April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO LORD CLARENDON; 27 October 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481027-TC-LC-01; CL 23: 143-146


Chelsea, 27 Octr, 1848—

Dear Lord Clarendon,

You were so very good to me on a former occasion,1 perhaps I may be allowed to intrude again with a word of testimony on behalf of another unfortunate fellow creature now smarting for his “Repeal” enterprises: C. G. Duffy I mean; the only other of that unfortunate company of whom I ever had any knowledge—, or have the small claim to speak here.

How Duffy may stand in your Lordship's judgement I do not know; but it is very important for himself, and not without importance for all of us just now, that he should stand in his real likeness there;—the rather if there be any truth in those rumours one hears, that he stands very ill with some of your subordinates in Ireland, and that it is not unlikely a peculiar and exceptional severity may be exercised against him, unless your Lordship interpose.2 To me Duffy has been known personally, in some degree, these several years; I have read many of his Newspaper Articles, and had various opportunities to observe him, converse with him, and deliberately form some judgement of him and his affairs,—which, as it essentially differs from the rumoured one just hinted at, I am surely bound to convey to the proper ear for it, if I can. And indeed, apart from my private regard and pity for this poor man, may I not say it would be a little painful to me, on other grounds, if a mistake were committed in his instance,—if not Duffy were doomed but a fallacious Appearance of Duffy,—and an otherwise triumphantly successful management (grateful to all good citizens) of a most complex and ugly coil of affairs were, even in small items, deformed by any look of injustice or partiality. If the rumour just alluded to have no foundation, then pray excuse this trouble,—and read no farther, except perhaps for curiosity's sake.

Duffy came to me some four or five years ago, and talked and answered, a whole evening here;3 leaving with all of us a lively impression both of his own genial frank affectionate character, and of the tragic bewilderment into which the whole course of his practical convictions and endeavours had been, as it were, enchanted by that Arch-Humbug, and Servant of the Father of Lies (for such I must consider, and on occasion call him) “Liberator O'Connel,”—to whom, from the earliest awakening of intelligence, he had listened as to an inspired Prophet, and whose pretended will he was now bent with his whole strength to do, and thereby work salvation for Ireland. No sadder phenomenon connected with that sad country had ever presented itself to me. Here was poor Duffy, by appearance an Irish Peasant's son,4 yet a natural gentleman, and almost man of genius; sense and faculty and generosity and fine gifts, abundantly manifest in him: with his broad rude Irish face, with his deep-toned Irish voice, full of natural melody and brogue, he came before me as the Spokesman of long dumb generations of his poor Ancestors and Countrymen; long had they lain dumb, trodden down below speech by every conceivable oppression; and here at last was a Voice given them;—and this (thanks to Liberator O'Connel) was the use it was about to make of itself! Never had I seen more clearly what the nature of all Lying, public or private, is; how an incalculable curse follows it,—how all men should fly from it as for their life!—Poor Duffy's history as we now see it, is epitomized to me in that first glimpse I got of him.

But deducting that baleful foreign element, which has now come to such a tragic issue for the poor man, I am convinced your Lordship, on personal inspection, would find nothing else to blame in him beyond other men,—and certainly very much to praise and pity! He is a man of gentle soft nature; I think of a character sensitive and vehement, rather than deep or strong: Mitchel had far more of the fighter and knight-errant; and, in spite of their appearances, I should guess that the “Physical-Force” movement did not originate with Duffy; and that his incitations to continue it at last were grounded, if I may so speak, rather on his superior honesty,—on his conviction that “Repeal,” to which he had sworn fealty, had no chance at all but this desperate one, which his inexperience led him to forget, what was becoming plain to his more cunning and less sincere associates, that his chance was indeed desperate and worse than none.5 In the Nation Newspaper, which I looked into for several years,—always till within a few months of its suppression, when it had grown too painful and provoking to look into,—I noticed that Duffy worked for most part on Literary Matters, leaving the “Political” to others; and here I could not but recognise his worth as a critic, how on occasions he showed a correct and zealous appreciation of intellectual excellence, but of moral still more; and indeed was constantly endeavouring to teach “Repealers” and others some doctrine more wholesome than welcome to them; and would ever and anon remind them (no doubt with risk of his party connexions) that “repeal from England” would do nothing, unless repeal from their own vices, their own sloths, unveracities, blusterings and incoherencies (what I call “Repeal from the Devil”), should accompany it. This I noticed in Duffy all along, and in him almost alone of the fraternity: and in a word I have to testify that his bearing, in that dark disastrous insane element of O'Connel Repeal, had, whenever I caught sight of him, a certain manfulness, mild dignity, and effective sincerity, which pleaded for him with me.

On the whole I always construed him as intrinsically a Man of Letters, incidentally driven to become a Man of Action, and retaining always an invincible proclivity towards his old course,—and capable withal to do some service there. Repeal being now lost, I consider that the one aim that can remain to him in life must be this original one; which surely it were well should not be shut against him, but if possible, since he is to live, be set wide open to him! I believe there might yet good come of Duffy. In some situation analagous to that of Mitchel (for which, in the name of Magnanimity and wise Clemency, let the Lord Lieutenant accept my thanks and those of all men!) he might grow to something useful yet, and do good to himself and perhaps to his poor Country too— So be it, if the Powers permit!

This, dear Lord Clarendon is what I had to say of my own knowledge or clear conviction, about Duffy; and to this I will not add anything which might be of different origin. Of the late attempt at escape from prison, which I have heard of, I can say nothing, except that I hear Duffy's friends lament it, and alledge in excuse for him that it arose from his terror and quasi-frenzy at the thought (as “rumour” had menaced him) of being sent to consort, not with his old comrades in their exile, but with burglars and pickpockets, and the felons of Nature,—to which class he assuredly does not belong. Whatever his faults and false frenzies, recent or ancient, he will find, I persuade myself, a just and humane judge now, who needs no counsel when the facts have become clear.

Towards which issue, may this small contribution of mine, if it be needed, find acceptance, and at any rate excuse. And pray do not take the trouble, among your many great affairs, to write an answer: the testimony will weigh with you, I believe, about what it is worth; and the “answer,” to it and to much else, will be seen by and by.6

With many thanks, and respects, and congratulations,

I have the honour to be

Your Lordship's most obedt

T. Carlyle