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principles of freedom chapter 12


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER XII

RELIGION

I

It ought to be laid down as a first principle that grave questions which have divided us in the past, and divide us still with much bitterness, should not be thrust aside and kept out of view in the hope of harmony. Where the attitude is such, the hope is vain. They should be approached with courage in the hope of creating mutual respect and an honourable solution for all. Religion is such a question. To the majority of men this touches their most intimate life. Because of their jealous regard for that intimate part of themselves they are prepared for bitter hostilities with anyone who will assail it; and because of the unmeasured bitterness of assaults on all sides we have come to count it a virtue to bring together in societies labelled non-sectarian, men who have been violently opposed on this issue. It will be readily allowed that to bring men together anyhow, even suspiciously, is somewhat of an advance, when we keep in mind how angrily they have quarrelled. But 'tis not to our credit that in any assembly a particular name hardly dare be mentioned; and it must be realised that, whatever purpose it may serve in lesser undertakings, in the great fight for freedom no such attitude will suffice. No grave question can be settled by ignoring it. Since it is our duty to make the War of Independence a reality and a success, we must invoke a contest that will as surely rouse every latent passion and give every latent suspicion an occasion and a field. That is the danger ahead. We must anticipate that danger, meet and destroy it. Perhaps at this suggestion most of us will at once get restive. Some may say with irritation: Why raise this matter? Others on the other side may prepare forthwith to dig up the hatchet. Is not the attitude on both sides evidence of the danger? Does anyone suppose we can start a fight for freedom without making that danger a grimmer reality? Who can claim it a wise policy merely for the moment to dodge it? For that is what we do. Let us have courage and face it. At what I have to say let no man take offence or frightit commits no one to anything. It is written to try and make opponents understand and respect one another, not to set them at one another, least of all to make them "liberal," that is, lax and contemptible, ready to explain everything away. We want primarily the man who is prepared to fight his ground, but who is big enough in heart and mind to respect opponents who will also fight theirs. In the integrity and courage of both sides is the guarantee of the independence of both. That should be our guiding thought. But as on this question most people abandon all tolerance, it is quite possible what may be written will satisfy none; still, it may serve the purpose of making a need apparent. To repeat, we must face the question. But whoever elects to start it, should approach the issue with sympathy and forbearance. These are as necessary as courage and resolution; yet, since many often sacrifice firmness to sympathy, others will take the opposite line of riding roughshod over everyone, a harshness that confirms the weakling in his weakness. To note all this is but to note the difficulty; and if what is now written fails in its appeal, it need only be said to walk unerringly here would require the insight of a prophet and the balance of an angel.

II

What everyone should take as a fair demand is that all men should be sincere in their professions, and that we should justify ourselves by the consistency of our own lives rather than by the wickedness of our neighbours: which is nothing new. It is our trouble that we must emphasise obvious duties. To approach the question frankly with no matter what good faith will lead to much heart-burning, perhaps, to no little bitterness; but if we realise that all sides are about equally to blame, we may induce an earnestness that may lead to better things. It is in that hope I write. Catholics and Protestants, instead of saying to one another the things with which we are familiar, should look to their own houses; and if in this age of fashionable agnosticism, they should conclude that the general enemy is the atheist, socialist, and the syndicalist, they should still be reminded to look to their own houses; and if the agnostic take this to justify himself, he should be reminded he has never done anything to justify himself. It may seem a curious way for inducing harmony to set out to prove everyone in the wrong; but the point is clear, not to attack what men believe but to ask them to justify their words by their deeds. The request is not unreasonable and it may be asked in a tone that will show the sincerity of him who makes it and waken a kindred feeling in all earnest men. The world will be a better place to live in, and we shall be all better friends when every man makes a genuine resolve to give us all the example of a better life.

III

A development that would require a treatise in itself I will but touch on, to suggest to all interested a matter of general and grave concernthe growing materialism of religious bodies. On all sides self-constituted defenders of the faith are troubling themselves, not with the faith but with the numbers of their adherents who have jobs, equal sharers in emoluments, and so forth. A Protestant of standing writes a book and proves his religion is one of efficiency; a Catholic of equal standing quickly rejoins with another book to prove his religion is also efficient; each blind to the fact that the resulting campaign is disgraceful to both. When religion ceases to represent to us something spiritual, and purely spiritual, we begin to drift away from it. "Where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also." "No man can serve God and Mammon." The modern rejoinder is familiar: "We must live." This, our generation is not likely to forget. The grave concern is that well-meaning men are accustoming themselves to this cry to sacrifice all higher considerations for the "equal division of emoluments." Let us as citizens and a community see that every man has the right and the means to live; but when self-interested bodies start a rivalry in the name of their particular creeds, we know it ends in a squalid greed and fight for place, in a pursuit of luxury, the logical outcome of which must be to make the world ugly, sordid and brutal. It would be a mistake to overlook that high-minded men are allowing themselves to be committed by plausible reasons to this growing evil. It is misguided enthusiasm. There is a divine authority that warns us all: "Be zealous for the better gifts."

IV

I wish to examine the attitude of the average Christian to the Agnostic. "The world is falling away from religion," he will cry when depressed, without thinking how much he himself may be a contributing cause. Let him study it in this light. What is his attitude? When he comes to speak of the tendency of the age he will indulge in vague generalities about atheism, socialism, irreligion, and the rest; always the cause is outside of him, and against him; he is not part of it. I ask him to pass by the atheist awhile and take what may be of more concern. There is a type of Catholic and Protestant who has as little genuine religion in him as any infidel, who does not deny the letter of the law, but who does not observe its spirit, whose only use for the letter is to criticise and harass adversaries. Observe the high use he has for libertydrinking, card-playing, gambling, luxury; he has no place in his life for any worthy deeds, nay, only scorn for such. Still he passes for orthodox. If he is a Catholic, he secures that by putting in an appearance at Mass on Sundays. His mind is not there; he arrives late and goes early. His Protestant fellow in his private judgment finds more scope: "Let the women go listen to the parson." This is the sort of saying gives him such a conceit of himself. We have the type on both sides, so all can see it. Now it is not in the way of the Pharisee we come to note them, but to note that, strange as it may appear, either or both together will come to applaud the denouncing of the atheist. We gather such into our religious societies, and flatter them that they are adherents of religion and the bulwark of the faith, and they forthwith anathematise the atheist with great gusto. The one so anathematised is often as worthless as themselves with a conceit to despise priest and parson alike. But it sometimes happens he is a fine character who has no religion as most of us understand it, but who has yet a fine spiritual fervour, ready to fight and make sacrifices for a national or social principle that he believes will make for better things, a man of integrity and worth whom the best of men may be glad to hold as a friend. Yet we find in the condition to which we have drifted such a one may be pilloried by wasters, gamblers, rioters, a crew that are the curse of every community. We lash the atheist and the age but give little heed to the insincerity and cant of those we do not refuse to call our own. What an example for the man anathematised. He sees the vice and meanness of those we allow to pass for orthodox, and when he sees also the complacency of the better part, he is unconvinced. We praise the sweetness of the healing waters of Christ-like charity, but despite our gospel he never gets it, never. We give him execration, injustice; if we let him go with a word, it is never a gentle word, but a bitter epithet; and we wonder he is estranged, when he sees our amazing composure in an amazing welter of hypocrisy and deceit. There is, of course, the better side, the many thousands of Catholics and Protestants who sincerely aim at better things. But what has to be admitted is that most sincerely religious people adopt to the man of no established religion the same attitude as does the hypocrite: they join in the general cry. They should look to their own houses; they should purge the temple of the money-lender and the knave; they should see that their field gives good harvest; they should remember that not to the atheist only but to the orthodox was it written: "Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire."

V

There is a word to be said to the man for whom was invented the curious name agnostic. I'm concerned only with him who is sincere and high-minded. Let us pass the flippant critics of things they do not understand. But all sincere men are comrades in a deep and fine sense. What the honest unbeliever has to keep in mind is that the darker side is but one side. If he stands studying a crowd of the orthodox and finds therein the drunkard, the gambler, the sensualist; and if he says bitter things of the value of religion and gets in return the clerical fiat of one who is more a politician than a priest; and if he rejoins contemptuously, "This is fit for women and children," let him be reminded that he can also study the other side if he care. If he has the instinct of a fighter he must know every army has in its trail the camp-follower and the vulture, but when the battle is set and the danger is imminent, only the true soldier stands his ground. Because some who are of poor spirit are in high place, let him not forget the old spirit still exists. Not only the women but the best intellects of men still keep the old traditions. Newman and Pascal, Dante and Milton, Erigena and Aquinas, are all dead, but in our time even they have had followers not too far off. In the same spirit Gilbert Chesterton found wonder at a wooden post, and Francis Thompson, in his divine wandering, troubled the gold gateways of the stars. Let our friend before he frames his final judgment pause here. He may well be baffled by many anomalies of the time, his eye may rest on the meaner horde, his ear be filled with the arrogance of some unworthy successor of Paul; and if he says: "Why permit these things?" he may be told there are some alive in this generation who will question all such things, and who, however hard it go with them, have no fear for the final victory.

VI

Perhaps the conventional Christian and conventional non-Christian may rest a moment to consider the reality. Between the bitter believer and the exasperated unbeliever, Christianity is being turned from a practice to a polemic, and if we are to recall the old spirit we must recall the old earnestness and simplicity of the early Martyrs. We do not hear that they called Nero an atheist, but we do hear that they went singing to the arena. By their example we may recover the spirit of song, and have done with invective. If we find music and joyousness in the old conception, it is not in the fashion of the time to explain it away in some "new theology," for he to whom it is not a fashion, but a vital thing, keeps his anchor by tradition. To him it is the shining light away in the mists of antiquity; it is the strong sun over the living world; it is the pillar of fire over the widening seas and worlds of the unknown; it is the expanse of infinity. When he is lost in its mystery he adverts to the wonder about him, for all that is wonderful is touched with it, and all that is lovely is its expression. It is in the breath of the wind, pure and bracing from the mountain top. It is in the song of the lark holding his musical revel in the sunlight. It is in the ecstasy of a Spring morning. It is in the glory of all beautiful things. When it has entered and purified his spirit, his heart goes out to the persecuted in all ages and countries. None will he reject. "I am not come to call the just but sinners." He remembers those words, and his great charity encompasses not only the persecuted orthodox, but the persecuted heretics and infidels.

VII

I will not say if such an endeavour as I suggest can have an immediate success. But I think it will be a step forward if we get sincere men on one side to understand the sincerity of the other side; and if in matters of religion and speculation, where there is so much difficulty and there is likely to be so much conflict of opinion, there should be no constraint, but rather the finest charity and forbearance; then the orthodox would be concerned with practising their faith rather than in harassing the infidel, and the infidel would receive a more useful lesson than the ill-considered tirades he despises. He may remain still unconvinced, but he will give over his contempt. This question of religion is one on which men will differ, and differing, ultimately they will fight if we find no better way. We must remember while freedom is to win we are facing a national struggle, and if we are threatened within by a civil war of creeds it may undo us. That is why we must face the question. That is why I think utter frankness in these grave matters is of grave urgency. If we approach them in the right spirit we need have no fearfor at heart the most of men are susceptible to high appeals. What we need is courage and intensity; it is gabbling about surface things makes the bitterness. If in truth we safeguard the right of every man as we are bound to do we shall win the confidence of all, and we may hope for a braver and better future, wherein some light of the primal Beauty may wander again over earth as in the beginning it dawned on chaos when the Spirit of God first moved over the waters.

chapter 13

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principles of freedom chapter 11


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER XI

LITERATURE AND FREEDOMART FOR ART'S SAKE

I

Art for art's sake has come to have a meaning which must be challenged, but yet it can be used in a sense that is both high and sacred. If a gifted writer take literature as a great vocation and determine to use his talents faithfully and well, without reference to fee or reward; if prosperity cannot seduce him to the misuse of his genius, then we give him our high praise. Let it still not be forgotten that the labourer is worthy of his hire. But if the hire is not forthcoming, and he knowing it, yet says in his heart, "The work must still be done"; and if he does it loyally and bravely, despite the present coldness of the world, doing the good work for the love of the work and all beautiful things; and if with this meaning he take "art for art's sake" as his battle-cry, then we repeat it is used in a sense both high and sacred.

II

But there are artists abroad whose chief glory seems to be to deny that they have convictionsthat is, convictions about the passionate things of life that rouse and move their generation. Now that they should not be special pleaders is an obvious duty, but unless they have a passionate feeling for the vital things that move men, heart and soul, they cannot interpret the heart and soul of passionate men, and their work must be for ever cold. When literature is not passionate it does not touch the spirit to lift and spread its wings and soar to finer air. That is the great want about all the clever books now being turned outthey often give us excitement; they never give us ecstasy. Then there is an obvious feeling of something lacking which men try to make up with art; and they produce work faultless in form and fastidious in phrase, but still it lacks the touch of fire that would lift it from common things to greatness.

III

If we are to apply art to great work we must distinguish art from artifice. We find the two well contrasted in Synge's "Riders to the Sea" and his "Playboy." The first was written straight from the heart. We feel Synge must have followed those people carrying the dead body, and touched to the quick by the caoine, passed the touch on to us, for in the lyric swell of the close we get the true emotion. Here alone is he in the line of greatness. This gripped his heart and he wrote out of himself. But in the other work of his it was otherwise. He has put his method on record: he listened through a chink in the floor, and wrote around other people. It is characteristic of the art of our time. Let it be called art if the critics will, but it is not life.

IV

No, it is not life. But there is so much talk just now of getting "down to fundamentals," of the poetry of the tramp "walking the world," and the rest of it, that it would be well if we did get down to fundamentals; and this is one thing fundamentalthe tramp is a deserter from life. He evades the troubled field where great causes are fought; he shuns the battle because of the wounds and the sacrifice; he has no heart for high conflict and victory. Let him under the cover of darkness but secure his share of the spoils and the world may go to wreck. Yes, he is the meanest of thingsa deserter. On the field of battle he would be shot. If we let him desert the field of life, go his way and walk the world, let us not at least hail him as a hero.

The Repertory Theatre is the nursery of this particular art-cult, and 'twould relieve some of us to talk freely about it. The Repertory Theatre has already become fashionable, and is quite rapidly become a nuisance. Men are making songs and plays and lectures for art's sake, for the praise of a coterie or to shock the bourgeoisabove all shock the bourgeois. A certain type of artist delights in shocking the bourgeoisa riot over a play gives him great satisfaction. In passing, one must note with exasperation, perhaps with some misgiving, how men raise a riot over something not worth a thought, and will not fight for things for which they ought to die. But he likes the bourgeois to think him a terrible person; in his own esteem he is on an eminence, and he proceeds to send out more shock-the-bourgeois literature; and 'tis mostly very sorry stuff. Sometimes he tries to be emotional and is but painfully artificial; sometimes he tries to be merry and gives us flippancy for fun. And we feel a terrible need for getting back to a standard, worthy and true. Great work can be made only for the love of work; not for money, not for art's sake, not for intellectual appeal nor flippant ridicule, but for the pure love of things, good, true and beautiful. With the best of intentions we may fail; and this should be laid down as a safe guiding principle; a dramatist should be moved by his own tragedy; the novelist should be interested in his own story; the poet should make his song for the love of the song and his comedy for the fun of the thing.

VI

We naturally think of the Abbey Theatre when we speak of these things, and as the Abbey work has certainly suffered from overpraise we may correct it by comparison with Shakespeare. Before the Abbey we were so used to triviality that when clever and artistic work appeared we at once hailed it great. We did get one or two great things, a fact to note with hearty pleasure and pride. But the rest was merely clever; and now that we are getting nothing great we must insist, and keep on insisting, that 'tis merely clever. But let us remember that value of the word great. Let it be kept for such names as Shakespeare and Molire; and lesser men may be called brilliant, talented or ableanything you will but great. Consider the scenes from the supreme plays of Shakespeare and compare with them the innumerable plays now coming forth and note a vital difference. These give us excitement, where Shakespeare gave us vision. We may be reminded of Shakespeare's duels and brawls and battles and blood; his generation revelled in excitement. Yes, they craved it, and he gave it to them, but shot through with wonder, subtlety, ecstasy; and his splendid creations, like mighty worlds, keep us wondering for ever. We must get back that supreme note of blended music and wonder, that makes the spirit beautiful and tempts it to soar, till it rise over common things and mere commotion, spreading its wings for the finer air where reason faints and falls to earth.

VII

A dramatist cannot make a great play out of little people. His chief characters at least must be great of heart and soulthe great hearts that fight great causes. When such are caught, in the inevitable struggle of affections and duties and the general clash of life their passionate spirits send up all the elements that make great literature. The writer who cannot enter into their battles and espouse their cause cannot give utterance to their hearts; and we don't want what he thinks about them; we want what they think about themselves. He who is in passionate sympathy with them feels their emotion and writing from the heart does great things. The artist who is in mortal dread of being thought a politician or suspected of motives cannot feel, and will as surely fail, as the one who sits down to play the rle of politician disguised as play-right. That is what the artist has got to see; and he has got to see that while the Irish Revolution for centuries has attracted the greatest hearts and brains of Ireland, for him carefully to avoid it is to avoid the line of greatness. For a propagandist to sit down to give it utterance would be as if a handy-man were to set out to build a cathedral. The Revolution does not need to be argued; it justifies itselfall we need is to give it utterancegive it utterance once greatly. Then the writer may proceed to give utterance to every good thing under the sun. But our artists are making, and will continue to make, only second-class literature, for they are afraid of the Revolution, and it is all over our best of life; they are afraid of that life. But to enter the arena of greatness they must give it a voice. That is the vocation of the poet.

VIII

Yes, and the poet will be unlike you, gentlemen of the fastidious phrase. He will not be careless of form, but the passion that is in him will make simple words burn and live; never will he in the mode of the time go wide of the truth to make a picturesque phrase; his mind rapt on the thing will fix on the true word; his heart warm with the battle will fashion more beautiful forms than you, O detached and dainty artist; his soul full of music and adventure will scale those heights it is your fate to dream of but not your fortune to possess. Yet, you, too, might possess them would you but step with him into the press of adventurous legions, and make articulate the dream of men, and make splendid their triumph. He is the prophet of to-morrow, though you deny him to-day. He is not like to you, supercilious and aloofhe would have you for a passionate brother, would raise your spirit in ecstasy, flood your mind with thought, and touch your lips with fire. Because of his sensitiveness he knows every mood and every heart and gives a voice and a song to all. You might know him for a good comrade, where freedom is to win or to hold, over in the van or the breach; able to deal good blows and take them in the fine manner, a fine fighter; not with darkened brow crying, "an eye for an eye"for who could give him blow for blow or match his deed with a deed?but one of open front and open hand who will count it happiness to have made for a victory he may not live to enjoy, as ready to die in its splendour as he had been to live through the darkness before the dawn; remembering with soldier tenderness the comrades of old battles, forgetting the malice of old enemies; a high example of the magnanimous spirit, happily not yet unknown on earth; with fine generosity and noble fire, full of that great love the common cry can never make other than humanising and beautiful, not without a gleam of humour more than half divine, he will pass, leaving to the foe that hated him heartily equally with the friend that loved him well, the wonder of his thought and the rapture of his melody.

chapter 12

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principles of freedom chapter 10


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER X

LITERATURE AND FREEDOMTHE PROPAGANDIST PLAYWRIGHT

I

A nation's literature is an index to its mind. If the nation has its freedom to win, from its literature may we learn if it is passionately in earnest in the fight, or if it is half-hearted, or if it cares not at all. Whatever state prevails, passionate men can pour their passion through literature to the nation's soul and make it burn and move and fight. For this reason it is of transcendent importance to the Cause. Literature is the Shrine of Freedom, its fortress, its banner, its charter. In its great temple patriots worship; from it soldiers go forth, wave its challenge, and fight, and conquering, write the charter of their country. Its great power is contested by none; rather, all recognise it, and many and violent are the disputes as to its right use and purpose. I propose to consider two of the disputantsthe propagandist playwright and the art-for-art's-sake artist, since they raise issues that are our concern. It is curious that two so violently opposed should be so nearly alike in error: they are both afraid of life. The propagandist is all for one side; the artist afraid of every side. The one lacks imagination; the other lacks heart; they are both wide of the truth. The service of the truth requires them to pursue one course; in their dispute they swerve from that course, one to right, one to left. Because they leave the path on opposite sides, they do not see how much alike is their error; but that they do both leave the path is my point, and it is well we should consider it. It would be difficult to deal with both sides at once; so I will consider the propagandist first. What I have to charge against him is that his work is insincere, that he is afraid to do justice to the other side, that he makes ridicule of our exemplars, that he helps to keep the poseur in being; and to conclude, that only by a saving sense of humour can we find our way back to the truth.

II

When we judge literature we do so by reference to the eternal truth, not by what the writer considers the present phase of truth; and if literature so tested is found guilty of suppression, evasion or misinterpretation, we call the work insincere, though the author may have written in perfect good faith. That is a necessary distinction to keep in mind. If you call a man's work insincere, the superficial critic will take it as calling the man himself insincere; but the two are distinct, and it needs to be emphasised, for sincere men are making these propagandist plays, of which the manifest and glaring untruth is working mischief to the national mind. A type of such a play is familiar enough in these days when we like to ridicule the West Briton. We are served up puppets representing the shoneen with a lisp set over against the patriot who says all the proper things suitable to the occasion. Now, such a play serves no good purpose, but it has a certain bad effect. It does not give a true interpretation of life; it enlightens no one; but it flatters the prejudices of people who profess things for which they have no zeal. That is the root of the mischief. Many of us will readily profess a principle for which we will not as readily suffer, but when the pinch comes and we are asked to do service for the flag, we cover our unwillingness by calling the man on the other side names. Where such a spirit prevails there can be no national awakening. If we put a play before the people, it must be with a hope of arresting attention, striking their imagination, giving them a grip of reality, and filling them with a joy in life. Now, the propagandist play does none of these things; it has neither joy nor reality; its characters are puppets and ridiculous; they are essentially caricatures. This is supposed to convert the unbeliever; but the intelligent unbeliever coming to it is either bored or irritated by its extravagant absurdity, and if he admits our sincerity, it is only at the expense of our intelligence.

III

A propagandist play for a political end is even more mischievousat least lovers of freedom have more cause for protest. It makes our heroes ridiculous. No man of imagination can stand these impossible persons of the play who "walk on" eternally talking of Ireland. Our heroes were men; these are poseurs. Get to understand Davis, Tone, or any of our great ones, and you will find them human, gay, and lovable. "Were you ever in love, Davis?" asked one of his wondering admirers, and prompt and natural came the reply: "I'm never out of it." We swear by Tone for his manly virtues; we love him because we say to ourselves: "What a fine fellow for a holiday." A friend of Mitchel's travelling with him once through a storm, was astonished to find him suddenly burst out into a fine recitation, which he delivered with fine effect. He was joyous in spirit. For their buoyancy we love them all, and because of it we emulate them. We are influenced, not by the man who always wants to preach a sermon at us, but by the one with whom we go for a holiday. Our history-makers were great, joyous men, of fine spirit, fine imagination, fine sensibility, and fine humour. They loved life; they loved their fellow man; they loved all the beautiful, brave things of earth. When you know them you can picture them scaling high mountains and singing from the summits, or boating on fine rivers in the sunlight, or walking about in the dawn, to the music of Creation, evolving the philosophy of revolutions and building beautiful worlds. You get no hint of this from the absurd propagandist play, yet this is what the heart of man craves. When he does not get it, he cannot explain what he wants; but he knows what he does not want, and he goes away and keeps his distance. The play has missed fire, and the playwright and his hero are ridiculous. Let us understand one thing: if we want to make men dutiful we must make them joyous.

IV

It is because we must talk of grave things that we must preserve our gaiety; otherwise we could not preserve our balance. By some freak of nature, the average man strikes attitudes as readily as the average boy whistles. We know how the poseur works mischief to every cause, and we can see the poseur on every side. In politics, he has made the platform contemptible, which is a danger to the nation, needing the right use of platform; in literaturewell, we all know bourgeois, but who has done justice to the artist who gets on a platform to talk about the bourgeois?in religion, the poseur is more likely to make agnostics than all the Rationalist Press; and the agnostic poseur in turn is very funny. Now all these are an affliction, a collection of absurdities of which we must cure the nation. If we cannot cure the nation of absurdity we cannot set her free. Let it be our rule to combine gaiety with gravity and we will acquire a saving sense of proportion. Only the solemn man is dull; the serious man has a natural fund of gaiety: we need only be natural to bring back joy to serious endeavour. Then we shall begin to move. Let us remember a revolution will surely fail when its leaders have no sense of humour.

V

But our humour will not be a saving humour unless it is of high order. A great humorist is as rare as a great poet or a great philosopher. Though ours may not be great we must keep it in the line of greatness. Remember, great humour must be made out of ourselves rather than out of others. The fine humorist is delightfully courteous; the commonplace wit, invariably insulting. We must keep two things in mind, that in laughter at our own folly is the beginning of wisdom; and the keenest wit is pure fun, never coarse fun. We start a laugh at others by getting an infallible laugh at ourselves. The commonplace wit arranges incidents to make someone he dislikes ridiculous; his attitude is the attitude of the superior person. He is nearly alwaysoften unintentionallyoffensive; he repels the public sometimes in irritation, sometimes in amusement, for they often see point in his joke, but see a greater joke in him, and they are often laughing, not at his joke, but at himself. Let us for our salvation avoid the attitude of the superior person. Don't make sport of othersmake it of yourself. Ridicule of your neighbour must be largely speculation; of the comedy in yourself there can be no doubt. When you get the essential humour out of yourself, you get the infallible touch, and you arrest and attract everyone. You are not the superior person. In effect, you slap your neighbour on the back and say, "We're all in the same boat; let us enjoy the joke"; and you find he will come to you with glistening eye. He may feel a little foolish at firstyou are poking his ribs; but you cannot help ithaving given him the way to poke your own. By your merry honesty he knows you for a safe comrade, and he comes with relief and confidencewe like to talk about ourselves. He will be equally frank with yourself; you will tell one another secrets; you will reach the heart of man. That is what we need. We must get the heart-beat into literature. Then will it quiver and dance and weep and sing. Then we are in the line of greatness.

VI

It is because we need the truth that we object to the propagandist playwright. Only in a rare case does he avoid being partial; and when he is impartial he is cold and unconvincing. He gives us argument instead of emotion; but emotion is the language of the heart. He does not touch the heart; he tries to touch the mind: he is a pamphleteer and out of place. He fails, and his failure has damaged his cause, for it leaves us to feel that the cause is as cold as his play; but when the Cause is a great one it is always vital, warm and passionate. It is for the sake of the Cause we ask that a play be made by a sincere man-of-letters, who will give us not propagandist literature nor art-for-art's-sake, but the throbbing heart of man. The great dramatist will have the great qualities needed, sensibility, sympathy, insight, imagination, and courage. The special pleader and the poseur lack all these things, and they make themselves and their work foolish. Let us stand for the truth, not pruning it for the occasion. The man who is afraid to face life is not competent to lead anyone, to speak for anyone, or to interpret anything: he inspires no confidence. The one to rouse us must be passionate, and his passion will win us heart and soul. When from some terribly intense moment, he turns with a merry laugh, only the fool will take him as laughing at his cause; the general instinct will see him detecting an attitude, tripping it up, and making us all merry and natural again. In that moment we shall spring up astonished, enthusiastic, exultanthere is one inspired; we shall enter a passionate brotherhood, no cold disputes nowthe smouldering fire along the land shall quicken to a blaze, history shall be again in the making. We shall be caught in the living flame.

chapter 11

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principles of freedom chapter 9


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER IX

THE FRONTIER

I

Our frontier is twofold, the language and the sea. For the majesty of our encircling waters we have no need to raise a plea, but to give God thanks for setting so certain a seal on our individual existence and giving us in the spreading horizon of the ocean some symbol of our illimitable destiny. For the language there is something still to be said; there are some ideas gaining currency that should be challengedthe cold denial of some that the unqualified name Irish be given to the literature of Irishman that is passionate with Irish enthusiasm and loyalty to Ireland, yet from the exigencies of the time had to be written in English; the view not only assumed but asserted by some of the Gael that the Gall may be recognised only if he take second place; the aloofness of many of the Gall, not troubling to understand their rights and duties; the ignoring on both sides of the fine significance of the name Irishman, of a spirit of patriotism and a deep-lying basis of authority and justice that will give stability to the state and secure its future against any upheaval that from the unrest of the time would seem to threaten the world.

II

Consider first the literature of Irishmen in English. From the attitude commonly taken on the question of literary values, it is clear that the primary significance of expression in writing is often lost. What is said, and the purpose for which it is said, take precedence of the medium through which it is said. But from our national awakening to the significance of the medium so long ignored we have grown so excited that we frequently forget the greater significance of the thing. The utterance of the man is of first importance, and, where his utterance has weight, the vital need is to secure it through some medium, the medium becoming important when one more than another is found to have a wider and more intimate appeal; and then we do well to become insistent for a particular medium when it is in anxiety for full delivery of the writer's thought and a wide knowledge of its truth. But we are losing sight of this natural order of things. It is well, then, the unconvinced Gall should hear why he should accept the Irish language; not simply to defer to the Gael, but to quicken the mind and defend the territory of what is now the common country of the Gael and Gall. Davis caught up the great significance of the language when he said: "Tis a surer barrier, and more important frontier, than fortress or river." The language is at once our frontier and our first fortress, and behind it all Irishmen should stand, not because a particular branch of our people evolved it, but because it is the common heritage of all. One who has a knowledge of Irish can easily get evidence of its quickening power on the Irish mind. Travel in an Irish-speaking district and hail one of its old people in English, and you get in response a dull "Good-day, Sir." Salute him in Irish and you touch a secret spring. The dull eyes light up, the face is all animation, the body alert, and for a dull "good-day," you get warm benedictions, lively sallies, and after you, as you pass on your road, a flood of rich and racy Irish comes pouring down the wind. That is the secret power of the language. It makes the old men proud of their youth and gives to the young quickened faculties, an awakened imagination and a world to conquer. This is no exaggeration. It is not always obvious, because we do not touch the secret spring nor wander near the magic. But the truth is there to find for him who cares to search. You discover behind the dullness of a provincial town a bright centre of interest, and when you study the circle you know that here is some wonderful thing: priests, doctors, lawyers, teachers, tradesmen, clerksall drawn together, young and old, both sexes, all enthusiasts. Sometimes a priest is teaching a smith, sometimes the smith is teaching the priest: for a moment at least we have unconsciously levelled barriers and there is jubilation in the natural life re-born. Out of that quickened life and consciousness rises a vivid imagination with a rush of thought and a power of expression that gives the nation a new literature. That is the justification of the language. It awakens and draws to expression minds that would otherwise be blank. It is not that the revelation of Davis is of less value than we think, but that through the medium of Irish other revelations will be won that would otherwise be lost. Again, in subtle ways we cannot wholly understand, it gives the Irish mind a defence against every other mind, taking in comradeship whatever good the others have to offer, while retaining its own power and place. The Irish mind can do itself justice only in Irish. But still some ardent and faithful spirits broke through every difficulty of time and circumstance and found expression in English, and we have the treasures of Davis, Mitchel, and Mangan; yet, the majority remained cold, and now, to quicken the mass, we turn to the old language. But this is not to decry what was won in other fields. In the widening future that beckons to us, we shall, if anything, give greater praise to these good fighters and enthusiasts, who in darker years, even with the language of the enemy, resisted his march and held the gap for Ireland.

III

On this ground the Gael and Gall stand on footing of equality. That is the point many on both sides miss and we need to emphasise it. Some Irishmen not of Gaelic stock speak of Irish as foreign to them, and would maintain English in the principal place now and in the future. We do well then to make clear to such a one that he is asked to adopt the language for Ireland's sake as a nation and for his own sake as a citizen. If he wishes to serve her he must stand for the language; if he prefers English civilisation he should go back to England. There only can he develop on English lines. An Irishman in Ireland with an English mind is a queer contradiction, who can serve neither Ireland nor England in any good sense, and both Ireland and England disown him. So the Irishman of other than Gaelic ancestors should stand in with us, not accepting something disagreeable as inevitable, but claiming a right by birth and citizenship, joining the fine army of the nation for a brave adventurous future, full of fine possibility and guaranteed by a fine comradeshipowning a land not of flattery and favouritism, but of freedom and manhood. This saving ideal has been often obscured by our sundering class names. This is why we would substitute as common for all the fine name of Irishman.

IV

But in asking all parties to accept the common name of Irishman, we find a fear rather suggested than declaredthat men may be asked in this name to put by something they hold as a great principle of Life; that Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter will all be asked to find agreement in a fourth alternative, in which they will not submit to one another but will all equally belie themselves. There is such a hidden fear, and we should have it out and dispose of it. The best men of all parties will have no truck with this and they are right. But on what ground, then, shall we find agreement, the recognition of which Irish Citizenship implies? On this, that the man of whatever sincere principles, religious or civic, counts among his great duties his duty as citizen; and he defends his creed because he believes it to be a safe guide to the fulfilling of all duties, this including. When, therefore, we ask him to stand in as Irish Citizen, it is not that he is to abandon in one iota his sincere principles, but that he is to give us proof of his sincerity. He tells us his creed requires him to be a good citizen: we give him a fine field in which he can be to us a fine example.

V

In further consideration of this we should put by the thought of finding a mere working agreement. There is a deep-lying basis of authority and justice to seek, which it should be our highest aim to discover. Modern governments concede justice to those who can compel justiceeven the democracy requires that you be strong enough to formulate a claim and sustain it; but this is the way of tyranny. A perfect government should seek, while careful to develop its stronger forces and keep them in perfect balance, to consider also the claims of those less powerful but not less true. A government that over-rides the weak because it is safe, is a tyranny, and tyranny is in seed in the democratic governments of our time. We must consider this well, for it is pressing and grave; and we must get men to come together as citizens to defend the rights as well of the unit which is unsupported as of the party that commands great power. So shall we give steadiness and fervour to our growing strength by balancing it with truth and justice: so shall we found a government that excesses cannot undermine nor tyranny destroy.

VI

We have to consider, in conclusion, the unrest in the world, the war of parties and classes, and the need of judging the tendencies of the time to set our steps aright. With the wars and rumours of wars that threaten the great nations from without and the wild upheavals that threaten them within, it would be foolish to hide from ourselves the drift of events. We must decide our attitude; and if it is too much to hope that we may keep clear of the upheavals, we should aim at strengthening ourselves against the coming crash. We cannot set the world right, but we can go a long way to setting things in our own land right, by making through a common patriotism a united people. What if we are held up occasionally by the cold cries shot at every high aim"dreamerUtopia"; cry this in return: no vision of the dreamer can be more wild than the frantic make-shifts of the Great Powers to vie in armaments with one another or repress internal revolts. Consider England in the late strike that paralysed her. It was only suspended by a step that merely deferred the struggle; the strife is again threatening. All the powers are so threatened and their efforts to defer the hour are equally feverish and fruitless; for the hour is pressing and may flash on the world when 'tis least prepared. Let who will deride us, but let us prepare. We may not guide our steps with the certainty of prophets, nor hope by our beautiful schemes to make a perfect state; but we can only come near to perfection in the light of a perfect ideal, and however far below it we may remain, we can at least, under its inspiration, reach an existence rational and human: our justification for a brave effort lies in that the governments of this time are neither one nor the other. He who thinks Ireland's struggle to express her own mind, to give utterance to her own tongue, to stand behind her own frontier, is but a sentiment will be surprised to find it leads him to this point. Herein is the justification and the strength of the movement. Men are deriding things around them, of the significance of which they have not the remotest idea. Ireland is calling her children to a common banner, to the defence of her frontier, to the building up of a national life, harmonious and beautifula conception of citizenship, from which a right is conceded, not because it can be compelled, but because it is just: to the foundation of a state that will by its defence of the least powerful prove all powerful, that will be strong because true, beautiful because free, full of the music of her olden speech and caught by the magic of her encircling sea.

chapter 10

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principles of freedom chapter 8


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER VIII

WOMANHOOD

"And another said: I have married a wife and therefore
I cannot come."

Yes, and we have been satisfied always to blame the wife, without noticing the man who is fond of his comfort first of all, who slips quietly away to enjoy a quiet smoke and a quiet glass in some quiet nookalways securing his escape by the readiest excuse. We are coming now to consider the aspect of the question that touches our sincere manhood; but let no one think we overlook that mean type of man who evades every call to duty on the comfortable plea: "I have married a wife."

I

When the mere man approaches the woman to study her, we can imagine the fair ones getting together and nudging one another in keen amusement as to what this seer is going to say. It is often sufficiently amusing when the clumsy male approaches her with self-satisfied air, thinking he has the secret of her mysterious being. I have no intention here of entering a rival search for the secret. But we can, perhaps, startle the gay ones from merriment to gravity by stating the simple fact that every man stands in some relationship to woman, either as son, brother, or husband; and if it be admitted that there is to be a fight to-morrow, then there are some things to be settled to-day. How is the woman training for to-morrow? How, then, will the man stand by that very binding relationship? Will clinging arms hold him back or proud ones wave him on? Will he have, in place of a comrade in the fight, a burden; or will the battle that has too often separated them but give them closer bonds of union and more intimate knowledge of the wonderful thing that is Life?

II

I wish to concentrate on one heroic example of Irish Womanhood that should serve as a model to this generation; and I do not mean to dwell on much that would require detailed examination. But some points should be indicated. For example, the awakening consciousness of our womanhood is troubling itself rightly over the woman's place in the community, is concentrating on the type delineated in "The Doll's House," and is agitating for a more honourable and dignified place. We applaud the pioneers thus fighting for their honour and dignity: but let them not make the mistake of assuming the men are wholly responsible for "The Doll's House," and the women would come out if they could. We have noticed the man who prefers his ease to any troubling duty: he has his mate in the woman who prefers to be wooed with trinkets, chocolates, and the theatre to a more beautiful way of life, that would give her a nobler place but more strenuous conditions. Again, the man is not always the lord of the house. He is as often, if not more frequently, its slave. Then there are the conventions of life. In place of a fine sense of courtesy prevailing between man and woman, which would recognise with the woman's finer sensibility a fine self-reliance, and with the man's greater strength a fine gentleness, we have a false code of manners, by which the woman is to be taken about, petted and treated generally as the useless being she often is; while the man becomes an effeminate creature that but cumbers the earth. Fine courtesy and fine comradeship go together. But we have allowed a standard to gain recognition that is a danger alike to the dignity of our womanhood and the virility of our manhood. It is for us who are men to labour for a finer spirit in our manhood: we cannot throw the blame for any weakness over on external conditions. The woman is in the same position. She must understand that greater than the need of the suffrage is the more urgent need of making her fellow-woman spirited and self-reliant, ready rather to anticipate a danger than to evade it. When she is thus trained, not all the men of all the nations can deny her recognition and equality.

III

For the battle of to-morrow then there is a preliminary fight to-day. The woman must come to this point, too. In life there is frequently so much meanness, a man is often called to acknowledge some degrading standard or fight for the very recognition of manhood, and the woman must stand in with him or help to pull him down. Let her understand this and her duty is present and urgent. The man so often wavers on the verge of the right path, the woman often decides him. If she is nobler than he, as is frequently the case, she can lift him to her level; if she is meaner, as she often is, she as surely drags him down. When they are both equal in spirit and nobility of nature, how the world is filled with a glory that should assure us, if nothing else could, of the truth of the Almighty God and a beautiful Eternity to explain the origin and destiny of their wonderful existence. They are indispensable to each other: if they stand apart, neither can realise in its fulness the beauty and glory of life. Let the man and woman see this, and let them know in the day that is at hand, how the challenge may come from some petty authority of the time that rules not by its integrity but by its favourites. We are cursed with such authority, and many a one drives about in luxury because he is obsequious to it: he prefers to be a parasite and to live in splendour than be a man and live in straits. He has what Bernard Shaw so aptly calls "the soul of a servant." If we are to prepare for a braver future, let us fight this evil thing; if we are to put by national servitude, let us begin by driving out individual obsequiousness. This is our training ground for to-morrow. Let the woman realise this, and at least as many women as men will prefer privation with self-respect to comfort with contempt. Let us, then, in the name of our common nature, ask those who have her training in hand, to teach the woman to despise the man of menial soul and to loathe the luxury that is his price.

IV

I wish to come to the heroic type of Irish Womanhood. When we need to hearten ourselves or others for a great enterprise, we instinctively turn to the examples of heroes and heroines who, in similar difficulties to ours, have entered the fight bravely, and issued heroically, leaving us a splendid heritage of fidelity and achievement. It is little to our credit that our heroes are so little known. It is less to our credit that our heroines are hardly known at all; and when we praise or sing of one our selection is not always the happiest. How often in the concert-hall or drawing-room do we get emotional when someone sings in tremulous tones, "She is far from the Land." There is a feeling for poetry in our lives, a feeling that patriotism will not have it, a melting pity for the love that went to wreck, a sympathy for ourselves and everybody and everythinga relaxing of all the nerves in a wave of sentiment. This emotion is of the enervating order. There is no sweep of strong fire through the blood, no tightening grip on life, no set resolve to stand to the flag and see the battle through. It is well, then, a generation that has heard from a thousand platforms, in plaintive notes, of Sarah Curran and her love should turn to the braver and more beautiful model of her who was the wife of Tone.

V

When we think of the qualities that are distinctive of the woman, we have in mind a finer gentleness, sensibility, sympathy and tenderness; and when we have these qualities intensified in any woman, and with them combined the endurance, courage and daring that are taken as the manly virtues, we have a woman of the heroic type. Of such a type was the wife of Tone. We can speak her praise without fear, for she was put to the test in every way, and in every way found marvellously true. For her devotion to, and encouragement of, her great husband in his great work, she would have won our high praise, even if, when he was stricken down and she was bereft of his wonderful love and buoyant spirits, she had proved forgetful of his work and the glory of his name. But she was bereft, and she was then found most marvellously true. Her devotion to Tone, while he was living and fighting, might be explained by the woman's passionate attachment to the man she loved. It is the woman's tenderness that is most evident in these early years, but there is shining evidence of the fortitude that showed her true nobility in the darker after-years. It was no ordinary love that bound them, and reading the record of their lives this stands out clear and beautiful. Tone, whom we know as patient organiser, tenacious fighter, far-seeing thinker, indomitable spirita born leader of menwrites to his wife with the passionate simplicity of an enraptured child: "I doat upon you and the babes." And his letters end thus: "Kiss the babies for me ten thousand times. God Almighty for ever bless you, my dearest life and soul." (This from the "French Atheist." I hope his traducers are heartily ashamed of themselves.) Nor is it strange. When, in the beginning of his enterprise, he is in America, preparing to go to France on his great mission, he is troubled by the thought of his defenceless ones. In the crisis how does his wife act? Does she wind clinging arms around him, telling him with tears, of their children and his early vows, and beseeching him to think of his love and forget his country? No; let the diary speak: "My wife especially, whose courage and whose zeal for my honour and interests were not in the least abated by all her past sufferings, supplicated me to let no consideration of her or our children stand for a moment in the way of my engagements to our friends and my duty to my country, adding that she would answer for our family during my absence, and that the same Providence which had so often, as it were, miraculously preserved us, would, she was confident, not desert us now." It is the unmistakable accent of the woman. She is quivering as she sends him forth, but the spirit in her eyes would put a trembling man to shamea spirit that her peerless husband matched but no man could surpass. Her fortitude was to be more terribly tried in the terrible after-time, when the Cause went down in disaster and Tone had to answer with his life. No tribute could be so eloquent as the letter he wrote to her when the last moment had come and his doom was pronounced: "Adieu, dearest love, I find it impossible to finish this letter. Give my love to Mary; and, above all, remember you are now the only parent of our dearest children, and that the best proof you can give of your affection for me will be to preserve yourself for their education. God Almighty bless you all." That letter is like Stephens' speech from the dock, eloquent for what is left unsaid. There is no wailing for her, least of all for himself, not that their devoted souls were not on the rack: "As no words can express what I feel for you and our children, I shall not attempt it; complaint of any kind would be beneath your courage and mine"but their souls, that were destined to suffer, came sublimely through the ordeal. When Tone left his children as a trust to his wife, he knew from the intimacy of their union what we learn from the after-event, how that trust might be placed and how faithfully it would be fulfilled. What a tribute from man to wife! How that trust was fulfilled is in evidence in every step of the following years. Remembering Tone's son who survived to write the memoirs was a child at his father's death, his simple tribute written in manhood is eloquent in the extreme: "I was brought up by my surviving parent in all the principles and in all the feelings of my father"of itself it would suffice. But we can follow the years between and find moving evidence of the fulfilment of the trust. We see her devotion to her children and her proud care to preserve their independence and her own. She puts by patronage, having a higher title as the widow of a General of France; and she wins the respect of the great ones of France under the Republic and the Empire. Lucien Buonaparte, a year after Tone's death, pleaded before the Council of Five Hundred, in warm and eloquent praise: "If the services of Tone were not sufficient of themselves to rouse your feelings, I might mention the independent spirit and firmness of that noble woman who, on the tomb of her husband and her brother, mingles with her sighs aspirations for the deliverance of Ireland. I would attempt to give you an expression of that Irish spirit which is blended in her countenance with the expression of her grief. Such were those women of Sparta, who, on the return of their countrymen from the battle, when with anxious looks they ran over the ranks and missed amongst them their sons, their husbands, and their brothers, exclaimed, 'He died for his country; he died for the Republic.'" When the Republic fell, and in the upheaval her rights were ignored, she went to the Emperor Napoleon in person and, recalling the services of Tone, sought naturalization for her son to secure his career in the army; and to the wonder of all near by, the Emperor heard her with marked respect and immediately granted her request. She sought only this for her surviving son. She had seen two children diethere was moving pathos in the daughter's deathand now she was standing by the last. Never was child guarded more faithfully or sent more proudly on his path in life. One should read the memoirs to understand, and pause frequently to consider: how she promised her husband bravely in the beginning that she would answer for their children, and how, in what she afterwards styled the hyperbole of grief, she was called to fulfil to the letter, and was found faithful, with an unexampled strength and devotion; how she saw two children struck down by a fatal disease, and how she drew the surviving son back to health by her watchful care to send him on his college and military career with loving pride; how, when a Minister of France, irritated at her putting by his patronage, roughly told her he could not "take the Emperor by the collar to place Mr. Tone"she went to the Emperor in person, with dignity but without fear, and won his respect; how the suggestion of the mean-minded that her demand was a pecuniary one, drew from her the proud boast that in all her misfortunes she had never learned to hold out her hand; how through all her misfortunes we watch her with wonderful dignity, delicacy, courage, and devotion quick to see what her trust demanded and never failing to answer the call, till her task is done, and we see her on the morning when her son sets out on the path she had prepared, the same quivering woman, who had sent her husband with words of comfort to his duty, now, after all the years of trial, sending her son as proudly on his path. It is their first parting. Let her own words speak: "Hitherto I had not allowed myself even to feel that my William was my own and my only child; I considered only that Tone's son was confided to me; but in that moment Nature resumed her rights. I sat in a field: the road was long and white before me and no object on it but my child.... I could not think; but all I had ever suffered seemed before and around me at that moment, and I wished so intensely to close my eyes for ever, that I wondered it did not happen. The transitions of the mind are very extraordinary. As I sat in that state, unable to think of the necessity of returning home, a little lark rushed up from the grass beside me; it whirled over my head and hovered in the air singing such a beautiful, cheering, and, as it sounded to me, approving note, that it roused me. I felt in my heart as if Tone had sent it to me. I returned to my solitary home." It is a picture to move us, to think of the devoted woman there in the sunshine, bent down in the grass, utterly alone, till the lark, sweeping heavenward in song, seems to give a message of gentle comfort from her husband's watching spirit. Our emotion now is of no enervating order. We are proud of our land and her people; our nerves are firm and set; our hearts cry out for action; we are not weeping, but burning for the Cause. How little we know of this heroic woman. We are in some ways familiar with Tone, his high character, his genial open nature, his daring, his patience, his farsightedness, his judgmentin spirit tireless and indomitable: a man peerless among his fellows. But he had yet one compeer; there was one nature that matched his to depth and height of its greatnessthat nature was a woman's, and the woman was Wolfe Tone's wife.

VI

It is well this heroic example of our womanhood should be before not only our womanhood but our manhood. It should show us all that patriotism does not destroy the finer feelings, but rather calls them forth and gives them wider play. We have been too used to thinking that the qualities of love and tenderness are no virtues for a soldier, that they will sap his resolution and destroy his work; but our movements fail always when they fail to be human. Until we mature and the poetry in life is wakening, we are ready to act by a theory; but when Nature asserts herself the hard theorist fails to hold us. Let us remember and be human. We have been saying in effect, if not in so many words: "For Ireland's sake, don't fall in love"we might as well say: "For Ireland's sake, don't let your blood circulate." It is impossibleeven if it were possible it would be hateful. The man and woman have a great and beautiful destiny to fulfil together: to substitute for it an unnatural way of life that can claim neither the seclusion of the cloister nor the dominion of the world is neither beautiful nor great. We have cause for gratitude in the example before us. The woman can learn from it how she may equal the bravest man; and the man should learn to let his wife and children suffer rather than make of them willing slaves and cowards. For there are some earnest men who are ready to suffer themselves but cannot endure the suffering of those they love, and a mistaken family tenderness binds and drags them down. No one, surely, can hold it better to carefully put away every duty that may entail hardship on wife and child, for then the wife is, instead of a comrade, a burden, and the child becomes a degenerate creature, creeping between heaven and earth, afraid to hold his head erect, and unable to fulfil his duty to God or man. Let no man be afraid that those he loves may be tried in the fire; but let him, to the best of his strength, show them how to stand the ordeal, and then trust to the greatness of the Truth and the virtue of a loyal nature to bring each one forth in triumph, and he and they may have in the issue undreamed of recompense. For the battle that tries them will discover finer chords not yet touched in their intercourse; finer sympathies, susceptibilities, gentleness and strength; a deeper insight into life and a wider outlook on the world, making in fine a wonderful blend of wisdom, tenderness and courage that gives them to realise that life, with all its faults, struggles, and pain is still and for ever great and beautiful.

chapter 9

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principles of freedom chapter 7


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER VII

LOYALTY

I

To be loyal to his cause is the finest tribute that can be paid to any man. And since loyalty to the Irish cause has been the great virtue of Irishmen through all history, it is time to have some clear thinking as to who are the Irish rebels and who the true men. When a stupid Government, grasping our reverence for fidelity, tried to ban our heroes by calling them felons, it was natural we should rejoin by writing "The Felons of our Land" and heap ridicule on their purpose. But once this end was achieved we should have reverted to the normal attitude and written up as the true Irish Loyalists, Brian the Great, and Shane the Proud, the valiant Owen Roe and the peerless Tone, Mitchel and Davisirreconcilables all. When men revolt against an established evil it is their loyalty to the outraged truth we honour. We do not extol a rebel who rebels for rebellion's sake. Let us be clear on this point, or when we shall have re-established our freedom after centuries of effort it shall be open to every knave and traitor to challenge our independence and plot to readmit the enemy. Loyalty is the fine attribute of the fine nature; the word has been misused and maligned in Ireland: let us restore it to its rightful honour by remembering it to be the virtue of our heroes of all time. In considering it from this view-point we shall find occasion to touch on delicate positions that have often baffled and worried usthe asserting of our rights while using the machinery of the Government that denies them, the burning question of consistency, our attitude towards the political adventurer on one hand, and towards the honest man of half-measures on the other. Loyalty involves all this. And it shows that the man who revolts to win freedom is the same as he who dies to defend it. He does not change his face and nature with the changing times. He is loyal always and most wonderfully lovable, because in the darkest times, when banned as wild, wicked and rebelly, he is loyal still as from the beginning, and will be to the end. Yes, Tone is the true Irish Loyalist, and every aider and abettor of the enemy a rebel to Ireland and the Irish race.

II

When you insist on examining the question in the light of first principles your opportunist opponent at once feels the weakness of his position and always turns the point on your consistency. It is well, then, in advance to understand the relative value and importance of argument as argument in the statement of any case. A body of principles is primarily of value, not as affording a case that can be argued with ingenuity, but as enshrining one great principle that shines through and informs the rest, that illumines the mind of the individual, that warms, clarifies and invigoratesthat, so to speak, puts the mind in focus, gets the facts of existence into perspective, and gives the individual everything in its right place and true proportion. It brings a man to the point where he does not dispute but believes. He has been wandering about cold and irresolute, tasting all philosophies, or none, and drinking deep despair. He does not understand the want in his soul while he has been looking for some panacea for its cure till the great light streams on him, and instead of receiving something he finds himself. That is it. There is a power of vision latent in us, clouded by error; the true philosophy dissipates the cloud and leaves the vision clear, wonderful and inspiring. He who acquired that vision is impervious to argumentit is not that he despises argument; on the contrary, he always uses it to its full strength. But he has had awakened within him something which the mere logician can never deduce, and that mysterious something is the explanation of his transformed life. He was a doubter, a falterer, a failure; he has become a believer, a fighter, a conqueror. You miss his significance completely when you take him for a theorist. The theorist propounds a view to which he must convert the world; the philosopher has a rule of life to immediately put into practice. His spirit flashes with a swiftness that can be encircled by no theory. It is his glory to have over and above a new penetrating argument in the minda new and wonderful vitality in the blood. The unbeliever, near by, still muddled by his cold theories, will argue and debate till his intellect is in a tangle. He fails to see that a man of intellectual agility might frame a theory and argue it out ably, and then suddenly turn over and with equal dexterity argue the other side. Do we not have set debates with speakers appointed on each side? That is dialectica trick of the mind. But philosophy is the wine of the spirit. The capacity then to argue the point is not the justification of a philosophy. That justification must be found in the virtue of the philosophy that gives its believer vision and grasp of life as a whole, that warms and quickens his heart and makes him in spirit buoyant, beautiful, wise and daring.

III

Let us come now to that burning question of consistency. "Very well, you won't acknowledge the English Crown. Why then use English coins and stamps? You don't recognise the Parliament at Westminster. Why then recognise the County Councils created by Bill at Westminster? Why avail of all the Local Government machinery?"and so forth. The argument is a familiar one, and the answer is simple. Though no guns are thundering now, Ireland is virtually in a state of war. We are fighting to recover independence. The enemy has had to relax somewhat in the exigencies of the struggle and to concede all these positions of local government and enterprise now in question. We take these posts as places conceded in the fight and avail of them to strengthen, develop and uplift the country and prepare her to carry the last post. Surely this is adequate. On a field of battle it is always to the credit of a general to capture an enemy's post and use it for the final victory. It is a sign of the battle's progress, and tells the distant watchers on the hills how the fight is faring and who is going to win. There would be consternation away from the field only if word should come that the soldiers had gone into the tents of the enemy, acknowledging him and accepting his flag. That is the point to question. There can be no defence for the occupying of any post conceded by the enemy. It may be held for or against Ireland; any man accepting it and surrendering his flag to hold it stands condemned thereby. That is clear. Yet it may be objected that such a clear choice is not put to most of those undertaking the local government of Ireland, that few are conscious of such an issue and few governed by it. It is true. But for all that the machinery of local government is clearly under popular control, and as clearly worked for an immediate good, preparing for a greater end. Men unaware of it are unconsciously working for the general development of the country and recovering her old power and influence. Those conscious of the deeper issue enter every position to further that development and make the end obvious when the alien Governmentfinding those powers conceded to sap further resistance are on the contrary used to conquer wider fieldsendeavours to force the popular government back to the purposes of an old and failing tyranny. That is the nature of the struggle now. At periods the enemy tries to stem the movement, and then the fight becomes general and keen around a certain position. In our time there were the Land Leagues, the Land War, fights for Home Rule, Universities, Irish; and these fights ended in Land Acts, Local Government Acts, University Acts, and the conceding of pride of place to the native language in university life. Every position gained is a step forward; it is accepted as such, and so is justified. For anyone who grasps the serious purpose of recovering Ireland's independence all along the line, the suggestion that we should abandon all machinery of local government and enterprisebecause they are "Government positions"to men definitely attached to the alien garrison is so foolish as not to be even entertained. When our attitude is questioned let it be made clear. That is the final answer to the man who challenges our consistency: we are carrying the trenches of the enemy.

IV

Even while dismissing a false idea of consistency we have to make clear another view still remote from the general mind. If we are to have an effective army of freedom we must enrol only men who have a clear conception of the goal, a readiness to yield full allegiance, and a determination to fight always so as to reflect honour on the flag. The importance of this will be felt only when we come to deal with concrete cases. While human nature is what it is we will have always on the outskirts of every movement a certain type of political adventurer who is ready to transfer his allegiance from one party to another according as he thinks the time serves. He has no principle but to be always with the ascendant party, and to succeed in that aim he is ready to court and betray every party in turn. As a result, he is a character well known to all. The honest man who has been following the wrong path, and after earnest inquiry comes to the flag, we readily distinguish. But it is fatal to any enterprise where the adventurer is enlisted and where his influence is allowed to dominate. It may seem strange that such men are given entry to great movements: the explanation is found in the desire of pioneers to make converts at once and convince the unconverted by the confidence of growing numbers. We ignore the danger to our growing strength when the adventurer comes along, loud in protest of his supporthe is always affable and plausible, and is received as a "man of experience"; and in our anxiety for further strength we are apt to admit him without reserve. But we must make sure of our man. We must keep in mind that an alliance with the adventurer is more dangerous than his opposition; and we must remember the general public, typified by the man in the street whom we wish to convince, is quietly studying us, attracted perhaps by our principles and coming nearer to examine. If he knows nothing else, he knows the unprincipled man, and when he sees such in our ranks and councils he will not wait to argue or ask questions; he will go away and remain away. The extent to which men are ruled by the old adage, "Show me your company and I'll tell you what you are," is more widespread than we think. Moreover, consistency in a fine sense is involved in our decision. We fight for freedom, not for the hope of material profit or comfort, but because every fine instinct of manhood demands that man be free, and life beautiful and brave, and surely in such a splendid battle to have as allies mean, crafty profit-seekers would be amazing. Let us be loyal in the deep sense, and let us not be afraid of being few at first. An earnest band is more effective than a discreditable multitude. That band will increase in numbers and strength till it becomes the nucleus of an army that will be invincible.

V

The fine sense of consistency that keeps us clear of the adventurer decides also our attitude to the well-meaning man of half-measures. He says separation from England is not possible now and suggests some alternative, if not Home Rule, Grattan's Parliament, or leaving it an open question. In the general view this seems sensible, and we are tempted to make an alliance based on such a ground; and the alliance is made. What ensues? Men come together who believe in complete freedom, others who believe in partial freedom that may lead to complete freedom, and others who are satisfied with partial freedom as an end. Before long the alliance ends in a deadlock. The man of the most far-reaching view knows that every immediate action taken must be consistent with the wider view and the farther goal, if that goal is to be attained; and he finds that his ultimate principle is frequently involved in some action proposed for the moment. When such a moment comes he must be loyal to his flag and to a principle that if not generally acknowledged is an abiding rule with him; but his allies refuse to be bound by a principle that is an unwritten law for him because the law is not written down for them. This is the root of the trouble. The friends, thinking to work together for some common purpose, find the unsettled issue intrudes, and a debate ensues that leads to angry words, recriminations, bad feeling and disruption. The alliance based on half measures has not fulfilled its own purpose, but it has sown suspicion between the honest men whom it brought together; that is no good result from the practical proposal. There is an inference: men who are conscious of a clear complete demand should form their own plans, equally full of care and resolution, and go ahead on their own account. But we hear a plaintive cry abroad: "Oh, another split; that's Irishmen all overcan never unite," etc. We will not turn aside for the plaintive people; but let it be understood there can be an independent co-operation, where of use, with those honest men who will not go the whole way. That independent co-operation can serve the full purpose of the binding alliance that has proved fatal. Above all, let there be no charge of bad faith against the earnest man who chooses other ways than ours; it is altogether indefensible because we disagree with him to call his motives in question. Often he is as earnest as we are; often has given longer and greater service, and only qualifies his own attitude in anxiety to meet others. To this we cannot assent, but to charge him with bad faith is flagrantly unjust and always calamitous. In getting rid of the deadlock we have too often fallen to furiously fighting with one another. Let us bear this in mind, and concern ourselves more with the common enemy; but let not the hands of the men in the vanguard be tied by alien King, Constitution, or Parliament. All the conditions grow more definite and seem, perhaps, too exacting; remember the greatness of the enterprise. Suppose in the building of a mighty edifice the architect at any point were careless or slurred over a difficulty, trusting to luck to bring it right, how the whole building would go awry, and what a mighty collapse would follow. Let us stick to our colours and have no fear. When all these principles have been combined into one consistent whole, a light will flash over the land and the old spirit will be reborn; the mean will be purged of their meanness, the timid heartened with a fine courage, and the fearless will be justified: the land will be awake, militant, and marching to victory.

VI

This is, surely, the fine view of loyalty. Let us write it on our banners and proclaim it to the world. It is consistent, honourable, fearless and immutable. What is said here to-day with enthusiasm, exactness and care, will stand without emendation or enlargement, if in a temporary reverse we are called to stand in the dock to-morrow; or if, finely purged in the battle of freedom, we come through our last fight with splendid triumph, our loyalty is there still, shining like a great sun, the same beautiful, unchanging thing that has lighted us through every struggleperhaps now to guide us in framing a constitution and giving to a world, distracted by kings, presidents and theorists, a new polity for nations. A waverer, half-caught between the light, half fearful with an old fear, pleads: "This is too muchwe are men, not angels." Precisely, we are not angels; and because of our human weakness, our erring minds, our sudden passions, the most confident of us may at any moment find himself in the mud. What, then, will uplift him if he has been a waverer in principle as well as in fact? He is helpless, disgraced and undone. Let him know in time we do not set up fine principles in a fine conceit that we can easily live up to them, but in the full consciousness that we cannot possibly live away from them. That is the bed-rock truth. When the man of finer faith by any slip comes to the earth, he has to uplift him a staff that never fails, and to guide him a principle that strengthens him for another fight, to go forth, in a sense Alexander never dreamed of, to conquer new worlds. 'Tis the faith that is in him, and the flag he serves, that make a man worthy; and the meanest may be with the highest if he be true and give good service. Let us put by then the broken reed and the craft of little minds, and give us for our saving hope the banner of the angels and the loyalty of gods and men.

chapter 8

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principles of freedom chapter 6


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER VI

PRINCIPLE IN ACTION

I

Our philosophy is valueless unless we bring it into life. With sufficient ingenuity we might frame theory after theory, and if they could not be put to the test of a work-a-day existence we but add another to the many dead theories that litter the History of Philosophy. Our principles are not to argue about, or write about, or hold meetings about, but primarily to give us a rule of life. To ignore this is to waste time and energy. To observe and follow it is to take from the clouds something that appeals to us, work it into life, by it interpret the problems to hand, make our choice between opposing standards, and maintain our fidelity to the true one against every opposition and through every fitful though terrible depression; so shall we startle people with its reality, and make for it a disciple or an opponent, but always at once convince the generation that there is a serious work in hand.

II

If our philosophy is to be worked into life the first thing naturally is to review the situation. If we are to judge rightly, we must understand the present, draw from the past its lesson, and shape our plans for the future true to the principles that govern and inform every generation. Let us survey the past, taking a sufficiently wide view between two pointssay '98 and our own timeand we see certain definite conditions. Great luminous years'98, '03, '48, '67, rise up, witness to a great principle, readiness for sacrifice, unshaken belief in truth, valour and freedom, and a flag that will ultimately prevail. In these years the people had vision, the blood quickened, a living flame swept the land, scorching up hypocrisy, deceit, meanness, and lighting all brave hearts to high hope and achievementfor, the whimperers notwithstanding, it was always achievement to challenge the enemy and stagger his power, though yet his expulsion is delayed. Between the glorious years of the living flame there intervened pallid times of depression, where every disease of soul and body crept into the open. True hearts lived, scattered here and there, believing still but disorganised and bewilderedthe leaders were stricken down and in their place, obscuring the beauty of life, the grandeur of the past, and our future destiny, came time-servers, flatterers, hypocrites, open traffickers in honour and public decency, fastening their mean authority on the land. These are the two great resting-places in our historic survey: the generation of the living flame and the generation of despair; and it is for us to decidefor the decision rests with uswhether we shall in our time merely mark time or write another luminous chapter in the splendid history of our race.

III

Let us consider these two generations apart, to understand their distinctive features more clearly for our own guidance. Take first the years of vision and the general effort to replant the old flag on our walls. With the first enthusiasts breathing the living flame abroad, the kindling hope, the widening fires, the deepening dream, there grows a consciousness of the greatness of the goal, of the general duty, of the individual responsibility for higher character, steadier work, and purer motive; and gradually meanness, trickeries, and treacheries are weeded out of the individual and national consciousness: there is a realisation of a time come to restore the nation's independence, and with passion and enthusiasm are fused a fine resolve and nerve. All the excited doings of the feverish or pallid years are put by as unworthy or futile. The great idea inspires a great fight; and that fight is made, and, notwithstanding any reverse, must be recorded great. Whatever concourse of circumstances mar the dream and delay the victory, those brave years are as a torch in witness to the ideal, in justification of its soldiers and in promise of final success.

IV

Let us examine now the deadening years that intervene between the great fights for freedom. We have known something of these times ourselves, have touched on them already, and need not further draw out the demoralising things that corrupt and dishearten us. But what we urgently require to study is the kind of effortmore often the absence of effortmade in such years by those who keep their belief in freedom and feel at times impelled in some way or other to action. They have followed a lost battle, and in the aftermath of defeat they are numbed into despair. They refuse to surrender to the forces of the hour, but they lack the fine faith and enthusiasm of the braver years that challenged these forces at every point and stood or fell by the issue. They lie apathetic till, moved by some particular meanness or treachery, they are roused to spasmodic anger, rush to act in some spasmodic waygenerally futile, and then relapse into helplessness again. They lack the vision that inspires every moment, discerns a sure way, and heightens the spirit to battle without ceasing, which is characteristic of the great years. They tacitly accept that theirs is a useless generation, that the enemy is in the ascendant, that they cannot unseat him, and their action, where any is made, is but to show their attitude, never to convince opponents that the battle is again beginning, that this is a bid for freedom, that history will be called on to record their fight and pay tribute to their times. Their action has never this great significance. When stung to fitful madness by the boastful votaries of power, their occasional frantic efforts are more as relief to their feelings than destructive to the tyranny in being. Let us realise this to the full; and seeing the futility in other years of every pathetic makeshift to annoy or circumvent the enemy, put by futilities and do a great work to justify our time.

V

We have, then, to consider and decide our immediate attitude to life, where we stand. There are errors to remove. The first is the assumption that we are only required to acknowledge the flag in places, offer it allegiance at certain meetings at certain times that form but a small part of our existence; while we allow ourselves to be dispensed from fidelity to our principles when in other places, where other standards are either explicitly or tacitly recognised. That we must carry our flag everywhere; that there must be no dispensation: these are the cardinal points of our philosophy. Life is a great battlefield, and any hour in the day a man's flag may be challenged and he must stand and justify it. An idea you hold as true is not to be professed only where it is proclaimed; it will whisper and you must be its prophet in strange places; it is insistent of all thingsyou must glory in it or deny it; there is no escaping it, and there is no middle way; wherever your path lies it will cross you and you must choose.

Beware lest on any plea you put it by. You cannot elect to do nothing; the concourse of circumstances would take you to some side; to do nothing is still to take a side. Priest, poet, professor, public man, professional man, business man, tradesmaneveryone will be called to answer; in every walk of life the true idea will find the false in conflict and the battle must be fought out therethe battle is lost when we satisfy ourselves with an academic debate in our spare moments. This is a debating club age, and a plea for an ideal is often wasted, taken as a mere point in an argument; but to walk among men fighting passionately for it as a thing believed in, is to make it real, to influence men never reached in other ways; it is to arrest attention, arouse interest and quicken the masses to advance. And wherever the appeal for the flag is calling us the snare of the enemy is in wait. Our history so bristles with instances that a particular concrete case need not be cited. We know that priests will get more patronage if they discourage the national idea; that professors will get more emoluments and honours if they can ban it; that public men will receive places and titles if they betray it; that the professional man will be promised more aggrandisement, the business man more commerce, and the tradesman more traffic of his kindif only he put by the flag. Most treacherous and insidious the temptation will come to the man, young and able, everywhere. It will say, "You have ability; come into the lightonly put that by; it keeps you obscure. And what purpose does it serve now? Be practical; come." And you may weaken and yield and enter the light for the general applause, but the old idea will rankle deep down till smothered out, and you will stand in the splendoura failure, miserable, hopeless, not apparent, indeed, but for all that, final. You may stand your ground, refuse the bribe, uphold the flag, and be rated a fool and a failure, but they who rate you so will not understand that you have won a battle greater than all the triumphs of empires; you will keep alive in your soul true light and enduring beauty; you will hear the music eternally in the heart of the high enthusiast and have vision of ultimate victory that has sustained all the world over the efforts of centuries, that uplifts the individual, consolidates the nation, and leads a wandering race from the desert into the Promised Land.

VI

If we are to justify ourselves in our time we must have done with dispensations. Many honest men are astray on this point and think attitudes justifiable that are at the root of all our failures. What is the weakness? It is so simple to explain and so easy to understand that one must wonder how we have been ignoring it quietly and generally so long. A man, as we have seen, acknowledges his flag in certain places; in other places it is challenged and he pulls it down. He is dispensed. He believes in his heart, may even write an anonymous letter to the paper, will salute the flag again elsewhere, but he will not carry his flag through every fight and through every day. When a particular crisis arises, which involves our public boards, public men, and business men in action, that requires a decision for or against the nation, he will find it in his place in life not wise to be prominent on his own side, and he is silently absent from his meetingshe gives a subscription but excuses himself from attendance. He satisfies himself with private professions of faith and whispered encouragement to those who fill the gapwords that won't be heard at a distanceand, worst of all, he thinks, because some stake in life may be jeopardised by bolder action, he is justified. The answer is, simply he is not justified. Nor should anyone who is prepared to take the risk himself take it on himself to absolve othersnor, least of all, openly preach a milder doctrine to lead others who are timid to the farther goal, believed in at heart. Encourage them by all means to practise their principles as far as they go; never restrict yours, or you will find yourself saying things you can't altogether approve; and if you tell a man to do things you can't altogether approve, and keep on telling him, it wears into you, and a thing you once held in abhorrence you come to think of with indifference. You change insensibly. Old friends rage at you, and because of it you rage at themnot knowing how you have changed. You dare not let what you believe lie in abeyance or say things inconsistent with it, else to-morrow you'll be puzzled to say what you believe. You will hardly say two things to fit each other. Let us have no half policies. Our policy must be full, clear, consistent, to satisfy the restless, inquiring minds; when we win all such over, the merely passive people will follow. It should be clear that no man can dispense himself or his fellow from a grave duty; but for all that we have been liberal with our dispensations, and it has left us in confusion and failure. On the understanding that we will be heroes to-morrow, we evade being men to-day. We think of some hazy hour in the future when we may get a call to great things; we realise not that the call is now, that the fight is afoot, that we must take the flag from its hidden resting-place and carry it boldly into life. So near a struggle may touch us with dread; but to dread provoking a fight is to endure without resistance all the consequences of a lost battlea battle that might have been won. And if we are to be fit for the heroic to-morrow we must arise and be men to-day.

VII

At times we find ourselves on neutral ground. The exigencies of the struggle involve this; and unfortunately we have in our midst sincere men who do not believe in restoring Ireland to her original independence. Perhaps, from a tendency to lose our balance at times, it is well to have near by these men whose obvious sincerity may serve as a correcting influence. We have to make them one with us; in the meantime we meet them on neutral ground for some common purpose. Yet, we must take our flag everywhere? Yes, that is fundamental. What then of the places where men of diverging views meet; do we abjure the flag? By no means. The understanding here is not to force our views on others, but we must keep our principles clear in mind that no hostile view be forced on us. We must see to it that neutrality be observed. One of the pitfalls to be aware of is, that something which on our principles we should not recognise, is assumed as recognised by others because to attack it would be to violate neutrality. But if it may not be resisted, it may not be recognised; this is neutrality; it is to stand on equal terms. And since grave matters divide usnot directly concerned in our national struggle for freedomlet the dangerous idea be banished, that in entering on common ground we decry all opposing beliefs. For men who hold beliefs as vital it would not be creditable to either side to put them easily by. No, we do not ask them to forget themselves, but to respect one anotheran entirely greater and more honourable principle. On neutral ground a man is not called on to abjure his flag; rather he and his flag are in sanctuary.

VIII

When we find the national idea touches life at every point, we begin to realise how frequent the call is to defend it without warning. It is not that men directly raise the idea purposely to reject it, but that their habit of life, to which they expect all to conform, is unconsciously assuming that our ruling principle can have no place now or in the future. Their assumption that the status quo cannot be changed will be the cause of most collision at first; and we must be quietly ready with the counter-assumption, stand for the old idea and justify it. We must realise, too, that the number of people who have definite, strong, well-developed views against ours are comparatively small. This small number embraces the English Government that commands forces, obeying it without reason, and influencing the general mass of people whose general attitude is indecisionadrift with the ruling force. It is this general mass of men we must permeate with the true idea, and give them more decision, more courage, more pride of race, and bring them to prove worthy of the race. They will begin to have confidence in the Cause when they begin to see it vindicated amongst them day by day; and that vindication must be our duty. That duty will not be to seek; it will offer itself and we shall have our test. How? Consider when men come together for any purpose where different views prevail and general things of no great moment form the subject of debatesuddenly, unconsciously or tentatively, one will raise some idea that may divide the companysay, acknowledging the English Crown in Ireland, putting by the claim for freedom, in the foolish hope of some material gain. There is much nonsense talked and confusion abroad on this head, and it is quite possible a man, believing in Ireland's full claim, will find himself in a large company who ought to stand for Ireland, yet who have lost a clear conception of her rights. But he will find that they have no clear conception the other way, either; they are confused and generally pliable; and so, when the challenging idea is introduced, if he is quick and clear with the vital points, he can tear the surface off the many nostrums of the hour and prove them mean, worthless, and degrading; and, doing so, he will be forming the minds about him. He must be ready; that is the great need. Understand how a conversation is often turned by a chance word, and how governed by one man who has passionate, well-defined views, while others are cold and undecided. Be that one man. You do not know where the circumstances of life will take you; your flag may be directly challenged to your face, and you must reveal yourself. These are things to avoid. Be firm, rather than aggressive; but be always quietly prepared for the aggressive man; that is to inspire confidence in the timid. Avoid vituperation as a disease, but have your facts clear and ready for friend or foe. Whenever, and wherever least expected, a false idea comes wandering forth, put in at once a luminous word or two to clear the air, hearten friends and keep them steady. If you find yourself alone in the midst of opponents, who assume you are with them and expect your co-operation, you put them right with a word. This will arrest them; they will understand where you stand, and that you are ready; and they will generally yield you respect. But whether it involve a fight or not, thus do you declare your attitude. We may conveniently call itputting up the flag.

IX

It is well to consider something of the opposition that confronts a man who tries to fill his life with a brave purpose. He will be told it is an illusion; he is a dreamer, a crank, or a fool. And it may serve a purpose to see if our critics are blinded by no illusion, to contrast our folly with their wisdom. Here is one pushing by who will not be a fool, as he thinkshe's for the emigrant-ship. Ask yourself if the people who go out from the remote places of Ireland, quiet-spoken and ruddy-faced, and return after a few years loud-voiced and pallid, have found things exactly as their hope. They protest, yes; but their voice and colour belie them. Take the other man who does not emigrate but who has his fling at home, who "knocks around" and tells you to do likewise and be no foolmark him for your guidance. You will find his leisure is boisterous, but never gay. Catch him between whiles off his guard and you will find the deadening lassitude of his life. This votary of pleasure has a burden to carry in whatever walk of life, high or low. On the higher plane he may have a more fastidious club or two, a more epicurean sense of enjoyment, more leisure and more luxury; but the type wherever found is the same. Life is an utter burden to him; in his soul is no interest, no inspiration, no energy, and no hope. Let him be no object of envy. Here a friend pats you on the shoulder: "Quite right; be neither an emigrant nor a waster; but be practical; have no illusions; deal with possibilitieswho can say what is in the future? We must face these facts." Our confident friend lacks a sense of humour. He would put your plan by for its bearing on the future, but he proposes one himself that the future must justify. He tells you circumstances will not be in your favour: he assumes them in his own. But we only claim that our principles will rule the future as they have ruled the past; for the circumstances no man can speak. He calls you a dreamer for your principles, but he can't show, now nor in history, that his exemplars were ever justified. We are all dreamers, then; but some have ugly dreams, while the dreams of others are beautiful worlds, star-lighted and full of music.

X

Let the newborn enthusiast, just come eagerly to the flag, be warned of hours of depression that seize even the most earnest, the boldest and the strongest. Our work is the work of men, subject to such vicissitudes as hover around all human enterprise; and every man enrolled must face hard struggles and dark hours. Then the depression rushes down like a horrible, cold, dark mist that obscures every beautiful thing and every ray of hope. It may come from many causes: perhaps, a body not too robust, worn down by a tireless mind; perhaps, the memory of long years of effort, seemingly swallowed in oblivion and futility; perhaps contact with men on your own side whose presence there is a puzzle, who have no character and no conception of the grandeur of the Cause, and whose mean, petty, underhand jealousies numb youyou who think anyone claiming so fine a flag as ours should be naturally brave, straightforward and generous; perhaps the seemingly overwhelming strength of the enemy, and the listlessness of thousands who would hail freedom with rapture, but who now stand aloof in despairand along with all this and intensifying it, the voice of our self-complacent practical friend, who has but sarcasm for a high impulse, and for an immutable principle the latest expedient of the hour. Through such an experience must the soldier of freedom live. But as surely as such an hour comes, there comes also a star to break the darkened sky; let those who feel the battle-weariness at times remember. When in places there may be but one or two to fight, it may seem of no avail; still let them be true and their numbers will be multiplied: love of truth is infectious. When progress is arrested, don't brood on what is, but on what was once achieved, what has since survived, and what we may yet achieve. If some have grown lax and temporise a little, with more firmness on your part mingle a little sympathy for them. It is harder to live a consistent life than die a brave death. Most men of generous instincts would rouse all their courage to a supreme moment and die for the Cause; but to rise to that supreme moment frequently and without warning is the burden of life for the Cause; and it is because of its exhausting strain and exacting demands that so many men have failed. We must get men to realise that to live is as daring as to die. But confusion has been made in our time by the glib phrase: "You are not asked now to die for Ireland, but to live for her," without insisting that the life shall aim at the ideal, the brave and the true. To slip apologetically through existence is not life. If such a mean philosophy went abroad, we would soon find the land a place of shivering creatures, without the capacity to live or the courage to diecalamity, surely. All these circumstances make for the hour of depression; and it may well be in such an hour, amid apathy and treachery, cold friends and active enemies, with worn-down frame and baffled mind, you, pleading for the Old Cause, may feel your voice is indeed a voice crying in the wilderness; and it may serve till the blood warms again and the imagination recover its glow, to think how a Voice, that cried in the wilderness thousands of years ago, is potent and inspiring now, where the voice of the "practical" man sends no whisper across the waste of years.

XI

What, then, to conclude, must be our decision? To take our philosophy into life. When we do that generally, in a deep and significant sense our War of Independence will have begun. Let there be no deferring a duty to a more convenient future. It is as possible that an opening for freedom may be thrust on us, as that we shall be required to organise a formal war with the usual movements of armies; in our assumptions for the second, let us not be guilty of the fatal error of overlooking the first. As in other spheres, so in politics we have our conventions; and how little they may be proven has been lately seen, when England went through a war of debate,[Footnote: Debate over House of Lords.] largely unreal, over her constitution and her liberties, even while foreign wars and complications were still being debated; and in the middle of it all, suddenly, from a local labour dispute, putting by all thought of the constitution, feeling as comparatively insignificant the fear of invasion, all England stood shuddering on the verge of frantic civil war;[Footnote: The Railway strike.] and all Ireland, when the moment of possible freedom was given, when England might have been hardly able to save herself, much less to hold usIreland, thinking and working in old grooves, lay helpless. Let us draw the moral. We cannot tell what unsuspected development may spring on us from the future, but we can always be prepared by understanding that the vital hour is the hour at hand. Let the brave choice now be made, and let the life around be governed by it; let every man stand to his colours and strike his flag to none; then shall we recover ground in all directions, and our time shall be recorded, not with the deadening but with the luminous years. In all the vicissitudes of the fight, let us not be distracted by the meanness of the mere time-server nor the treachery of the enemy, but be collected and cool; and remembering the many who are not with us from honest motives or unsuspected fears, live to show our belief beautiful and true and, in the eternal sense, practical. Then shall those who are worth convincing be held, and our difference may reduce itself to what is possible; then will they come to realise that he who maintains a great faith unshaken will make more things possible than the opportunist of the hour; then will they understand how much more is possible than they had ever dared to dream: they will have a vision of the goal; and with that vision will be born a steady enthusiasm, a clear purpose, and a resolute soul. The regeneration of the land will be no longer a distant dream but a shaping reality; the living flame will sweep through all hearts again; and Ireland will enter her last battle for freedom to emerge and reassume her place among the nations of the earth.

chapter 7

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principles of freedom chapter 5


By ☮ soaring eagle ॐ, 2013-02-26

CHAPTER V

THE SECRET OF STRENGTH

I

To win our freedom we must be strong. But what is the secret of strength? It is fundamental to the whole question to understand this rightly, and, once grasped, make it the mainstay of individual existence, which is the foundation of national life. So much has the bodily power of over-riding minorities been made the criterion of absolute power, that to make clear the truth requires patience, insight, and a little mental study. But the end is a great end. It is to reconnoitre the most important battlefield, to discover the dispositions of the enemy, to measure our own resources and forge our strength link by link till we put on the armour of invincibility.

II

We have to grasp a distinction, knowledge of which is essential to discerning true strength. It can be clearly seen in the contrast between two certain fighting forces; first, a well-organised army, capably led, marching forward full of hope and buoyancy; second, a remnant of that army after disaster, a mere handful, not swept like their comrades in panic, but with souls set to fight a forlorn hope. Let us study the two: in the contrast we shall learn the secret. The courage of the well-organised army is not of so fine a quality as that nerving the few to fight to the last gasp. Consider first the army. What is its value as a force? Its discipline, its consolidation, the absolute obedience of its units to its officers, with the resulting unity of the whole; added to this is the sense of security in numbers, buoyancy of marching in a compact body, confidence in capable chiefsall these factors go to the making of the courage and strength of the army. It is because their combination makes for the reliability of the force that discipline is so much valued and enforced, even to the point of death. Let us keep this in our mind, that their strength lies in their numbers, concentration, unity, reliance on one another and on their chiefs. A sudden disaster overtakes that armythe death of a great general, the miscarriage of some plan, a surprise attack, any of the chances of war, and the strength of the army is pierced, the discipline shaken, the sense of security gone. There is an instinctive movement to retreat; the habit of discipline keeps it orderly at first; the fear grows; all precaution and restraint are thrown asidethe retreat is a rout, the army a rabble, the end debacle. External discipline in giving them its strength left them without individual resource; internal discipline was ignored. When their combined strength was gone there was individual helplessness and panic. Consider, now, a remnant of that army, the members of which have the courage of the finer quality, individually resolute and set on resistance, clearly seeing at once all the possible consequences of their action, yet with that higher quality of soul accepting them without hesitation, pledging all human hopes for one last great hope of snatching victory from defeat, or, if not to save a lost battle, to check an advancing host, rally flying forces, and redeem a campaign. This is the heroic quality. In a crisis, the mind possessed of it does not wait for instructions or to reason a conclusion. It sees definite things, and swift as thought decides. There are flying legions, a flag down, a conquering army, and flight or deathto all eyes these are apparent; but to a brave company between that flight and death there is a gleam of hope, of victory, and for that forlorn hope flight is put by with the acceptance of death in the alternative if they fail. That is the quality to redeem us. Because it is witnessed so often in our history we are going to win; not for our prowess in more fortunate war on an even field or with the flowing tide, not for many victories in many lands, but for the sacred places in this our brave land that are memorable for fights that registered the land unconquerable. Why a last stand and a sacrifice are more inspiring than a great victory is one of the hidden things; but the truth stands: for thinking of them our spirits re-kindle, our courage re-awakens, and we stiffen our backs for another battle.

III

We have, then, to develop individual patience, courage, and resolution. Once this is borne in mind our work begins. In places there is a dangerous idea that sometime in the future we may be called on to strike a blow for freedom, but in the meantime there is little to do but watch and wait. This is a fatal error; we have to forge our strength in the interval. There is a further mistake that our national work is something apart, that social, business, religious and other concerns have no relation to it, and consequently we set apart a few hours of our leisure for national work, and go about our day as if no nation existed. But the middle of the day has a natural connection with the beginning of the day and the end of the day, and in whatever sphere a man finds himself, his acts must be in relation to and consistent with every other sphere. He will be the best patriot and the best soldier who is the best friend and the best citizen. One cannot be an honest man in one sphere and a rascal in another; and since a citizen to fulfil his duty to his country must be honourable and zealous, he must develop the underlying virtues in private life. He must strengthen the individual character, and to do this he must deal with many things seemingly remote and inconsequential from a national point of view. Everything that crosses a man's path in his day's round of little or great moment requires of him an attitude towards it, and the conscious or unconscious shaping of his attitude is determining how he will proceed in other spheres not now in view. Suppose the case of a man in business or social life. He has to work with others in a day's routine or fill up with them hours of leisure they enjoy together. Consider to what accompaniment the work is often done and with what manner of conversation the leisure is often filled. In a day's routine, where men work together, harmonious relations are necessary; yet what bickerings, contentions, animosities fill many a day over points never worth a thought. You will see two men squabble like cats for the veriest trifle, and then go through days like children, without a word. You will see something similar in social life among men and women equallypetty jealousies, personalities, slanderings, mean little stories of no great consequence in themselves, except in the converse sense of showing how small and contemptible everything and everyone concerned is. A keen eye notes with some depression the absence from both spheres of a fine manliness, a generous conception of things, a large outlook, that prevents a squabble with a smile, and because of a consciousness of the need for determination in a great fight for a principle, holds in true contempt the trivialities of an hour. For in all the mean little bickerings of life there is involved not a principle, but a petty pride. One has to note these things and decide a line of action. In the abstract the right course seems quite natural and easy, but in fact it is not so. A man finds another act towards him with unconscious impudence or arrogance, and at once flies into a rage; there is a fierce wrangle, and at the end he finds no purpose served, for nothing was at stake. He has lost his temper for nothing. In his heat he may tell you "he wouldn't let so-and-so do so-and-so," but on the same principle he should hold a street-argument with every fish-wife who might call him a name. He may tell you "he will make so-and-so respect him," but he offends his own self-respect if he cannot consider some things beneath him. One must have a sense of proportion and not elevate every little act of impudence into a challenge of life to be fought over as for life and death. It may be corrected with a little humour or a little disdain, but always with sympathy for the narrow mind whose view of life cannot reach beyond these petty things. Yet, to repeat, it is not easy. An irritable temper will be on fire before reason can check it; the process of correction will prove uncomfortablethe reasons will be there, but the feelings in revolt. Still, little by little, it is brought under, and in the end the nasty little irritability is killed just like a troublesome nerve; and, by and by, what once provoked a fierce rage becomes a subject for humorous reflection. Let no one fear we kill the nerve for the great Battle of Life; this we but strengthen and make constant. Every act of personal discipline is contributing to a subconscious reservoir whence our nobler energies are supplied for ever. And so, little things lead to great; and in an office wrangle or a social squabble there is need for developing those very qualities of judgment, courage, and patience which equip a man for the trials of the battlefield or the ruling of the state.

IV

We have considered the individual in business and social life. Let us now follow him into a political assembly. We find the same conditions prevail. Again, men fight bitterly but most frequently for nothing worth a fight; and again those rightly judging the situation must resolve not to be tempted into a wrangle even if their restraint be called by another name. What in a political assembly is often the first thing to note? We begin by the assumption, "this is a practical body of men," the words invariably used to cover the putting by of some great principle that we ought all endorse and uphold. But, first, by one of the many specious reasons now approved, we put the principle by, and before long we are at one another's throats about things involving no principle. It is not necessary to particularise. Note any meeting for the same general conditions: a chairman, indecisive, explaining rules of order which he lacks the grit to apply; members ignoring the chair and talking at one another; others calling to order or talking out of time or away from the point; one unconsciously showing the futility of the whole business by asking occasionally what is before the chair, or what the purpose of the meeting. This picture is familiar to us all, and curiously we seem to take it always as the particular freak of a particular time or locality; but it is nothing of the kind. It is the natural and logical result of putting by principle and trying to live away from it. Yet, that is what we are doing every day. It means we lack collectively the courage to pursue a thing to its logical conclusion and fight for the truth realised. If we are to be otherwise as a body, it will only be by personal discipline training for the wider and greater field. We must get a proper conception of the great cause we stand for, its magnitude and majesty, and that to be worthy of its service we must have a standard above reproach, have an end of petty proposals and underhand doings, be of brave front, resolute heart, and honourable intent. We must all understand this each in his own mind and shape his actions, each to be found faithful in the test. In fine, if in private life there is need for developing the great virtues requisite for public service, even more is it necessary in public life to develop the courage, patience and wisdom of the soldier and the statesman.

V

A concrete case will give a clearer grasp of the issue than any abstract reasoning. Our history, recent and remote, affords many examples of the abandoning by our public men of a principle, to defend which they entered public life; and our action on such an occasion is invariably the sameto regard the delinquent as simply a traitor, to load him with invective and scorn and brand him for ever. We never see it is not innate wickedness in the man, but a weakness against which he has been untrained and undisciplined, and which leaves him helpless in the first crisis. Ireland has recently been incensed by the action of some of her mayors and lord mayors in connection with the English Coronation festival; the feeling has been acute in the metropolis. Certain things are obvious, but how many see what is below the surface? Let me suggest a case and a series of circumstances; the more pointed the case, the more interesting. I will suppose a particular mayor is an old Fenian: let us see how for him a web is finely woven, and in the end how securely he is netted. First a mayor is a magistrate, and must take the judicial oath, but the old Fenian has taken an oath of allegiance to Irelandclash number one. It is not simply a question of yes or no; there are attendant circumstances. Around a public man in place circulates a swarm of interested people, needy friends, meddling politicians, "supporters" generally. The chief magistrate will have influence on the bench which they all wish to invoke now and then, and they all wish to see him there. They don't approve of any principle that stands in the way. They group themselves together as his "supporters," and claiming to have put him into public life, they act as if they had acquired a lease of his soul. Not what he knows to be right, but what they believe to be useful, must be done; and before the first day is done the first fight must be made. However, the old Fenian has enough of the spirit of old times to come safe through the first round. But the second is close on his heels: Dublin Castle has been attentive. The mayor, as chief magistrate, has privileges on which the Castle now silently closes. There are private and veiled remonstrances by secret officials: "The mayor is acting illegally; he must not do so-and-so; such is the function of a magistrate; he has not taken the oath," etc. All this renewing the fight of the first day, for the Castle, too, wants the mayor on the bench to brand him as its own and alienate him from the old flag. It puts on the pressure by suppressing his privileges, weakening his influence, and disappointing his "supporters." All this is silently done. Still, the mayor holds fast, but he has not counted on this, and is beginning to be baffled and worried. Meanwhile a sort of guerilla attack is being maintained: invitations arrive to garden parties at Windsor, lesser functions nearer home, free passages to all the gay festivals, free admissions everywhere, the route indicated, and a gracious request for the presence of the mayor and mayoress. Genuine business engagements now save the situation, and the invitations are put by, but our chief citizen is now bewildered. These social missiles are flying in all directions, always gracious and flattering, never challenging and rudewho can withstand them? Still he is bewildered, but not yet caught. A new assault is made: the great Health Crusade Battery is called up. Here we must all unite, God's English and the wild Irish, the Fenian and the Castleman, the labourer and the lord. Surely, we are all against the microbes. There is a great demonstration, their Excellencies attendand the mayor presides. Under the banner of the microbe he is caught. It is a great occasion, which their Excellencies grace and improve. His Excellency is affable with the mayor; her Excellency is confidential and gracious with the mayoresswe might have been schoolchildren in the same townland we are so cordial. Everything proceeds amid plaudits, and winds up in acclamation. Their Excellencies depart. Great is the no-politics erayou can so quietly spike the guns of many an old politicianand keep him safe. The social amenities do this. Their Excellencies have gone, but they do not forget. There is a warm word of thanks for recent hospitality. Perhaps the mayor has a daughter about to be married, or a son has died; it is remembered, and the cordial congratulation or gracious sympathy comes duly under the great seal. What surly man would resent sympathy? And so, the strength of the old warrior is sapped; the web is woven finely; in its secret net the Castle has its man. You who have exercised yourselves in Dublin recently over mayoral doings, note all thisnot to the making light of any man's surrender, but to the true judging of the event, its deeper significance and danger. Whoever fails must be called to account. When a man takes a position of trust, influence, and honour, and, whatever the difficulty, abandons a principle he should hold sacred, he must be held responsible. A battle is an ordeal, and we must be stern with friend and foe. But there is something more sinister than the weakness of the man: remember the net.

VI

The concrete case makes clear the principle in question. The man whom we have seen go down would have been safe if he had to fight no battle but one he could face with all his true friends, and in the open light of day. Having to fight a secret battle was never even considered: threats direct or vague or subtle, blandishments, cajolery, graciousness, patronage, flattery, plausible generalities, attacks indirect and insidiousall coming without pause, secret, silent, tireless. He who is to be proof against this, and above threat or flattery, must have been disciplined with the discipline of a life that trains him for every emergency. You cannot take up such a character like a garment to suit the occasion: it must be developed in private and public by all those daily acts that declare a man's attitude, register his convictions, and form his mind. It gives its own reward at once, even in the day where nothing is apparently at stake; where men scramble furiously over the petty things of life; for he who sees these things at their proper value is unruffled. His composure in all the fury has its own value. But the mind that held him so, by the very act of dismissing something petty, gets a clearer conception of the great things of life; by intuition is at once awake to a hovering and fatal menace to individual or national existence, unseen of the common eye; and in that hour proves, to the confusion of the enemy, clear, vigorous and swift. Let us, then, for this great end note what is the secret of strength. Not alone to be ready to stand in with a host and march bravely to battlethe discipline that provides for this is great and valuable and must be always observed and practised. This gives, however, only the common courage of the crowd, and can only be trusted on an even field where the chances of war are equal. But when there is a struggle to restore freedom, where from the nature of the case the chances are uneven and the soldiers of liberty are at every disadvantage, then must we seek to adjust the balance by a finer courage and a more enduring strength. The mustering of legions will not suffice. The general reviewing this fine array who would rightly estimate the power he may command, must silently examine the units, to judge of this brave host how large a company can be formed to fight a forlorn hope. If this spirit is in reserve, he is armed against every emergency. If the chances are equal, he will have a splendid victory; if by any of the turns of war his legions are shaken and disaster threatened, there is always a certain rallying-ground where the host can re-form and the field be re-won, and the flag that has seen so many vicissitudes be set at last high and proudly in the light of Freedom.

chapter 6

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