April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO C. G. DUFFY; 29 September 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490929-TC-CGD-01; CL 24: 254-257


Chelsea, 29 Septr 1849—

Dear Duffy,

I got your Nation No 1 far up in the Highlands of Scotland; the other Nos (except the 2d, which now lies here again) at successive more southerly points; and finally, the night before last, on my return home from these long roamings, I found your Letter,1 left by mistake of somebody here instead of being forwarded, and safe, tho' among a heap of rubbish. This is what news I have had of you since the day you rolled away from me on the street of Stranorlar; news enough if one will consider it well, and spread it out to all its expansion.

I like the new Nation very well, especially No 3 of it, which was the second that reached me. I seem to see there a beam of real star-fire and manful insight and endeavour, shooting forth from amid the old too-smoky and fuliginous elements; and destined yet, by Heaven's blessing, to subdue them all to itself, and beam clearer and clearer by whatever real substance was in them. I wish much,—perhaps you do not know, or decipher from my vehement and impatient speech, how much I wish,— that it may be so. Better or worse, yours is the only voice I hear in Ireland entitled to any considerable regard from me. The one human voice there, amid the infinite barking and howling which is all we have heard this long while! May you truly love wisdom; and regard all other things, popularities, nationalities &c &c as mere noise and nonsense in comparison: him that is loyal to wisdom wisdom will reward, and him only; he shall “acquire strength by going,” for all the Universe is on his side, and his light, in the darkest of nights, even in Ireland's night of 1849, “shall shine more and more unto the perfect day.”2 Your temptations, and open and disguised impediments, I discern too well, will be many; but the task is great, and if you front them well, the prize too is great. Courage, patience, the eye to see, and the heart to endure and do: may these be yours, and all that follows from them!

Today I have already written two Letters all on Ireland, and must not go deep into the subject again just now. Your account of the Potato failure is much stronger than I have yet gathered elsewhere;3 tho' it corresponds in tendency with what I saw in Scotland, where the miserable roots were daily getting spotted more and more, yet it was without that murrain rapidity of '46; and one's conclusion there was, that nobody could yet say or guess to what extent it might go. Anyway there cannot now be any “famine” as in '46; poor rates being everywhere established, and the potatoes, rotted or not, being now altogether the property of the Farmer, properly of the Landlord, to be struggled for between them, the poor Cottier having now no share in that game at all. May they rot, I say always; may the past existence of Ireland remain past, unrestorable by human cowardice or cunning any more in this world! Alas! even rotted they will do much mischief still; they will for years to come make of agriculture a kind of gambling, or at least keep alive an element of that kind in it, pernicious in all pursuits of men. A farmer in the Perth region, I was told repeatedly had gained £2,000 by his potatoes alone last year; the prices in London were some sixfold, and the Perth man's potatoes had lived: this year, it is likely enough, they may have died, and his loss—Nay, who can estimate his loss (if there really be a soul in him) whether they have died or lived?—

You are surely right in what you argue about the state of the land,4 that it is a covenant of iniquity, clean contrary to God Almighty's law, and conformable only to my Lord Chancellor's Law, that now gives a ploughing man access to Irish soil (and you may add Scottish and English and European if you like); a terrible solecism,—alas, alas, the outcome of a million other silent and spoken solecisms; of all our solecisms,5 cants, cowardices, and contraventions of the everlasting Acts of Heaven's Parliament! The sight of it, fallen upon us in its naked horror, and the thought, how far beyond the most distant mountains the sources of it lie, and the remedies of it lie, may well make a man sad.

You are sure of my poor sympathy, and of all good men's on this side of the water or on that, in any feasible attempt to improve even a little that misery of miseries. In “land tenure” itself, or the direct question of tenant and landlord, it is possible some considerable improvement might by express law be brought about; but I confess the figure of an “Act of Parliament” that could rectify all that is inconceivable; and even of one that could tend at all decidedly to rectify it, I have no clear notion hitherto. If you have, by all means explain it publicly, but not till you have studied it well, and talked with lawyers, political economists, and all such classes upon it. What they have to say, were it even all false, has to be taken along with one, and known both to be, and to be a falsity. The “land tenure” in England, you perhaps are not aware, is precisely what your Irish one is, in that most essential respect that the tenant has no lease. Generally throughout this South of England leases are not known, or only beginning to be known; yet nowhere in the Queen's dominions does the farmer, with all his workers, sit so easy. From the practice of England you will get no help; I think the Scotch law, if it were investigated with that view, would be found to yield you something. Did you ever speak with Hancock on the subject?6 He is full of zealous notions on that or kindred matters, and speaks from under a wig withal. On the whole be practical, be feasible, that is the one condition; support in abundance awaits you here if that be complied with.

Also do not much mind Linton,7 who is a well enough meaning, but, I fear, extremely windy creature, of the Louis Blanc, George Sand, &c., species. And more power to your elbow every way, and always more.— Yours ever sincerely,


One Espinasse, a young Edinburgh man, now and for some years past in Manchester, I accidentally learn, has written to you, offering services, which have been declined. Very well, upon that be there no return. But, somehow, I feel that you do not probably understand this poor young man, and that I ought to say a word in explanation of him. Poor fellow! he is a kind of hero this little Espinasse, and is now threatened with changing into a kind of Scotch Rousseau, so unpropitious are the elements to him. An excellent scholar, especially in German, &c., full of exact information on all manner of subjects, discernment sharp as a hawk's (especially on the satirical side); in all ways an honourable, proudly veracious, anti-humbug little fellow (strange as you may think it), and very much to be relied on for doing whatsoever he undertakes to do. Of a contemptuous, proud temper, as I say, though honest to the bone; that is really the man's character if you can believe me, who have known him for several years. Of late I find he has once or twice taken to the most flagrant imitation of me, which looks absurd and almost mad, quite unfit for any journal, but I assure you he can write in quite other styles than that, and used to do literary, &c., articles for the Manchester Examiner very well indeed, till he took some huff at them. In the interest of suffering humanity, and for the sake of a young man of real superiority, I testify these things. In the name of the Prophet, figs!8