April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO [JOHN O'HAGAN]; 2 April 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490402-TC-JOH-01; CL 24: 3-4


Chelsea, 2 April, 1849—

My dear Sir,

Thanks for your news about Duffy;1 concerning whom, tho' the Newspapers are full of unreadable officialities this long while, authentic tidings are scarce and valuable to me.

You may believe me, and I hope he always believes, there is no honest thing I could do to help him which it would not be a pleasure to me to attempt. But the case has now assumed so monstrous a form, I confess there seems, by the method you speak of, no possibility. Everybody here has grown weary of it, looks upon it as a hideous farce,—crossbones surmounted by a zany's Cap (the emblem too often of Irish History),—and struggles to escape from it by entirely dismissing it from his mind. That Duffy is legally guilty of the charge brought against him, no one here doubts, has doubted, or probably ever will doubt. Concerning his moral guilt in the matter there are all varieties of opinion,—from impatient resentment as against some disturber of the public thoroughfares (not deeper, I think), up even to belief that it is a moral merit. But that he did verily incite men to rebel against the Queen of England,—of this, it is thought, there are no twelve men, and hardly twelve animals, you could consult on the subject who, if they were candid, would have difficulty about their verdict! To me also, I confess, it appears not more disputable than the existence of the sun at noonday. And yet here, for five months, have the chosen trained intellects of Ireland, furnished with wigs, parchments, precedents, and all the machinery accumulated by man's wit these four thousand years for eliciting solemnly the truth in such cases,—been busy over this case; and they have brought it to the condition we see! Whether a man has a nose upon his face or not, they cannot say.— This view of the matter is to me (if perhaps to me alone) entirely horrible: Skibereen Unions, Liberator O'Connels, Tarah meetings, Battles of Vinegar Hill, of all these branches of the Upas-tree2 this seems to me to disclose the essential sap and consummate flower;—I really have in my heart no kind of advice that I should like to give concerning it, no word that I could think it profitable to speak on the subject at present. An Abyss of Lies yawning wide here, deep as the foundations of human life: Governors and Governed and all men ought to pause over it, and reflect on it,—in silence, if permitted!

Not that I have not tried what was feasible for me to do the brave Duffy, whom I always love, a little good when there seemed a chance; but unhappily with small effect at any time;—and in that direction, apart from my own feelings and reluctances about it, I find that there is at present no likelihood whatever. The Government (anything called by the name of “Government” in any country or time would be obliged to do so) must of course strain all its energies to obtain a conviction in such a case: if they cannot do it by jury,—they might have a case to come before Parliament with, and say, “Do you mean to continue Jury-trials in Ireland, then? Irish juries cannot find that there is a sun at twelve o'clock noon!”— To which I think the Parlt might do well to suggest in answer, “Do you mean to continue such a set of laws and practices, disowned by Heaven, and on Earth productive of Skibereen unions, Liberator O'Connels, and the exile of Ireland's bravest sons? To set your Attorney's wig agt the thunderbolt of the gods? Away with Irish juries; but away also with such insane Redtapisms, and know that there is a Law of God, which you will be damned (to a certainty!) if you do not continue to follow!”— —

Pray do not tell poor Duffy a word of all this; for it will only grieve him. You and he may be sure always, if I have any possibility to do him service in his tragical distresses, I will not neglect it.— — The first gleam of real hope for Ireland seems to me that Speech of Peel's the other night;3 the first wise word I remember in my life to have heard spoken by an official man on that subject. I do thank God for it. We shall perhaps get thro' without street-barricades, we, after all!— I need not say how interesting you can at any time be to me by a few lines of your pen,—especially while this sad matter remains hanging. Believe me always

Sincerely Yours /

T. Carlyle