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ON THE IRISH CAUSE
[On the 12th of October, 1853, Mr. Mitchel landed at San Francisco after bis escape from penal exile in Van Diemen's Land. He received an enthusiastic welcome and on the 25th of the same month attended a grand banquet held in his honor at which the governor of California presided. To the toast, John Mitchel and the Independence of Ireland.” Mr. Mitchel replied in part as follows:]
OVERNOR BIGLER, AND CITIZENS OF SAN
FRANCISCO,—You will not wonder—you will
indulge me a little, me a captive of five years, after five weary years of living death, immured in dungeons by land and sea, or eating the bitter bread of penal exile in the depths of the forests of a convict colony—if my senses are somewhat overpowered by the thunders of your welcome to a free land. I seem like one slowly opening his eyes to the light of the outer world after a long and painful trance, and the splendor of this republican festival dazzles me.
Perhaps, if I had obeyed the dictates of that humility which becomes a defeated man and a hunted fugitive—if I had taken counsel of my own quiet disposition, naturally averse to display and ostentation, I should have asked permission respectfully to decline the honor you do me this day. God knows it is in no triumph we Irish rebels set foot upon your shores, Americans!
With the load of our chains only just shaken off, and the load of our inglorious defeat—which is bitterer than chains and cannot be shaken off-still heavy on our souls—with some of our dear comrades still pining in bondage-with the bloodhounds of the enemy still questing on our track behind, and a wide world before us, where we have no home, no country—it might be thought happiness enough for us to
fling ourselves, exhausted at last, safe under the hospitable shadow of your Eagle's wings.
But the terms in which I have been invited to this board leave me no room for such feelings. I must not think of myself when you offer me sympathy with my cause. And Americans, I have heard, are observant of what passes in the world. You know well what that cause is and what that sympathy implies.
Here is much more than personal compliment; here is something that supersedes and would make ridiculous the affectation of personal diffidence. I, indeed, am nothing; but liberty is sacred, and Ireland is dear, and justice is eternal; and my cause was, and is, and while I live shall be, the cause of Irish freedom against English tyranny–Irish rights against English bayonets—it is the cause of independent industry for our own living, against base pauperism for England's gain—it is that same old and dear cause of Irish republicanism to which our fathers were sworn in '98, and for which Tone labored and lived, and for which Emmet could but die.
Knowing all this, you tender, not to me, but to my country, on this first point of American land I touch, your frank and manly indorsement of that righteous cause. And could I presume to decline this? Could I, with an impudent modesty, deprecate your sympathy with Ireland's wrongs, your honest indignation against Ireland's enemies and oppressors ? No, no; I exult in this hearty welcome. I thank you for it from my very soul. I take a grim delight in it; for well I know the warm words of cheer you give me tonight will reach the poor hearths of some of my broken and desponding countrymen, and kindle in their hearts again some sparks of the fire of manhood—the loud echo of free
men's scorn will ring in the ears of our tyrants in their high places, and bid them beware of the next earthquake of the nations.
Who will dare talk to me of despair? Who is abject enough to despair of the cause of right, and truth, and freedom? In Ireland, indeed, truth has long been called a lie by act of Parliament, and that ancient passion for liberty has been well-nigh, as the enemy hopes, crushed and trampled out of her; but, after all, Irishmen are not negroes—they still belong to that family of the human race whence sprung the heroes and the demi-gods. High hearts and strong hands are bred there still, and the cup of slavery is still a bitter draught, as of old, and the sting of universal contempt is maddening, and time and chance wait on all men, and steel still cuts, and fire still burns—and heaven is above us all.
The graves, indeed, of two millions of our famished, murdered nation will not give up their dead, though the graves are shallow and the dead coffinless. The seven years of Ireland's sore agony in the talons of British civilization have been endured—they cannot be erased from the calendarthey cannot be forgotten—they shall not be forgiven. Nations have no future state, and therefore national punishments and compensations come in this world; and as surely
sorrow tracketh crime” that foul British Empire will be brought to a strict accounting-Ireland will yet have her victory and her revenge.
High words these, some men will say. The unhappy being forgets, they will say, that he has been five years brooding in solitary cells, or buried in the forests of the antipodes; he forgets human progress, and electric telegraphs, and how far the species has been striding ahead while he has been gnawing his own heart in a jail; he forgets that the Irish
he once knew are mostly dead or fled, and the remnant contented, or cowed, or bought,—and bought cheap enough; and so, they will say, he begins to rave about the cruel Saxon and the rights of Irish nationhood, that empty sound the very echoes of which have died out in thetwailings of famine, or been wafted over the Atlantic, or drowned in the pæans of peace and joy that hailed a Queen's visit and a Crystal Palace.
I know what the slaves and cowards will say. I know their cruel cant. And I say to them again that I had considered all that. Too well and keenly I feel what a gulf yawns between the to-day of Ireland and the day when I was carried from my home with chains upon my limbs; a gulf deep as the grave, black as the smoke of Tophet. I have heard of the idotic pretence of loyalty that the Irish were once more deluded by British falsehood to make before their tyrant. I have read of their puny and false mimicry of that English humbug of all nations.
Oh! I have heard how Ireland is at last going to begin to be ameliorated, for that two millions and a half of her lawless Celts are famished to death or driven to seek a livelihood in foreign lands—and how the survivors begin to live better --and how a lord-lieutenant continues to encourage the manufacture of tabinet for the viceregal waistcoat, and how a Crystal Palace stands in Dublin to display the productions of Ireland. Oh, mockery! the productions of Ireland! But the committee have not exhibited, as I hear, the real staple and characteristic productions of that country-model paupers in squalid rows—ranks of humble tenants-at-will with their hats in their hands—pyramids of ejectment decrees—basins of transparent poorhouse gruel (a great work of art)-cases of famished corpses, to show how lean an Irish
man can walk before he dies, while an Englishman eats his bread-dead children, half-gnawed by wolfish mothers there were an exposition of Irish industry for a queen of England to open in state-there were the true mirror of the country's condition. But because this ghastly picture is true, it will be carefully turned with its face to the wall, and all manner of glittering, flattering lies will take its place.
Let that palace of falsehood stand while it may—it is but glass. Let the poor worshippers of that obscene golden image which Prince Albert has set up wallow and grovel, eat dirt there, and crave the crumbs that fall from their masters' tables. I tell them that I was a freer man in the Bermuda hulk than the unhappy Irishmen who saunter and simper in the Dublin Crystal Palace and make believe that they are loyal citizens and members of society. Their souls dwell in a hulk. From the brown shades of Tasmanian woods I had a clearer view of the great transactions and destinies of mankind than they in the centre of their vicious civilization and amid the crushing race of hungry candidates for ten thousand offices—which are England's bribes and the Devil's.
Therefore you will see it is not in ignorance or forgetfulness of what has been passing these late years that I dare again to utter the creed of Irish nationality—that I hail your sympathy with Irish rebellion. There are Irishmen here tonight-do you, my countrymen, tell me that our cause is lost forever? Is the history of Ireland over? Do you tell me to go back to my island dungeon, and disturb no more the march of Anglo-Saxon civilization and the Crystal Palace progress of the species ? Forgive me the question, my countrymen! Do not our hearts leap out at the very thought of the next European convulsion? Do they not burn within us when we think of all that "peace and order," as tyrants