July 1847-March 1848

The Collected Letters, Volume 22


TC TO AUBREY DE VERE ; 5 February 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480205-TC-ADV-01; CL 22: 239-240


Chelsea: February 5, 1848.

Dear Mr. de Vere,—You did not come to see me; but how can I severely reprimand you when you are otherwise so kind? Let me hope I shall be luckier next time you come across to us.

Many thanks for the Book;1 which indeed is a gift I was much gratified with. I have read the eloquent performance with attention: part of it Milnes had already read aloud to us at Alverstoke, multifarious running-commentary accompanying him. Indisputably enough it is eloquent; has a chivalrous noble tone in it, which anywhere, and especially as coming from Ireland, it does us good to hear. For the rest, you anticipate rightly, I find much to dissent from; but, what is better news, there is also no passage, or hardly any, in the Book in which I do not find much to agree with. Yes, beyond doubt, there is good in Ireland that we know not; if Ireland consisted all of Hill-of-Tara meetings, of O'Connell balderdash and rusty pistol shots and Machale letters,2 Ireland could not cohere at all; its pot, very languidly simmering of late, would long since have ceased to boil altogether. On the other hand, and this is my fundamental all-pervading objection, it seems to me of no use, when one has fallen into misfortune, to blame one's enemies, one's friends, one's government; or indeed any creature or entity whatever, till once one has thoroughly blamed (and amended) one's own poor self. Alas, my friend, the Government of Ireland, Saxon Government, with its bloody hoof, &c. &c., is precisely what the governments of other nations, and considerable provinces are and always were—the concentrated Practical Likeness of the Nation itself;—natural to the Nation, as its own face is, as the hair of its own head, growing up out of the whole being and structure of it, rooted in its very heart, nourished by the inmost drop of its blood. For no Nation, I do believe, will or can long wear an adscititious face (a mask), or submit to a tar wig; no, it acquires such face and hair as it can grow, and therewith walk abroad. Men, and Nations, do indeed fall among thieves, and are sadly maltreated and trampled out of shape; but a man, you will find, is generally responsible for his own face, and a Nation, I venture to assert, is always so. Let it not blame its government. The court of the Universe will hear no such plea from any Nation; let it, if insufferably ugly, say, ‘I have deserved to be so.’ There is no hope otherwise, I believe, for any Nation or man. These you call cruel sayings, and turn a deaf, scornful ear to them; but perhaps you will not always do so. Depend upon it, there is sincerity in these sayings too;—and much would it please me if a patriotic heart, of such insight and sense of truth as yours, offering an example to all such hearts, would look earnestly on that side of the question, and exhaust what of truth is in it. We will not despair under the given omens.

Alas, alas, what England wants and Ireland only a small degree more, is that we should know, among our multitudinous populations, the units that are men and free, and the millions that by Nature's own verdict are and remain slaves,—whom it is the cruellest injustice to call or treat by any other name, the whole universe standing ready to contradict, and nullify with costs, all treatment of that kind.

Yours very faithfully,