Chapter 8

In this phrenzy of the public mind, it is not to be dissembled that the most active of the constitution menders, were those who had ruined their own constitution, or that of their estates. It was observable also, that emigrants from beyond seas; and especially from the green Isle of Erin, were the most forward in offering themselves for this service. Not knowing the trouble of making a constitution, they thought it light work; being in the habit of calling out against the existing government at home, they did not distinguish that partiality which the people here must have for the work of their own hands, and their unwillingness to have assistance not asked but forced upon them. At all events, supposing them justifiable in the innovation, it cannot be maintained that the volunteers were altogether discreet, in the time of undertaking it.


A number of these who had come from the county Monaghan, and other places, being together singing Erin go brah, and talking politics, the governor having actually a regard for them, as a well meaning, but impetuous multitude, thought proper to address them, and remonstrate against their proceedings. A minute of his discourse has been given me, and I have set it down here to diversify the narration.


Gentlemen of the bogs, said he, or green hills of Erin: for in the geography of your country, you talk of bogs; but in your songs we hear of nothing but hills--For that reason, I shall speak of hills--


Gentlemen of the green hills of Erin, when I see your island like an emerald as you call it, set in the waves. It is a pretty little spot, on the face of the earth, I was going to say, but rather as I ought to say, face of the water. Of the internal geography I do not know much, but I have heard of Limerick, and Drogheda, and Sligo, and other places--The Cunabula gentium, the birth place of your parentage. But as to those, I have not much attended to them; my attachment is chiefly to the history of the people. I know your origin if I am to believe some, and I am inclined to believe them, that you are of Punic origin, that you have in you the Blood of the Asdrubals, and Hamilcars, and Hannibals of antiquity. But as the poet says,


Genus, et proavos, et quae non fecimus ipsi,
Vix ea nostra voco.--


I set more store by what has been done upon your island in the persons of your immediate progenitors. I am not unacquainted with the fame of many great characters; Fin M'Coul, and Brian Borumy, and others. But for your divisions in your own country, you might have been England, and England Ireland. And though insinuations have been made by writers of a proneness to rob on the highways by some of you, I do not wonder at there being some truth in this. It cannot be a matter of surprize, if after the military spirit of a people has subsided by subjugation, it should break out into petty robberies of the proud victor, and a disposition should remain for a long time, to indemnify ones' self at the expense of the conquerors, for the loss of private fortune. What could have been expected of those who were expelled from the north of your country, the four counties of Ulster, but that they would turn free-booters? I find no fault with the opposition made to the government of England; for you have been oppressed by it; and I do not wonder that a reform was thought of, and zealously attempted by the governor of the country. Though I do not altogether approve the irregular, and consequently useless, disturbance by hearts of oak, as they were called; hearts of steel, white boys, break o'day boys, who broke the peace of the country. For of what avail is disjointed opposition; partial insurrections, which like the struggles of beasts of burden serve but the more to intangle, and furnish a reason, or at least a pretence for weightier chains, and stronger gearing for the future? For you see that however good your cause, and I will acknowledge that it is my opinion there could not have been a better, yet from immature exertions, and a want of concert, some of you have been under the necessity of absconding, and others of you have been shot. Those of you who have come to this country ought to distinguish circumstances. You have no doubt meditated much, the greater part of you upon political establishments; but it is not a Lycurgus, or a Solon that is wanted so much at this time, as cultivators of the soil. The constitution that is already framed may do awhile until we get more ground cleared, and fences put in repair. You will not for a moment entertain the suspicion that I undervalue your capacity for these things; but I make a [quere] with regard to the expediency of the occasion. You have all heard of what has happened in the neighbouring country of France, from instability in government, and from a change of constitution. The guillotine was the result, you have all heard of the guillotine.


The crowd, or some one in the crowd, acknowledged that they had heard of the guillotine; but had not a perfect knowledge or clear conception of what it was.

It is, continued the governor, a machine which works as I understand it, something like a farmer's cutting box. But the noise resembles that of a forge hammer, or a slitting mill.

Governor, replied an orator, it is not the sound of iron, or the working of hand saws, that would intimidate an Irishman; nor is it that we think we can make a better constitution than the one that is made, or set up a better government than that of which your honour is the worthy representative, and chief magistrate. But just coming to the country, we like to be concerned in what is going forward. When we see the game played we like to take a hand. Nor is it we alone that are moving in the matter. It is your own people that have been bred and born in the country, that make the most ado. We only come in to take a lift at the log; just as our forefathers did in the war, that is past, where some of us were shot as well as yourselves. Having cleared the ground of the British, along wid you, we are entitled to the raising a cabin on the spot; you may call it a constitution, or what you please. But all we want is a bit of ground to set potatoes and to plant cabbage, with the free use of the shilelah into the bargain, as we had it in our own country.


That being the case, said the governor, the constitution that you have, will answer every purpose. It is for securing you in your possessions; and the free use of the shilelah subordinate to no law but that of the country, that the constitution has been framed. But for the constitution and the laws, what would you differ from the racoons and opossums of the woods? It is this which makes all the difference that we find between man and beast.


This was an unfortunate expression of the governor, and gave countenance to the theory that had begun to prevail about this time, that there was no radical difference between man and beast. And of this we may hear more in the subsequent chapters of this book. But not being in a hurry with this narrative, we shall not go on with the history of the phrenzy of imagination just immediately. It is time to rest a while; that is, to dip the pen till one looks about and reflects upon what has gone before, and may come after. What that may be I cannot well tell; for though I have all the matter of the book in my head, I have not arranged it in the series and juncture of the particulars, so that I can tell before hand what will come next. My pen moves almost involuntarily, from the mere habit of writing; like people that speak without being aware of what they say. And this unconcern arises from a consciousness that I have no harm in my mind, and therefore there can come none out; I mean, actual and intentional harm. If the maxim is true, quod non habet, non dabit, I can give no offence to any one, for I mean none. For notwithstanding all that has been said, or suspected, I never had a single individual in my mind, in characters I have drawn, but have been dipping my pen simply in the inkstand of human nature. If any man sees himself in this glass, tanquam in speculum, it is his own fault to put his face near it. For, it is not my intention to put the glass to him. I will acknowledge that a principal object with me is amusement, and I do not see why it may not be considered as having the like chance for this, with the fable of Menenius Agrippa about the belly and its members; or any of those which are called Aesop's, under the similitude of beasts, and birds speaking. But be as it may, if we should miss the mark, all that can be said, is, that if we mean instruction, we have but an awkward way of conveying it.


But call it even our own amusement alone that we have in view, it is a picture of human nature, from childhood to old age; from the baby-house to the laying out money in bank stock; or the purchasing land for which the owner has no occasion. It all goes to engage, and employ the mind, whether it is throwing a long bullet, or drawing up an address to the President of the United States. Our hands must be employed, or our minds.-- And this I take to be a great cause of the restlessness of a man in society, or out of it--the activity of the mental powers. And in proportion as a man has less or more of the vis inertiae, in that proportion is he locomotive, or stationary.