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Ailey Moore

(A Review of: Ailey Moore. A Tale for the Times; showing how Evictions, Murders, and such like Pastimes are managed, and justice administered in Ireland, together with many stirring Incidents in other Lands. By Father Baptist. New York: 1856)

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1857

FATHER BAPTIST has a lively fancy, a brilliant imagination, a warm gushing heart, genuine pathos, and a natural love of fun and frolic; he is a man of learning, of varied experience, and wide observation of men and things; but he is not a practised novel-writer, and lacks some of the essential elements of the true literary artist. His sketches of Irish society and especially of Irish peasant life lack the delicacy and finish of the pictures given us by Banim, Carleton, and Gerald Griffin. He overdoes his good people, deals too much in the marvellous, and fails, as a priest should, in his love scenes. His work, also, lacks unity, and properly ends with Gerald Moore's acquittal of the charge of murder. The continental scenes belong to a separate work, and the portion relating to the obsession of Emma, is told in too gross and revolting a manner, and might have been advantageously omitted. These are not precisely times when young gentleman like Frank Tyrrell are likely to be converted by witnessing exorcisms, because such things are looked upon either as mummery or superstition by our liberal Protestants. The author talks too much about the heart, which with him means feeling, and while justly praising the religious poor, seems to forget that the poor are not always religious. In Protestant countries they have very few of the sentiments or virtues he ascribes to them, and are not, under a religious point of view, much superior to the easy classes. In all Protestant countries, the poor, as a general thing, are irreligious, and seldom observe even the forms of worship. What he says is true of the mass of the Irish peasantry, but it must not be stated as true universally of the poor.

Nevertheless, Ailey Moore is an interesting tale, and contains materials for a dozen first-class novels. It is essentially an Irish story, a story of Ireland's wrongs and sufferings, virtues and vices, presenting the lights and shadows of Irish life, with great truth and vividness. The author is a genuine Irishman, devoted alike to his religion and his country, and writes boldly, feelingly, and eloquently in defence of both. It is true, he tells us little that we had not been told before, but the story of Ireland's wrongs, and the sufferings of her warm-hearted peasantry for their religion and nationality, is one that will bear to be repeated, and that will always possess a harrowing interest for every unperverted heart, and especially for us Americans, since so large a portion of our population are of Irish birth or of Irish descent.

It is difficult, notwithstanding all that has been said by both friends and enemies, to form a picture of the real state of things in Ireland. When we read the writings or listen to the conversations of Irish patriots we are apt to think there is some exaggeration in the case, and that too much of what is deplorable is charged to the English government. It is difficult to avoid suspecting that a portion of the evil is to be laid at the door of the Irish people themselves, and that they have failed to make the most they could of their situation, bad as it unquestionably has been. The declamatory and passionate style in which the Irish patriots speak or write of their sufferings and the injustice of England, is not very well adapted to produce conviction in the minds of grave and unimpassioned Americans. But taking the best information we can get, and reasoning on it, coolly and impartially, we are forced to believe that it is impossible to exaggerate in the case, or to represent the wrongs which Ireland has received from the English government and the Anglo-Irish faction as greater than they actually have been. They have surpassed the power of any human language to express, especially since England became Protestant.

The English are not a bloodthirsty or a vindictive people, and though undemonstrative, they possess many noble and generous traits of character; but taken as a body, they are proud, haughty, arrogant, conceited, narrow-minded, and bigoted. There are exceptions to this character, and exceptions much more numerous since the French revolution than before. There are English gentlemen who have travelled and had the rough corners of their characters rubbed off, their minds liberalized, and their views expanded by intercourse with the continentals, who are surpassed by no gentlemen in the world. But the genuine homebred Englishman is a bundle of conceit and prejudice, fully pursuaded of his own excellence, and of the infinite inferiority of every person or thing not English. We do not believe the English have ever intended to be unjust or oppressive to the Irish, and we doubt if it is in the power of mortal man to convince them that they ever have been. It is thoroughly English to believe that an Englishman can do no wrong, and that to complain of any thing done by Englishmen is base ingratitude, is to take an entirely false view of one's own best good, or to be carried away by faction or the blindness of party. The Englishman believes himself the noblest work of God, and that the Creator did his very best when he created him. His way of thinking and doing is the right way, and the only right way. Full of this conceit, he is unable to conceive it possible for any thing but gross ignorance or malice to dream of finding fault with any thing he says or does. He has rejected the pope, because he is his own pope, denied the infallibility of the church, because he could not admit her infallibility without denying his own. He thus strikes others, who do not hold him to be either infallible or impeccable, as arrogant and conceited, as intolerably self-sufficient, and it falls out that he is hated even when he confers benefits, and gives mortal offence even when he acts with noble and generous intentions. The English may be envied, may be feared, they may be admired for their energy, bravery, and success, but as a nation they are loved and respected by no foreign people.

It is now seven hundred years since Ireland became in some manner subject to the English crown, and yet England has not advanced a step in gaining the affections of the Irish nation. Every Irishman in whom a single spark of Irish national feeling remains unextinguished, hates the English domination, and curses the English connection. Not the slightest progress has been made towards reconciling the Irish people to the English government, or towards making them look upon themselves as an integral portion of the empire, or its glory as their glory. The hatred of the Celt and Saxon has only been intensified and rendered ineradicable by seven hundred years of contact. This is a singular fact. The Romans were great conquerors, but after a comparatively brief time the conquered lost their hatred of their conquerors and became proud of the Roman name. Gaul was subjected by the Roman arms, and converted into Roman provinces, but it ceased to regard Rome as its conqueror, and was, when the barbarian invasions began, as loyal to the empire as Italy herself. The French have conquered Brittany and Lorraine, and annexed them to France, and yet their inhabitants, though still speaking their national language and retaining many of their old national habits and customs, regard France as their country, and are proud of calling themselves Frenchmen. Why this difference? It is not owing to difference of race, for the ancient Gauls, the modern Bas-Bretons, and the Irish are generally regarded as belonging to the same family. This difference is owing to the different genius of the respective conquerors. The ancient Roman was proud, cruel, but he could understand and respect the national feeling and religion of the conquered, in his government of them after the conquest was effected. The same can be said of the French. The Romans left the provincials their identity, and made them add to the power and strength of the empire; France, the principal heir of the Roman empire as well as of the Roman civilization, leaves also to her conquered provinces their identity, and finds her conquests adding to her power. But England tolerates nothing un-English, and makes her conquests virtual exterminations, and her conquests are never completed so long as the extermination is incomplete. The English, and in this respect we include their descendants in America, consequently ourselves, proceed always on the assumption, express or implied, that what is not English ought not to exist, and that it is impossible for a people to be prosperous, wise, virtuous, or happy in any way but the English way, or as we say here, the American way. They make war to the knife on every thing that does not smack of Englishism.

There is something remarkable in this English race both in its European and American branches. It can never live in peace with a weaker neighbor. It is hard to say what would have been the fate of Europe, if it had been a continental power. It would either have grasped the whole continent, or it would itself have ceased to exist. It can endure no neighbors, no power beside its own, that it is able to crush. We see this in the British expansion in Asia. It has annexed nearly the whole of India, and is now annexing, or preparing the way to annex Persia on the West and China on the North. We see it also in our own expansion on this continent. We could never live in peace with the native Indians, and always contrived to pick quarrels with them, provoke them to acts of vengeance, and then make war on them, exterminate them, or drive them back, and take their lands from them. We do not annex Canada, because we should, were we to attempt it, have to reckon with the mother country, and we are not quite prepared for that as yet; but we are perpetually getting into disputes with our southern neighbors; we have already got Texas, California, and New Mexico, and we are working our way down to the Isthmus of Darien. The race seems to lack the sense of international law, and to have persuaded itself that might makes right, and that a people not able to defend its possessions has no right to hold them. The people too weak to maintain its independence has, it seems to believe, no right to exist as an independent people. How long would the little republic of San Marino have retained its separate existence had it been situated in the British Isles, or within the geographic limits of the United States?

Yet this so-called Anglo-Saxon race boasts itself the grand civilizing race of the modern world, and affects to despise all other races as inferior and semi-barbarous. But there is not a race or tribe in any part of the world that it has civilized by its arts, its arms, its missionaries, or its colonists, at least since the Norman conquest. It has gained no conquests to civilization in the East. It has gained none in the West. Undoubtedly, the United States are a civilized state where three hundred years ago roamed only savage tribes. Yet it has become so not by civilizing those tribes, but by driving them out. The colonists brought their civilization with them and transmitted it more or less impaired to their descendants, but they have never extended it to the original inhabitants. They did not civilize the Indians, they exterminated them. Now a race which civilizes no savage or barbarous people, can by no allowable figure of speech or stretch of the imagination be called a civilizing race, for it civilizes nobody, although civilized itself. We acknowledge the race possesses noble and generous traits, that it is a strong and energetic, a bold and adventurous race, and England has retained its old constitution in greater integrity and vigor than any continental nation of Europe; but we have never been able to detect, at least since it became Protestant, the least benefit resulting from its influence in foreign nations. Its embrace is fatal. No nation has been benefited by its alliance or its protection and its diplomatic influence in foreign states and empires has invariably been hostile to the progress of civilization. The only thing for which we are able to commend the external policy of Great Britain, is that, after having lost the monopoly of the slave trade, she abolished it, and exerted her influence to induce other nations also to abolish it. Yet the slave trade is still carried on.

Now this Anglo-Saxon race, to which probably we ourselves have the honor of belonging, is the worst race on earth to have the government of another and less energetic race; simply hecause of its undoubting belief in its own perfection, and its native inability to view any question from the stand-point of another race, or from any point of view save that of its own central life. It is philanthropic, I believe really more philanthropic than any other existing race, but its own intense egotism renders its philanthropy more fatal than the intense selfishness of others. It can conceive no possible way of serving any people but that of forcing upon them its own ideas, religion, and institutions. It lacks the sense of fitness, and does not conceive that the English is only one type among many, all equally types of excellence. Its injustice to Ireland, we do not believe has been consciously intended, but has resulted from its bigoted attachment to its own religion and nationality, and its honest belief that to force Englishism upon the Irish would be conferring on them the greatest possible benefit. Hence its determination to destrov both the Irish nationality and the Irish religion. It wouid make of the lively, mirth-loving, and devout Irishman, whose element is society, and whose life is faith, a cool, staid, sombre, unbelieving, undemonstrative, isolated English Protestant. With this thought England has, since the reformation at least, governed, or misgoverned Ireland. In order to carry out this thought she has been obliged to deprive the Catholic and national party of all power, of all property, of all rights, and to bestow all her favors on the Anglo-Irish faction, to maintain the Protestant ascendency, and to govern through it. She confiscated the land to the benefit of Protestant adventurers, or to base apostates from their religion and country, reduced the mass of the Catholic and national population to the deepest poverty, and placed them in abject dependence on Protestant landlords for the very means of earning their bread by the sweat of their faces. They were rendered incapable of acquiring landed property, they were outlawed for their religion, and placed completely in the power of their bitterest and deadliest enemies. They were exposed to the caprice of the landlord, and what was still worse, to the upstart power and grasping avarice of the middleman. Their churches were taken from them, their clergy were outlawed, and hunted down by armed soldiers; they were robbed of their schools, forbidden to go abroad for education, and forbidden to be taught even letters at home, unless in a Protestant school, and therefore obliged to grow up in ignorance or to give up their religion. They were poor and could not purchase justice, powerless and could not command it. They had no redress for wrongs, and were at every moment, and in almost every relation of life, exposed to the tender mercies of their most unrelenting enemies, who counted it a virtue to maltreat a papist.

Taking these facts into consideration it is very clear to us that the Irish du not exaggerate the wrongs they have received at the hands of England, or attribute more than its share in their miserable condition to the British government. The severity of the penal laws is now indeed relaxed, and Catholics can now acquire, hold, and transmit property as well as Protestants, but the feelings and habits of three hundred years' growth are not changed in a moment, and the old hatred and contempt still remain. The government still seeks for the most part to maintain the old Protestant ascendency, govern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish faction, and to exclude as far as possible Catholics from all real power to protect themselves. Catholics may be appointed, as with us they may be elected, to office, but they have little or no power to serve their Catholic friends, and to retain place and influence must often show themselves more severe against them than would a liberal-minded Protestant. With us a Catholic is well-nigh lost to Catholicity the moment he is clothed with official dignity. And it is, we suppose, pretty much the same in Great Britain and Ireland. Catholics are there as well as here the weaker party, and there as well as here, though we are inclined to believe more so here than there, justice without power to back it need not expect to be listened to. The party without power, conscious of its weakness, is forced in some measure, to supply by cunning its lack of strength. Its very existence depends on it.

These considerations sufficiently explain the state of things described in Ailey Moore, and make us look with a lenient eye on the short-comings of some of the Irish characters introduced. The virtues of the Irish are their own, their faults, and faults they have, are for the most part due to the unjust and blundering policy pursued by Protestant England for three hundred years towards them.

We cannot analyze the story of Ailey Moore, or give our readers any account of its plot or plots. We find in it a great variety of characters, the weak-minded, extravagant, and unprincipled landlord; the miserly, grasping, oppressive, intriguing, cowardly, and black-hearted agent; the Protestant parson and his wife, the Catholic priest, the angelic Ailey Moore, and her high-minded and accomplished brother Gerald, the pattern of a Christian and a gentleman; their friends, Frank Tyrrell, and his sister Cicely, persons of condition, pure and noble-hearted, destined to be converted; their uncle, the baron, who though a Protestant, would seem to be as good as any Catholic; soupers, villains, beggars, evicted peasants starving, dying, or driven to exile or desperation; the bold, fine-hearted, and energetic Ribbon-man, who takes upon himself the character of "the whip of justice," and his confederates, soldiers, policemen, pimps, virgins, assassins, profligates, the devil, etc. The chief interest of the story turns on the attempt of the agent to get Gerald convicted of murder, and to wreak his vengeance on the Moores, who have rejected his proposal for a matrimonial alliance with "our own Ailey." The real hero of the story, however, is Shaun a Dherk, the Ribbonman, and Biddy Brown, or Gran, the beggar woman, is the heroine. Ailey is beautiful, highly accomplished, very pious, very charitable, and devoted to her old pastor, Father Quinlivan, but she is too ethereal for an earthly heroine, too unreal for flesh and blood. Gerald, though brave, and a great artist, does not effect much save to stop at great personal risk a run-away horse, rescue an innocent, beautiful Irish girl from a house of prostitution in London, whither she had been entrapped through the simplicity of her old servant, and paint his mistress as Judith, and idealize his sister into a Mater Amabilis. The dramatic power of the author shows itself to the best advantage in what he regards as his subordinate, and fails him in the higher and more ideal, characters. He tells us how great, good, noble they were, but he does not let us see it in their actions. Their virtue appears to have been too sublime for representation.

Father Baptist, as in duty bound by his profession, condemns Ribbonism, but it is very clear that his heart is with Shaun a Dherk, and his book will make a hundred Shaun a Dherks to one it will convert to law and order. Will the reverend author permit us to remark that the evident sympathy with which he describes the Ribbon-man and his doings, detracts, much from the effect of his condemnation of Ribbonism? We may in our writings depict truthfully what we hold to be wrong, and suggest all the palliatives or excuses possible for those whose conduct we must disapprove, but to depict it with evident sympathy, and to enlist the judgment or the passions of our readers on its side, is not allowable, and we make but poor amends for the countenance we thus give to what is wrong, by a formal and professional condemnation of it at the end. Father Baptist enlists our sympathies with Shaun a Dherk, and gives us admirable reasons for defending him. When the law ceases to afford protection, when it is made by its administrators only an instrument of oppression, it ceases to bind in conscience; civil society is dissolved; men are thrown back under the law of nature, where every man becomes his own protector, and resumes the natural right of vindicating justice, and of doing whatever is not malum in se. On this principle alone can the Irish Ribbon-men and our Vigilance Committees justify themselves. Now the question we ask Father Baptist, is, Is the state of things in Ireland such as to justify the appeal to this principle? If he says, yes, then why does he condemn Shaun a Dherk, and exclude him from the sacraments, solely because he resorts to it? If he says, no, does he do well to enlist his own and his readers' sympathies on his side? Is it wise to inflame our passions, work us up to a sort of madness, make us just ready to strike, and then come in with wise saws, and Gospel lectures, and tell us to forbear? Why work us up to a fit of mutiny, and then forbid us to mutiny, but exhort us to be patient and forgiving? Why bring the curse to our lips, and then tell us to bless? Is this treating us fairly? Either do not arouse our vindictive passions, or give them full swing. We do not say that the reverend father is wrong in condemning Shaun a Dherk, but he is wrong in our judgment, if he means to condemn him, in first justifying him, and enlisting all our human feelings in his support. It is not well to present nature and grace in opposition when we can help it, or to arm the passions against the authority of the priest. Authority should never create obstacles to itself, or enlist human nature unnecessarily against its commands.

There is here the great moral objection to a large portion, and that in general the better portion, of our popular literature. The author winds up usually with an admirable moral, but a moral in direct opposition to all the passions, feelings, and sympathies, his work during its perusal has excited. Now this moral tagged on to the end has seldom any power to counteract the mischief done before we reach it. Ailey Moore makes us curse the oppressors of Ireland, and we cannot read it without feeling that were we in Ireland, Shaun a Dherk should have in us a recruit, and one who would make war in every possible way to the death upon the base oppressors of Ireland's peasantry. We are maddened. We can hear nothing but one deep, concentrated cry of vengeance, and in vain while in this state will the author, priest as he is, seek to hold us back. If he means to manage me, to make me obey him, and follow his peace counsels, he should not first madden me, deprive me of all self-control, except in accordance with the master passion he has inflamed.

However, we can easily conceive that such books should have in Ireland far less influence in arousing vindictive passions than might at first sight be supposed. The daily reality is worse than any picture can represent it. The book is comparatively tame and feeble to those who suffer the things only read of. The reading, no doubt, to them operates as an anecdote, and allays more than it arouses passion; and after all the concessions the author makes to lacerated feelings and the weakness of human nature, may even prepare his readers for the moral he would enforce. The author knows his country men better than we do, knows far better through what avenues to reach their hearts, and their understandings, and make them love the Gospel, and yield to its blessed spirit, we cannot doubt the purity or charity of his intentions.

We conclude our brief notice by recomending Ailey Moore to the public, and adding our voice to that of so many others in its praise. The author is, if we are not mistaken in identity, one of the most active and zealous priests in Ireland, -one who is devoting himself day and night to the means of saving our young men, and making them feel that they can not only do something for themselves, but also something for the honor and glory of God in the prosperity of religion.