow-man of every clime, and his whole life has been spent in seeking their good. When he saw the world had misunderstood him, then he suffered unutterable things; and the shock that both body and mind sustained has left an impress that throws a constraint upon that full freedom which his real friends have been wont to exercise toward him; so abstracted does his mind at times appear, that it is sometimes difficult to know either what chord to touch or what time to strike it, lest the unostentatious sensibilities of his heart should be awakened afresh to painful sensations.
God preserve him, as well as all others, who live for the world and its benefit. The current of man’s heart must run in a different channel before it can render at all times even blessing for blessing, and better is he treated than was his Master, if the question do not apply to him also, “Many good works have I shown you; for which of these works do you stone me?” The last famine has drawn out the true character of the people there, in a light most favorable to be understood; it has shown what is in man, by a dissection of almost every part of his system, and they never can hide again [p. 291] as they have done, and the great pity is, that amid so much upturning there has been so little cleansing. True, the pool has not yet become quiescent, nor the sediment had time to settle; and when it shall, many that were “filthy will be filthy still,” and those that were “righteous will be righteous still.”
Though truth must and will triumph, judgment sometimes long delays, and the accusations against the nation of that island have a foundation in truth, yet the perverted judgment of men have so misapplied them, that at present the force they contain falls almost powerless. That there is injustice there cannot be denied, and this injustice has often been exercised by those who would have been least suspected. The famine, in spite of all evasions, has told some singular tales of this. The liberality of all nations has been most shamefully abused there, but the poor were not in the fault, and yet the poor must and do suffer all the sad consequences; for now, while the wail of woe and death is still going up in many parts, the response is neither money nor bread, but “they have been ungrateful, they have been dishonest, and we are tired of hearing of Ireland.” And were I to speak from honest conviction of what passed there, in much of the distributions belonging to government, and much from other places, that went through paid hands, had it been cast into the sea, the fishes might have been better benefited than were the starving; but to private donors, and to the churches of England, and the laboring classes, who intrusted their offerings to isolated churches and isolated almoners [p. 292] of their gifts, without fee or reward, let it be said, their donations in most cases were well applied, and greatly blessed. I have known, and record it with pleasure, that when a church there, from one here, was presented with money, clothing, or food, the minister of that church would divide it among such men and women as cheerfully sought out and supplied the most needy, with the utmost integrity. Many felt apparently that it was the Lord’s money in very deed, and belonged to the Lord’s poor, and that they must render a strict account of their stewardship; and had one half even that the government sent been withheld, and the other half intrusted to such hands, as managed with like discretion and honesty, many more lives would have been saved, and less complaint of ingratitude been made.
It must be seen that the work was a most arduous and difficult one, and it takes much less time and trouble to sit quietly at home and dictate how it should be done, or complain when it is finished how badly it was executed, than it would to have gone in person and performed the task. It was a hurried work — the four millions of starving men, women, and children were calling for food to-day, they were calling in earnest, they could not wait days, and possibly weeks, till the honesty of a landlord, or the integrity of a rector, should go through the trial of a jury; they could not stand round the doors of a church or chapel, waiting the decision of bishops and clergymen, priests and monks, whether the bread taken in commemoration of the Lord’s death, were transformed into a part or whole of [p. 293] his real body or not, before they could have a piece of it; consequently, what was to be done must be done quickly, and in the kindly feelings which promptly lighted up, the givers would naturally and properly throw promiscuously whatever relief could be gathered by any hands that would offer. The government of England might possibly have dozed a little too long, regardless of what these her thriving landlords in that green isle were doing; they might not have precisely understood how they were feeding, housing, and paying their serfs that were squatting “lazily” upon their soil; they might not have applied the laws of mind precisely to this point, that these laws possess the unvarying principle of fixing deeply and firmly in the heart of the oppressor a hatred toward the being that he has unjustly coerced, and the very degradation to which he has reduced him becomes the very cause of his aversion toward him. Therefore such landlords, when famine pressed sorely upon their unpaid tenants, would necessarily by this law pity least, and neglect most, those who by accidental circumstances might be in greatest want. Those full-fed, government-paid clergymen, who had learned the law of love through her own bread and wine exclusively, and whose jaundiced eyes saw dark and foul spots on all her surplices but her own, would be quick to discern that the “curse causeless does not come,” and that as the Roman Catholics embodied the majority of the sufferers in Ireland, and the Roman Catholics were mostly fed on potatoes, and as God had blasted these potatoes, therefore [p. 294] they ought in humble acquiescence to say, “amen!” while the smoke of this torment was ascending, if not be willing co-workers with God in the infliction of the punishment. When such did give what was intrusted to their hands, it was not always given “with cheerfulness,” or without what they thought a merited rebuke. “Don’t you see now,” said a pert wife of a curate of this class, “don’t you see what your idolatry has brought upon you;” handing a starving woman tauntingly a little food; “you’ve been told that something dreadful would come upon you long before, but you would not believe; now are you ready to come out of that church?” “How,” said a bystander, “could you speak so unkindly to that poor starving suppliant at your door; should you like the same treatment under the same circumstances?” “I should deserve it; and beside, how could I see her die under those awful delusions?” “Would it not be better to show her Christ, and try to direct her to him?” “Christ! how can she understand anything of him, while in that church?”
This is not a fac-simile of all in the government church, neither is it an isolated case. Another instance only shall be named, and it is named. as an illustration of the spirit that was too much in exercise there, and how it acted upon the sufferers:—
A poor man, with a numerous family, applied to a rector of the Established Church for a portion of the donations committed to his care for the parish. “Where do you go to church?” was the question. [p. 295] “I am a Catholic,” the man answered. “Ah, yes, give your soul to the priest, and come here for me to feed your body; go back, and get your bread where you get your teaching.” “This will learn ’em,” said the exulting sexton of the church, who related the incident, “this will learn ’em where they are.” The poor man went away without relief, though he belonged to the parish, and had a claim. Turning them over to the priests was the worst part of the spirit; for the priests, in the first place, were not a government-paid people, and in the next, they had at that time no donations intrusted to them; and to tantalize a hungry man with that retort, was like hanging him in gibbets, and then telling him to eat bread.
Such treatment was calculated not only to drive the poor to all sorts of intrigue, but to make them hate still more a religion that they always supposed to be false. The question which the Quaker put to the rector could well apply here, when he remarked that no good would be done to the Papists in Ireland while they rejected the Bible — “What good, friend, has thy Bible done thee?” Ah, true; what good does it do any who practice not its spirit? It is not intended to imply, by these statements, that the clergy of the Established Church in Ireland, during the famine, were all bigots, or all hardhearted, and without any true Christianity; but it is intended to say, that the spirit of bigotry and partiality was there, and wherever manifested, whether by that religious party or any other, had a most unfavorable effect both on the bodies and minds of the suffering. [p. 296] The government could not control that, any more than a crazy inebriate can help doing what he is tempted to do; but the inebriate, when he is sober, should keep so, and not put himself in the power of an enemy that can injure him so much; and if the experience of two or three centuries in Ireland have not proved that carnal weapons are not needed in a church, and that Christ, who should be the head of it, has no occasion for them, surely they must be dull learners.
The Christian may despair of conquest when kindness and love have no effect, and in the famine, when these were exercised, they were felt and acknowledged. Let any stranger, in the year 1850, go into every parish in that country, and make investigation of the true state of feeling, as it would naturally flow out without any design; and if that stranger made no party allusions that should awaken jealousy, he would hear lavish blessings bestowed on dissenters of every grade, where these dissenters had manifested a kindly feeling. “And there’s the rector that would do the heart good,” — “There’s the blessed minister, that’s worth the day’s walk to hear his discourse,” — “And would ye see the lady that’s the blessin’ to the poor?” &c. Do you say this is selfishness? — it is a just appreciation of right and wrong; and where right is not exercised why should it be acknowledged? What gospel requires that a man should say of an unjust neighbor that he walks uprightly, lest some evil-eyed partisan should judge him by his own narrow spirit? And blinded as the world is by sin, and perverted as education may be, [p. 297] there are things done which will bear looking in the face without blushing; there are things done so well that an enemy, however skillful, could not improve them; and there are fallen men and women in the lower ranks of life, without any refinement of education, that can appreciate these well done things and even do them too; and with all the zigzag movements in the famine there were some redeeming qualities, there were some things carried on and carried through, which were not accused of sectarianism, for the simplest reason — none was manifest.
The Society of Friends justly merit this acknowledgment, and they have it most heartily from every portion of Ireland. Not belonging to that Society, my opportunity of testing the true feeling of the poor was a good one, and when in a school or soup-shop, the question was put — Who feeds you? or, who sends you these clothes? the answer was “The good Quakers, lady, and it’s they that have the religion entirely.” One young man seriously inquired of me, what sort of people they might be, and if their religion were like any other, and where they got sich a good one; “By dad, don’t you think it’s the best in the world?” It certainly produces good works among the poor of Ireland, was the reply. “And where may they say their prayers? I wish I could hear ’em;” or, “don’t they say prayers?” He pressed so closely, that vague answers would not avail; the foundation of a faith which was so different from what he had seen in any people, as he said, “intirely,” he determined to make out; and finally [p. 298] inquired if they suffered persons of other faith to see them worship; and added, “I should like to see it.” He was directed to a meeting in Dublin which was open on that day, and after getting all preliminaries as to how he must behave, he ventured in.
The meeting was a silent one; he saw no altars, he heard no prayers, and his astonishment at their worship was equal to his admiration of their goodness. “And wasn’t it quare they didn’t spake?” “They were waiting in silence till they should have something given them to speak.” This increased the difficulty, and he went away perfectly confounded, wishing he could know something more about them, “for they must be a blessed people.”
This simple-minded lad lived in a remote part of Ireland, had never been in a city before; and he said that he had seen these good people in the mountains giving alms, and “didn’t they spake so kindly,” he added, “I intended to see ’em if I could find where they stopped.” Simple-minded youth, what could he do more?
Whilst writing this, a report has been sent me of the Birr Mission, at Parsonstown in Ireland, under the superintendence of Mr. Carlisle, and I happily find by the following extract this fresh proof of the effect of kindness on the hearts of the most bigoted.
The Report states: “The medical coadjutor of the Mission, noticed in our last Report as having been sent to us from Edinburgh, continues his labors most assiduously and most usefully. Nothing has done so much [p. 299] toward removing the prejudices of Roman Catholics against us — even those who formerly were most opposed and most bigoted — as his kind, unwearied, and skillful attention to the sick poor. It has already opened the way for the word of God to many families from which it formerly was debarred; and we observe that the prejudices of a class of society above the poor, with whom he has no direct intercourse in the way of his profession, are giving way before this kind and conciliatory approach to the population generally.”
Were there space in these pages, like instances might be multiplied, and two which come under my notice were so in point, that they are entitled to a record in a better place.
A few miles north of Dublin, in the winter of 1847 and 1848, a minister of the Independent church was sick for weeks, and his life seemed suspended in doubt for some days. One Sabbath, in a chapel, after the morning service was finished, the priest called the attention of the people to his case, and added, “If he dies, God will take from us one of the best men in the country, and who will fill his place? All we can do is to pray for him, and surely you will all do that.” Voices were loud in responding, yes, yes; and they tarried another hour and went through their prayers for the sick. Now, as inefficient as these prayers might be, they were the legitimate offspring of kindness and goodwill which this minister had practiced, till he had not only removed prejudice, but had substituted like feelings of kindness.[p. 300]
The second case was that of a good woman, who belonged to the Methodist denomination. She had been a pattern of good works in her neighborhood, without regard to party; and the poor loved her as their long-tried friend. She died. The priest of the parish was noted for his peace-making spirit and liberality. The Sabbath after this good woman’s death, he concluded the exercises of the day by naming the circumstance, and saying, “When God takes such good ones from the earth as this woman was, the living have not only cause to mourn, but to tremble, lest that his anger has gone out against the inhabitants, and He will not suffer such righteous ones to live among them.”
In a few weeks from this, that priest died, the husband of the good woman just named dropped an obituary notice in a paper which he edited, mentioning the conciliatory disposition of the priest, and his exertions in the parish to keep peace. A nephew of this priest called a few days after and thanked the editor for the kind notice, saying, “it was more than he could expect.” In two weeks from this an obituary of the nephew was inserted in the same paper. But mark the effects of simply carrying out the principle of Christian kindness! Was Christ dishonored — was Christ offended?
It requires the Irish language to provide suitable words for a suitable description of the spirit which is manifested in some parts to proselyte, by bribery, the [p. 301] obstinate Romans to the church which has been her instrument of oppression for centuries. The English language is too meager to delineate it in the true light. Rice, Indian meal, and black bread would, if they had tongues, tell sad and ludicrous tales. The artless children too, who had not become adepts in deceit, would and did sometimes by chance tell the story, in short and pithy style. It was a practice by some of the zealous of this class, to open a school or schools, and invite those children who were in deep want to attend, and instruction, clothes, and food should be given, on the simple terms of reading the scriptures and attending the church. The church catechism must be rehearsed as a substitute for the Romish, and though in substance a passage or two looked as if the hoof of the so-called “beast,” might have been over it and left a modest track, yet by its adherents it was thought to be the pure coin. The children flocked by scores and even hundreds: they were dying with hunger, and by going to these places they could “keep the life in ’em,” and that was what they most needed; they could go on the principle, “if thou hast faith, have it to thyself before God,” and when the hunger was appeased, and the “blessed potato should come, they could say mass at home again.” When such children were interrogated, the answer would be, “We are going back to our own chapel or our own religion, when the stirabout times are over;” or when the “bread’s done,” or the “potatoes come again.” “But you are saying these prayers and learning this catechism.” “We shan’t say [p. 302] the prayers when we go back — we’ll say our own then,” &c. Now the more experienced father or mother would not have said this to a stranger, and such might have passed for a true convert, while receiving the “stirabout.” The priests were very quiet while this kind of bantering was in progress; they knew its beginning, and by this “concordance” could well trace the end; they held these favored ones of their flock by a cord while the stomach was filling, as the traveler does his steed that he is watering, and turns it away when its thirst is assuaged, caring little at what fountain he drinks, if the water be wholesome. “We had as lief they would be in that school as any,” said a priest, “while they are so young; we can counteract all the bad or wrong impressions their lessons may have had on their minds.”
The priests of Ireland have had their wits well sharpened by the constant check held over them by penal laws, and a government church, and they have not been guilty of great proselyting, finding as much work as would keep them upon the alert, continually to keep their own hold, and the flock safe already in possession. The Episcopalians and Dissenters, on the other hand, knowing that they were the minority, and, that the power they held was not precisely “just and equal,” feared that some new king or minister, or some sudden government squall, might blow down their uncertain bamboo fabric, had to double their cries of priestcraft and popery, persecutions and murders, to keep their citadels of self-defense well secured, with [p. 303] the stirring watchword of “popery” ever stimulating the soldiery to ready action, in case of insurrection. Thus, as they first preached Christ through bullets, bombshells, and fire, so they still hold him up as the “God of battles,” to all who would not receive him through the breath of their mouths.
The soldiery stationed in Ireland are a living proof of this principle, and especially so, as this army is required to show its warlike power in defense of the missionaries stationed there, being called out to display their banners when any new converts are to be added to the Protestant ranks from the Romish church. An instance of this was related by a coast-guard officer, stationed in the town of Dingle. Some five or six years ago, a half-dozen or more of the Romans had concluded to unite with the Protestant mission establishment there, and the Sabbath that the union was to take place in the church, the soldiery were called out to march under arms, to protect this little band from the fearful persecutions that awaited them on their way thither. The coast-guard officer was summoned to be in readiness cap à pie for battle, if battle should be necessary; he remonstrated — he was a Methodist by profession, and though his occupation was something warlike, yet he did not see any need of carnal weapons in building up a spiritual church; but he was under government pay, and must do government work. He accordingly obeyed, and, to use his own words substantially, “We marched in battle array, with gun and bayonet, over a handful of peasantry — a spectacle to [p. 304] angels, of our trust in a crucified Christ, and the ridicule and gratification of priests and their flocks, who had discernment sufficient to see that with all the boasted pretensions of a purer faith and better object of worship, both were not enough to shield our heads against a handful of turf which might have been thrown by some ragged urchin, with the shout of “turncoat” or “souper,” as this was the bribe which the Romanist said was used to turn the poor to the church; and though this was before the potato famine, yet the virtues of soup were well known then in cases of hungry stomachs, and the Dingle Mission had one in boiling order for all who came to their prayers.” The coast-guard continues, “We went safely to the church, and the next Mission paper, to my surprise and mortification, told a pitying world that so great were the persecutions in Dingle, that the believing converts could not go to the house of God to profess their faith in Him, without calling out the soldiery to protect them.”
This circumstance is quite in keeping with much of what is called persecution there; and though it cannot and should not be denied, but that in some cases, there has been great opposition and much severity manifested by papists, toward those who have left their church, yet a spirit of retaliation will never deaden the life of that persecuting spirit, nor bring any to see the benefit of a religion which bears the same impress which is stamped on theirs. These two contending powers have had so much to do to keep, one his own foot-hold, and the other his flock, that little time has been left for preaching [p. 305] Christ, or carrying out his gospel; and I pray to be forgiven, if wrong, in saying, that in no place whatever, where Christianity is preached, have the sad effects of a nominal one been more fatal. The letter without the spirit has shown emphatically what it can do. It can make men proud, covetous, vainly puffed-up, and it can make them oppressive too; it can make them feel, and it can make them act as did the Puritan, in the early settlement of the New England colonies. “The earth,” he said, “was the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, and what is the Lord’s belongs to the saints also, therefore they (Puritans) had a right to drive out the savages and take their lands;” accordingly they did. The same spirit is literally carried out there in the tithe gathering; these “saints” have a claim on what belongs to God, and consequently the law covenant belonging to the Jewish priest, under Moses, is handed over to them, and whatever barbarian, Scythian, Jebusite or Perizzite dwells in the land, must to them pay tribute. The magistrates who collect this tribute sometimes do it in the face of spades and pitchforks, and stockings full of stones, which the brave women hurl; but having the “inner man” well strengthened, by both law and government gospel, they generally escape with the booty. These ludicrous and shameful scenes have measurably abated since the tithes are gathered in a form not quite so tangible, by merging them in or behind the landlord’s tax, who puts this ministerial “tenth” into an advanced rent on the tenant; but “murder will out,” and the blow is [p. 306] felt as severely, and by many traced as clearly, as when the hand was more tangible. In the summer of 1848, in the city of Cork, one man belonging to the Society of Friends had a good set of chairs taken, which the owner affirmed was but a repetition of the same proceedings, the Church collectors having a peculiar fancy for his chairs; they had taken many sets in yearly succession. Now while all this is in progress in that country, talk not so loudly of popish heresy being the root of all the evil there. First, make the gospel tree, which was planted eighteen hundred years ago, on the Mount of Olives, bear a little fruit, pluck a few fresh boughs from its neglected branches, and kindly present them to these popish seared consciences, and see and mark well the result. If the book called the Bible had been kept entirely out of sight, and its principles been fully exemplified in deed as well as in word, there can scarcely be a doubt, but the prejudice which now exists against it would never have been known; and had the priests thundered their anathemas either from the confession box or the altar, louder and longer against reading or believing it, many of them would have defied all bulls of excommunication, as well as all purgatorial burnings, and have made their acquaintance with its pages. When any of these extortions are practiced, the ready response is, “This comes from the blessed book they’re tachin’ and prachin’.” It is the substance that is wanting, not the shadow. If popery have concealed Christ behind the Virgin, with her long retinue of sainted fathers and maids of honor, in the [p. 307] persons of St. Bridgets, whose microscopic eyes can see him any clearer through mitred bishops and surpliced gownsmen, fattened on the gatherings of the harvests of the poor, and scanty savings of the widow and fatherless. If the incense from a Roman censer obscure the clear light of the Sun of Righteousness, think not to blow it away by the breath of alcohol, their smoke will only mingle together, and make the cloud still thicker. Some paste more adhesive than “stirabout” and some stimulus more abiding than “soup,” will be required to keep the scrutinizing Paddy rooted and grounded in a new faith, whose fresh lessons are only, “Be patient, love, while I beat you, in true genteel and ‘royal style.’” The Celt can quickly discern clean hands; and though his own may be filthy, yet he will content himself with the “holy water” of his own church to cleanse them, while he sees his neighbor’s of the Protestant faith a little too smutty.
While speaking thus of proselytism, and the errors of the church, the soup-shops should not be cast into entire contempt; for though they may, and undoubtedly have been, used for bribery there, yet they have been used for better purposes, and by the Protestant church too. The missionary stations in Dingle and Achill, so far as they adhered to their professed object in the beginning, which was partly to provide a retreat from persecution, and give labor as far as it was practicable to those who wished to renounce popery, did well. But have they acted entirely in accordance with these principles? Let the fruits be the judges. That [p. 308] there are real God-fearing Christians in those churches must be believed, but this is not the question. Were most of them made so by going there, or had they not been taught of the Holy Spirit before entering them? The heaven-taught Christian in Ireland in many places is driven to great straits to find a fold where the flock are fed with the true bread, prepared by those who have really come out of the world, and they necessarily unite with any, where they can find a home. The Roman Catholic who turns to God with full purpose of heart, and has been really born of the Spirit, is indeed a spiritual Christian; he drinks deeply at the Fountain-head, and often exceeds those who had been in the path with the Scriptures in their hands for years. One Presbyterian clergyman observed, “we must take large strides to keep up with them.”
I am not expecting, neither asking one pound of money, one good dinner, nor one blessing, for these unsavory statements, but they are the common sense observation of four years’ practical experience among that strangely situated people, who have been the gazing-stock of the world for so many ages; and though the remark of a Roman Catholic barrister, in the county of Mayo, to his priest, was somewhat severe, yet it might be well for the clergy of all denominations to look at it, and inquire whether they have not given cause for the people to feel, that the benefits which have flowed from their ministrations are not on the whole a poor equivalent for the money which has been [p. 309] paid to them, and for the honor which has been bestowed upon their reverences.
This barrister observed that his occupation had led him to an acquaintance with the doings of the clergy of every denomination in Ireland; and he had settled on the firm belief, that if every one of all classes, Priests, Protestants, and Dissenters, were put into a ship and driven out to sea, and the ship scuttled, it would be better for Ireland than it then was. “Leave every man,” he added, “to take care of his own soul, without being led hither and thither, by men who worked either for money or party, or for both, and they would be in a better condition than they were at present.” The confounded priest uttered not one syllable in reply. It is somewhat amusing to a listener, who belongs to no one of them, to be present on any annual celebration of these clergymen, and hear the reformations going on under their management.
The Established Church astonishes you with confirmations and the increase of communicants, and if the speaker be a missionary, why a few thousand pounds would bring half of popish Ireland into his net — could he build more cottages and dig more drains, mountain and bog for many a mile would be blossoming like the rose, and crooked things be made straight among the benighted Catholics, and Ireland in the Lord’s time be a habitation for the righteous to dwell in. The number of converts from popery astonishes the credulous hearers, and the self — denials and persecutions of the missionaries are second to none but Peter’s or Paul’s.[p. 310]
Next come the Presbyterians. They are a numerous, well-disciplined band, understanding precisely the tactics of their creed, and give you to understand that they are the true light that might lighten every man that cometh into Ireland. They have lengthened their cords and strengthened their stakes; and while many yet desire the “leeks and garlics” growing in a government hot-house, yet some have nobly testified against making a hodge-podge church of Christ and Mammon. They are not idlers, and their Sabbath-schools train their children in the true faith of Presbyterianism, as faithfully as does the Romish priest in his. They, like the Established Church, feel that the mammoth incubus that is weighing the godly of Ireland down, is the Romish Church, and though they acknowledge that a state church is not precisely the best thing, yet that is not the mountain, but yet would gladly have it removed, if by rooting up these tares the wheat should not be rooted up also; for if government should let go its hold, and say, “Stand on your own foundation, or stand not at all,” they might be shaken in the fearful crash. The regium donum still lingers there, and if tithes should slip, why not draw after them this “royal gift?” Many are good preachers and eloquent platform speakers; some have advanced into the free air of anti-slavery principles, and an isolated one, here and there, may not approve of the practice of war; but few comparatively have abandoned the use of the good creature, in moderation, and doubtless they are fated to see more and suffer more, and dig deeper into [p. 311] their own hearts before they will believe, but that “wisdom will die with them.”
The Methodists have a standing in numbers among the ranks of Bible-Christians, and their zeal has provoked many. They pray on, and they sing on, through thick and through thin; they tell you that Methodism is the only salvo, and can never praise God enough that they stepped into her ranks. John Wesley echoes and re-echoes with loud amens, wherever there is a chapel to eulogize his name. They too abhor the “beast,” and have blunted, if not plucked, some of his horns; but not being quite so orthodox in the eyes of their more Calvinistic brethren, they go more on their “own hook,” working in their own way, than the two first named. Though it is to be feared they are drinking in and conforming more to the world than formerly, yet they keep well in their own ranks, and let the world rock to and fro, their motto is onward; they are not so prone to seek shelter from a storm in time of trouble; and to run over to the enemy till the danger is over, as some who are more in search of popularity, more timid and less self-denying. They are so undoubting in the truth of what they profess, that they spend less time in securing props to keep up their fabric; and consequently, they have more space for preaching Christ. Those Catholics who are not afraid of entering into any chapel but their own, are fond of listening to the enthusiastic manner of preaching which they find there, and are often seen standing about the doors of a chapel, with great reverence; occasionally some [p. 312] are drawn in by the gospel, and remain faithful to Christ.
The Independents are a worthy class, and have unostentatiously made a good impression on the minds of the humbler portion of the inhabitants. Their Bible readers have in general been men of untiring faithfulness, and by kindness have gained access to the hearts of the peasantry, who listen to the reading of the Scriptures, without that opposition which must follow where a harsh course and abuse to the priests are manifested. One of their readers remarked, that for more than twenty years he had visited the cabins, read the Scriptures, and held up Christ to them as the sinner’s friend, and in no one case had he been rejected. Some of them speak and read Irish, which always gains access to the heart. The Independents in respect to government aid, reject all regium donums, and they stand on a firmer rock than an earthly royal treasure. They have funds gratuitously supplied by their own church, and their missionaries and Bible readers are mostly supported by them. Their pastors are men in general of plain common-sense, knowing how to adapt themselves and their preaching to the masses; and had they more of a proselyting spirit, would certainly make more noise, more money, and add more stony-ground hearers to their number.
The Baptists, humble in number as they are, should not be left out; they make their way slowly and softly, and show much patience in laboring in the destitute parts. Their flocks are increasing, and like the station [p. 313] at Ballina, many of their number are from the Romish church. These, when they put on Christ by a new baptism, as they call immersion, the burial with him into his death, arise and walk in newness of life, and in general remain steadfast in their profession. It is a fact, which should be more noticed among all these denominations, that where Christ is the most faithfully preached, error falls silenced, without that struggle of argument to maintain its hold, as when some object of contempt is held up to ridicule, or to shun; all the enemy’s forces are then rallied to the rescue, and often the conqueror in argument is the force most weakened in the best part.
The Plymouth brethren, or Bible-Christians as they may call themselves, have a numerous body in Dublin, and worship Christ in a manner distinct from either which have been named. Acknowledging no head but Christ, they have no ministers to support, and like the Apostles’ churches, have all things in common so far as this — as when one member suffers, all suffer with it; and accordingly none are left in want. They were very active in the famine, working efficiently, feeding and clothing many; and the Sabbath-school in which Christ and only Christ was taught, was numerously attended by the poor, who were fed and clothed, not as a bribe, but as an act of Christian charity, due to the poor. “Come, and we will tell you of Christ,” was the invitation, and not come and join us, and we will feed you.
The Unitarians in Ireland are not numerous, but generally wealthy, intelligent, and benevolent. They [p. 314] did much in the famine to ameliorate the state of suffering, and to their honor they were many of them teetotalers. Their doctrine to the Catholic is more incomprehensible than any of the “heresies” which they meet; for beside rejecting the Mother, they say they reject the Son likewise, and have neither Intercessor nor Savior; and if they were disposed to proselyte, the Catholic chapels would not be the “shops” in which to set up their “stirabout boilers.” The Roman Catholics are peculiarly distinct in one noble practice, from all other professed Christians we meet. They will not in the least gape after, nor succumb to any man’s religion, because he is great and honorable, though they will crouch and call him “yer honor” in matters of this world; but where their religious faith is concerned, they call no man master. The Unitarians, therefore, collect into their ranks such as, being whole, need no physician, and the lamentation or confession seldom goes up of being “miserable sinners” and going “astray like lost sheep.” They are certainly a people in their influence over others, especially the lower classes, less to be dreaded than those who “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The heresy of needing no atonement by an infinite God, is more shunned than sought after, by all such as have been led to believe that man is in a lost state; for, if he is lost, and finds himself so, he seeks to be found; but if no one is in the way sufficient to lead him, how is he bettered by the inquiry? On the other side, those who hold the truth in unrighteousness, in other words, who bear no fruit, [p. 315] have not the power of it, and when the letter only is understood, he who professes Christ and knows him not in a fellowship of his sufferings, and a resurrection of life, is a more dangerous lure to the inquirer; for, in the first case, if there is no Savior all powerful, there is nothing to embrace; but if there is one in word and not in deed, he is more to be dreaded than none at all, a false God is worse than none.
There is a society of Moravians, and it would be superfluous to say anything of them, they are so well known for their simplicity, sobriety, retirement, and good order, that they walk more unseen than any denomination whatever. They never say, “Come and see my zeal for the Lord.” The Roman Catholics look upon them somewhat as they do upon the Society of Friends — a second “blessed people,” wondering what the religion must be.
The Society of Friends in Ireland, stand out as they do in other places, distinct. They meddle but little in the politics of the world around them; whatever government they may be under, they sit quietly and let the world rock on. A Yearly Meeting of that denomination is more interesting in Ireland than elsewhere, on one account, because they are entirely free from vain boasting and whining tales of persecution, or the great growth of their denomination, the downfall of error before their preaching, &c. You have solemn silence, or you have something uttered unvarnished with rhetorical flourishes or borrowed extracts from House of Commons or House of Lords. Their extracts are borrowed from [p. 316] the Holy Scriptures, their prayers are addressed to the Majesty of Heaven, and not to men, they speak as if in his presence, and sit as if in his presence, and if you are not particularly edified, you are solemnized, your heart if not melted is softened, and you go away feeling, that for an hour or more you have been shut from a noisy, empty, gabbling world, from a party church which has not stimulated you to kill any priest, or pull down any chapel or convent. You feel to inquire, am I right? Is all well within? Have I the Spirit of Christ? if not, I am none of his. I have never heard that any Roman Catholic has ever turned to that Society in Ireland; but if they had proselyting agents in the field they would have their share, or if they had even that outward show in their meeting-houses, which takes away all reserve from the stranger, and gives him to feel that the place is for all, many would be induced to go in, that now stay away.
When stopping in Cork, great surprise was expressed, even by some dissenters, that I should take such liberties as to go to a place of worship where none were wished to attend but their own; and the Catholics supposed that none could be allowed to enter, but such as have on the ‘particular dress.’ The caution of these people in the time of famine, to avoid the appearance of proselyting, was carried to an extent almost unparalleled. It was said that a ministering Friend from England, who had been in the habit of attending or holding a meeting in the west part of Ireland when he visited them, declined doing so, in the year 1847, when in the [p. 317] same place, lest it should be construed as a desire to make converts by the liberality which his Society were showing.
The Catholics in Ireland are the Catholics everywhere in some respects; in others they may have some shades of difference. Having always been placed under restrictions, they could not always appear free; and yet when these restrictions have been removed they have not taken undue advantage, as their enemies supposed they would. The removal of the penal laws did not make them insolent, but thankful that they again had the prospect of being ranked among the human family as human beings. That cord of fear by which they have been so long held is loosening, and they take liberties, that at times cause the priest to say that they are quite beyond his control, and he is often put down at the altar — that most sacred place, when he lays restrictions which are not congenial. Their superstitions too are fast vanishing; fairies and banshees have not the hold on the imagination as in former days; the holy wells, and bushes covered with rags and strings which had been dipped in the waters, to wash the believing diseased one, are now disappearing. This practice is not confined to the Catholics, either in Ireland or England, being practiced in the latter place to some extent now; but there is still a most fearful practice in the west part of Ireland, which a priest related in my hearing, and comforted our horror by saying, that he had caned the man most faithfully that morning, and it would never be repeated. The [p. 318] practice has been in use for ages, and is called the “Test of the Skull.” It is this, — when a person is suspected of crime he is placed kneeling, and made to swear over the Bible that he is innocent, and then laying his hand on the skull, he invokes heaven that the sins of the person that owned that skull in life, with those of the seventh generations before and after him, might be visited on his head if he were guilty, and if this swearing was false, the skull was to haunt him incessantly day and night, to the end of his life. This horrid practice is so loudly spoken against, that it is performed with the greatest secrecy when it is done. It has extorted many a confession that nothing else would do, and is found a very useful experiment in incorrigible cases. The skull used is always the skull of the father, if the father be dead, which makes it mere terrific, to the suspected one.
Superstitions of these kinds are prevalent more upon the sea-coasts and in the mountains, where the inhabitants are secluded from much intercourse; and sitting in their dark cabins, or climbing the crags upon the lofty mountains or cliffs hanging over the sea, they hear the constant roar of old ocean, or the hollow groaning of the wind, as it winds through the defiles and caves; and having no intelligent intercourse and no books, they conjure up all that imagination is capable of doing, and when it is conjured up and brought a few times before the mind, it is reality which is difficult to efface. Their fairy superstitions are not frightful, and go to show a very poetic turn, of which the mind of the Celt is quite [p. 319] capable. Fairies are always pretty, “light on the fut,” and light on the wing, are pleasant and playful, particularly fond of children and babies, and often exchange them when the mother is gone or asleep, and many times she never knows the difference; frequently she has been heard to complain that a sicklier child has been put in her child’s place, and sometimes blue eyes have been exchanged for gray. They never like to displease one of these gentry, lest she should be disposed to kill or injure the child. I found these ideas still lingering among the mountains, where some of them would not be willing to leave off red petticoats, because they kept the fairies from doing any little mischief which otherwise they might do. The “Angel’s Whisper,” too, has a foundation in real truth. It has long been supposed that a sleeping infant hears some pleasant thing whispered in its ear by the ministering angel that is always hovering near; and it is noticeable that the superstitions of the peasantry are more poetical than frightful, and they generally turn all supernatural appearances to a favorable account. But the famine changed their poetical romance into such fearful realities that no time was left to bestow on imagination.
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