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Parnell and Kitty O'Shea

For my own part I am confident as to the future of Ireland. Though the horizon may now seem cloudy, I believe her people will survive the present oppression, as they have survived many worse ones. Although our progress may be slow, it will be sure. The time will come when the people of England will admit once again that they have been mistaken and have been deceived: that they have been led astray as to the right way of governing a noble, a brave and an impulsive people.

--Charles Stewart Parnell


Two hundred fifty men own one-third of the acreage of Ireland.

Two-thirds of Ireland is owned by two thousand men. In every other civilized country will be found a large class of people known as peasant proprietors, people who own small farms or a few acres which they call home. In Ireland we find seven hundred thousand tenant-farmers, who with their families represent a population of more than three million people. These people depend upon the land for their subsistence, but they are tenants-at-will. Four-fifths of the landowners of Ireland live in England.

Lord Dufferin, late Governor-General of Canada, once said: "What is the spectacle presented to us by Ireland? It is that of millions of people, whose only occupation and dependence is agriculture, sinking their past and present and future on yearly tenancies. What is a yearly tenancy? Why, it means that the owner of the land, at the end of any year, can turn the people born on the land, off from the land, tear down their houses and leave them starving at the mercy of the storm. It means terms no Christian man would offer, and none but a madman would accept."

The rents are fixed in cash, being proportioned according to the assessable value of the property. So if a tenant improves the estate, his rent is increased, and thus actually a penalty is placed on permanent improvements.

The tenant has no voice in the matter of rent: he must accept. And usually the rents have been fixed at a figure that covers the entire produce of the land. Then the landlord's agent collected all he could, and indulgently allowed the rest to hang over the tenant's head as a guarantee of good behavior.

Mr. Gladstone said in Parliament, July the Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine: "Forty-nine farmers out of fifty in Ireland are in arrears for rent, so it is legally possible to evict them at any time the landlord may so choose. And in the condition that now exists, an eviction is equal to a sentence of death."

At the time when Gladstone made his speech just quoted, a bill was up in the House of Commons called "The Relief of Distress Bill." Simple people might at once assume that this relief bill was for the relief of the starving peasantry, but this is a very hasty conclusion, ill-considered and quite absurd. The "Relief Bill" was for the relief of the English landlords who owned land in Ireland. So the landlords would not be actually compelled to levy on the last potato and waylay the remittances sent from America, the English Government proposed to loan money to the distressed landlords at three per cent, and this bill was passed without argument. And it was said that Lord Lansdowne, one of the poor landlords, turned a tidy penny by availing himself of the three-per-cent loan and letting the money out, straightway, at six per cent to such tenants as had a few pigs to offer as collateral.

The State of Iowa is nearly double the size of Ireland, and has, it is estimated, eleven times the productive capacity. A tithe of ten per cent on Iowa's corn crop would prevent, at any time, a famine in Ireland.

In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, Illinois sent, through the agency of the Chicago Board of Trade, a shipload of wheat, corn and pork to starving Ireland. T. P. O'Connor, who took an active part in the distribution of these humane gifts, said on the floor of the House of Commons that more than one instance had come to his notice where the Irish peasants had availed themselves of flour and meal, but the pork given them was taken by the landlords' agents, "because many Irish families had never acquired a taste for meat, the pigs they raised being sold to pay the rent."

Just here, lest any tender-hearted reader be tempted to tears on behalf of the Irish tenantry, I will quote an Irishman, a vegetarian first by force and then by habit, George Bernard Shaw:

The person to pity is the landlord and his incompetent family, and not the peasantry. In Ireland, the absentee landlord is bitterly reproached for not administering his estate in person. It is pointed out, truly enough, that the absentee is a pure parasite upon the industry of his country. The indispensable minimum of attention to his estate is paid by the agent or solicitor, whose resistance to his purely parasitic activity is fortified by the fact that the estates belong most to the mortgagees, and that the nominal landlord is so ignorant of his own affairs that he can do nothing but send begging letters to his agent.

On these estates generations of peasants (and agents) live hard but bearable lives; whilst off them generations of ladies and gentlemen of good breeding and natural capacity are corrupted into drifters, wasters, drinkers, waiters-for-dead-men's-shoes, poor relations and social wreckage of all sorts, living aimless lives, and often dying squalid and tragic deaths.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

In County Wicklow, Ireland, in Eighteen Hundred Forty-six, Charles Stewart Parnell was born. In that year there was starvation in Ireland. Thousands died from lack of food, just as they died in that other English possession, India, in Nineteen Hundred One. Famished babes, sucking at the withered breasts of dying mothers, were common sights on the public highways.

Iowa and Illinois had not then got a-going; the cable was to come, and the heart of Christian England was unpricked by public opinion. And all the time while famine was in progress, sheep, pigs and cattle were being shipped across the Channel to England. It was the famine of Eighteen Hundred Forty-six that started the immense tide of Irish immigration to America. And England fanned and favored this exodus, for it was very certain that there were too many mouths to feed in Ireland--half the number would not so jeopardize the beer and skittles of the landlords.

Parnell's father was a landed proprietor living in Ireland, but whose ancestors had originally come from England. The Parnell estate was not large, comparatively, but it was managed so as to give a very comfortable living for the landlord and his various tenants. The mother of young Parnell was Delia Stewart, an American girl, daughter of Admiral Stewart of the United States Navy.

In that dread year of Eighteen Hundred Forty-six, when the potato crop failed, the Parnells took no rent from their tenants; and Mrs. Parnell rode hundreds of miles in a jaunting-car, distributing food and clothing among the needy. Doubtless there were a great many other landlords and agents just as generous as the Parnells, filled with the same humane spirit; but the absentee landlords were for the most part heedless, ignorant, and indifferent to the true state of affairs.

Charles Parnell grew up a fine, studious, thoughtful boy. He prepared for college and took a turn of two years at Cambridge. He then returned to Ireland, because his help was needed in looking after the estate--hence he never secured his degree. But he had the fine, eager, receptive mind that gathers gear as it goes. His mother was an educated woman, and educated mothers have educated children.

That is a very wise scheme of child-education, the education of the mother, a plan which is indeed not yet fully accepted by civilization; but which will be as soon as we become enlightened.

From his mother's lips Charles learned the story of America's fight for independence, and the rights of man was a subject ingrained in his character.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Ireland is a country that has a climate as nearly perfect as we can imagine, and topographically, it is beautiful beyond compare. Yet here, among physical conditions which are most entrancing, existed a form of slavery not far removed from that which existed in the Southern States in Eighteen Hundred Sixty. It was a system inaugurated by men long dead, and which had become ossified upon both tenant and landlord (slave and slave-owner) by years of precedent, so neither party had the power to break the bonds.

In some ways it was worse than African slavery, for the material wants of the blacks were usually fairly well looked after. To be sure, the Irish could run away and not be brought back in chains; but in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six, a bill was introduced in Parliament restricting Irish immigration, and forbidding any tenant who was in debt to a landlord leaving the country without the landlord's consent.

Had this bill not been bitterly opposed, the Irish people would have been subject to peonage equal to absolute slavery. As young Parnell grew he was filled with but one theme: how to better the condition of his people.

In arousing public sentiment against the bill, young Parnell found his oratorical wings.

Shortly after this he was elected to Parliament from County Meath. He was then twenty-seven years old. He had never shaved, and his full brown beard and serious, earnest, dignified manner, coupled with his six-foot-two physique, attracted instant attention. He wore a suit of gray, Irish homespun, but the requirements of Parliament demanded black with a chimney-pot hat--the hat being always religiously worn in session, except when the member addressed the Chair--and to these Piccadilly requirements Parnell gracefully adjusted himself.

Parnell seemed filled with the idea, from the days of his youth, that he had a mission--he was to lead his people out of captivity. This oneness of purpose made itself felt in the House of Commons from his first entrance. All parliamentary bodies are swayed by a few persons--the working members are the exception. The horse-racing and cockfighting contingent in the House of Commons is well represented; the blear eyes, the poddy pudge, the bulbous beak--all these are in evidence. If one man out of ten knows what is going on, it is well; and this is equally true of Washington, for our representatives do not always represent us.

Parnell, although a fledgling in years when he entered the House of Commons, quickly took the measure of the members, and conceived for them a fine scorn, which some say he exhibited in italics and upper case. This was charged up against him to be paid for later at usurious interest.

Precedent provided that he should not open his Irish mouth during the entire first session; but he made his presence felt from the first day he entered the House.

By a curious chance a Coercion Bill was up for discussion, there being always a few in stock. Some of the tenantry had refused to either pay or depart, and a move was on foot to use the English soldiery to evict the malcontents in a wholesale way.

Joseph Biggar had the floor and declared the bill was really a move to steal Irish children and sell them into perpetual peonage. Biggar was talking against time, and the House groaned. Biggar was a rich merchant from Ulster, and he was a big man, although without oratorical ability or literary gifts. His heart was right, but he lacked mental synthesis. He knew little of history, nothing of political economy, despised precedents, had a beautiful disdain for all rules, and for all things English he held the views of Fuzzy-Wuzzy, whose home is in the Sudan. However, Biggar was shrewd and practical, and had a business sense that most of the members absolutely lacked. And moreover he was entirely without fear. Usually his face was wreathed in cherubic smiles. He had the sweetly paternal look of Horace Greeley, in disposition was just as stubborn, and, like Horace, chewed tobacco.

The English opposed the Irish members, and Biggar reciprocated the sentiment. They opposed everything he did, and it came about that he made it his particular business to block the channel for them.

"Why are you here?" once exclaimed an exasperated member to Joseph Biggar.

"To rub you up, sir, to rub you up!" was the imperturbable reply. He shocked the House and succeeded in getting himself thoroughly hated by his constant reference to absentee landlords as "parasites" and "cannibals." And the fact that there were many absentee landlords in the House only urged him on to say things unseemly, irrelevant and often unprintable.

And so Biggar was making a speech on the first day that Parnell took his seat. Biggar was sparring for time, fighting off a vote on the Coercion Bill. He had spoken for four hours, mostly in a voice inaudible, and had read from the London Directory, the Public Reports and the Blue Book, and had at last fallen back on Doctor Johnson's Dictionary, when Parnell, in his simple honesty, interjected an explanation to dissolve a little of the Biggar mental calculi. Biggar, knowing Parnell, gave way, and Parnell rose to his feet. His finely modulated, low voice searched out the inmost corners of the room, and every sentence he spoke contained an argument. He was talking on the one theme he knew best. Members came in from the cloakrooms and the Chair forgot his mail--a man was speaking.

Gladstone happened to be present, and while not at the time sympathizing with the intent of Parnell, was yet enough attracted to the young man to say, "There is the future Irish leader: the man has a definite policy and a purpose that will be difficult to oppose."

In January, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, at the Academy of Music, Buffalo, New York, I attended the first meeting of the American Branch of the Irish Land League.

I was a cub reporter, with no definite ideas about Parnell or Irish affairs, and as at that time I had not been born again, I had a fine indifference for humanity across the sea. To send such a woolly proposition to report Parnell was the work of a cockney editor, born with a moral squint, within sound of Bow Bells. To him Irish agitators were wearisome persons, who boiled at low temperature, who talked much and long. All the Irish he knew worked on the section or drove drays.

At this meeting the first citizens of Buffalo gave the proceedings absent treatment. The men in evidence were mostly harmless: John J. McBride, Father Cronin, James Mooney, and a liberal mixture of Mc's and O's made up the rest; and as I listened to them I made remarks about "Galways" and men who ate the rind of watermelons and "threw the inside away."

Judge Clinton, of Buffalo, grandson of De Witt Clinton, had been inveigled into acting as chairman of the meeting, and I remember made a very forceful speech. He introduced Michael Davitt, noticeable for his one arm. All orators should have but one arm--the empty sleeve for an earnest orator being most effective. Davitt spoke well: he spoke like an aroused contractor to laborers who were demanding shorter hours and more pay.

Davitt introduced Parnell. I knew Davitt, but did not know Parnell. Before Parnell had spoken six words, I recognized and felt his superiority to any other man on the stage or in the audience. His speech was very deliberate, steady, sure, his voice not loud, but under perfect control. The dress, the action, the face of the man were regal. Afterwards I heard he was called the "Uncrowned King," and I also understood how certain Irish peasants thought of him as a Messiah. His plea was for a clear comprehension of the matter at issue, that it might be effectively dealt with, without heat, or fear, or haste. He carried a superb reserve and used no epithets. He showed how the landlords were born into their environment, just as the Irish peasantry were heirs to theirs. The speech was so full of sympathy and rich in reason, so convincing, so pathetic, so un-Irishlike, so charged with heart, and a heart for all humanity, even blind and stupid Englishmen, that everybody was captured, bound with green withes, by his quiet, convincing eloquence. The audience was melted into a whole, that soon forgot to applaud, but just listened breathlessly.

It was on this occasion that I heard the name of Henry George mentioned for the first time. Parnell quoted these words from "Progress and Poverty":

Man is a land-animal. A land-animal can not live without land. All that man produces comes from the land; all productive labor, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore, he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live, can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery! We have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it--chattel slavery. There is a deeper and more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of freedom.

We hear only a few speeches in a lifetime, possibly a scant half-dozen--if you have heard that many you have done well. Wouldn't you have liked to hear Webster's reply to Hayne, Wendell Phillips at Faneuil Hall, Lincoln answering Douglas, or Ingersoll at the Soldiers' Reunion at Indianapolis?

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Captain O'Shea was the son of an Irish landlord, living in England on a goodly allowance. He was a very fair specimen of the absentee. When obscurity belched him forth in the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty, he was a class D politician, who had evolved from soldiering through the ambitious efforts of his wife. He held a petty office in the Colonial Department, where the work was done by faithful clerks, grown gray in the service.

He was a man without either morals or ideals. Careful search fails to reveal a single remark he ever made worthy of record, or a solitary act that is not just as well forgotten.

Every City Hall has dozens of just such men, and all political capitals swarm with them. They are the sons of good families, and have to be taken care of--Remittance-Men, Astute Persons, Clever Nobodies, Good Fellows! They are more to be pitied than slaving peasants. God help the rich--the poor can work!

Work is a solace 'gainst self--a sanctuary and a refuge from the Devil, for Satan still finds mischief for idle hands to do. The Devil lies in wait for the idler; and the Devil is the idler, and every idler is a devil. Saintship consists in getting busy at some useful work.

When Katharine Wood, daughter of Sir Page Wood, became Mrs. O'Shea, she was yet in her teens. Her husband was twenty. Neither knew what they were doing, or where they were going.

Captain O'Shea in his shining uniform was a showy figure, and that his captaincy had been bought and paid for was a matter that troubled nobody. The pair was married, and when once tied by an ecclesiastic knot, they proceeded to get acquainted. A captain in the English Army who has a few good working sergeants is nothing and nobody. If he has enough money he can pay to get the work done, and the only disadvantage is that real soldiers scorn him, for soldiers take the measure of their officers, just as office-boys gauge the quality of the head clerk, or a salesman sizes a floorwalker. Nobody is deceived about anybody except for about an hour at a time.

When the time came for Captain O'Shea to drop out of the military service and become a civilian clerk in the Colonial Office, the army was glad. Non-comps are gleefully sloughed in the army, just as they are in a railroad-office or a department-store.

Yet Captain O'Shea was not such a bad person: had he been born poor and driven a dray, or been understudy to a grocer, he would very likely have evolved into a useful and inoffensive citizen. The tragedy all arose from that bitter joke which the stork is always playing: sending commonplace children to people of power.

And then we foolish mortals try to overawe Nature by a Law of Entail, which supplies the Aristophanes of Heaven and Gabriel many a quiet smile. The stork is certainly a bird that has no sense. Power that is earned is never ridiculous, but power in the hands of one who is strange to it is first funny, then fussy, and soon pathetic. Punk is a useful substance, and only serves as metaphor when it tries to pass for bronze.

So, then, behold Katharine O'Shea--handsome, wistful, winsome, vivacious and intelligent, with a brain as keen as that of Becky Sharp, yet as honest as Amelia--getting her husband transferred from the army to the civil list.

He was an Irishman, and his meager salary in the office had to be helped out with money wrung from Irish peasantry by landlords' agents. Captain O'Shea knew little about his estate, and was beautifully ignorant of its workings; but once he and his wife went over to Ireland, and the woman saw things the man did not and could not.

The Irish agitation was on, and the heart of the English girl went out to her brothers and sisters across the Channel. Marriage had tamed her, sobered her dreams, disillusioned her fancies. In her extremity she turned to humanity, as women turn to religion. In fact, humanity was to her a religion: her one thought was how to relieve and benefit Ireland--Ireland which supplied her that whereby she lived! She felt like a cannibal at the thought of living off the labor of these poor people.

She read and studied the Irish problem, and one day copied this passage from Henry George into her commonplace-book:

Ireland has never yet had a population which the natural resources of the country could not have maintained in ample comfort. At the period of her greatest population (Eighteen Hundred Forty to Eighteen Hundred Forty-five), Ireland contained more than eight millions of people. But a very large proportion of them managed merely to exist--lodging in miserable cabins, clothed in miserable rags, and with potatoes only as their staple food. When the potato-blight came, they died by thousands. But it was not the inability of the soil to support so large a population that compelled so many to live in this miserable way, and exposed them to starvation on the failure of a single root-crop. On the contrary, it was the same remorseless rapacity that robbed the Indian peasant of the fruits of his toil and left him to starve where Nature offered plenty. When her population was at its highest, Ireland was a food-exporting country. Even during the famine, grain, meat, butter and cheese were carted for exportation along roads lined with the starving, and past trenches into which the dead were piled. For these exports of food there was no return. It went not as an exchange, but as a tribute, to pay the rent of absentee landlords--a levy wrung from producers by those who in no wise contributed to the production.

Captain O'Shea was not at all interested. He had the brain of a blackbird, but not enough mind to oppose his wife. He just accepted life, and occasionally growled because more money did not come from this agent in Galway--that was all.

He still nominally belonged to the army, was a member of "The Canteen," a military club, played billiards in Winter and cricket in Summer, and if at long intervals he got plain drunk, it was a matter of patriotism done by way of celebrating a victory of English arms in the Congo, and therefore in the line of duty. Captain O'Shea never beat his wife, even in his cups, and the marriage was regarded as a happy one by the neighboring curate who occasionally looked in, and at times enjoyed a quiet mug with the Captain.

Mrs. O'Shea knew several of the Irish Members of Parliament; in fact, one of them was a cousin of her husband.

This cousin knew John Dillon and William O'Brien. Dillon and O'Brien knew Parnell, and belonged to his "advisory board."

Mrs. O'Shea was a member of Ruskin's Saint George Society, and had outlined a plan to sell the handicraft products made in the Irish homes, it being the desire of Ruskin to turn Irish peasantry gradually from a dependence on agriculture to the handicrafts. Mrs. O'Shea had a parlor sale in her own house, of laces, rugs and baskets made by the Irish cottagers.

John Dillon told Parnell of this. Parnell knew that such things were only palliative, but he sympathized with the effort, and when in June, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, he accepted an invitation to dine at the O'Shea's with half a dozen other notables, it was quite as a matter of course. How could he anticipate that he was making history!

Disappointment in marriage had made lines under the eyes of pretty Kitty O'Shea and strengthened her intellect.

Indifference and stupidity are great educators--they fill one with discontent and drive a person onward and upward to the ideal. A whetstone is dull, but it serves to sharpen Damascus blades.

Mrs. O'Shea's heart was in the Irish cause. Parnell listened at first indulgently--then he grew interested. The woman knew what she was talking about. She was the only woman he had ever seen who did, save his mother, whose house had once been searched by the constabulary for things Fenian. He listened, and then shook himself out of his melancholy.

Parnell was not a society man--he did not know women--all petty small talk was outside of his orbit. He regarded women as chatterers, children, undeveloped men. He looked at Kitty O'Shea and listened. She had coal-black, wavy hair, was small, petite, and full of nervous energy. She was not interested in Parnell; she was interested in his cause. They loved the same things. They looked at each other and talked. And then they sat silent and looked at each other, realizing that people who do not understand each other without talk, never can with. To remain silent in each other's presence is the test. Within a week Parnell called at the O'Shea's, with Dillon, and they drank tea out of tiny cups.

Parnell was thirty-four, and bachelors of thirty-four either do not know women at all, or else know them too well. Had Parnell been an expert specialist in femininity, he would never have gone to see Mrs. O'Shea the second time. She was an honest woman with a religious oneness of aim, and such are not the ladies for predaceous holluschickies.

Parnell went alone to call on Mrs. O'Shea--he wanted to consult with her about the Land League. By explaining his plans to her, he felt that he could get them more clearly impressed on his own mind. For he could trust her, and best of all, she understood--she understood!

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

About six months after this, London was convulsed with laughter at a joke too good to keep: One Captain O'Shea had challenged Charles Parnell, the Irish Leader, to a duel. Parnell accepted the challenge, but the fight was off, because Thomas Mayne had gone to O'Shea and told him he "would kick him the length of Rotten Row if he tried to harm or even opened his Galway yawp about Parnell."

O'Shea had a valise which he said he had found in his wife's room, and this valise belonged to Parnell! The English members talked of Parnell's aberration and carelessness concerning his luggage; and all hands agreed that O'Shea, whoever he was, was a fool--a hot-headed, egotistical rogue, trying to win fame for himself by challenging greatness.

"Suppose that Parnell kills him, it is no loss to the world; but if O'Shea kills Parnell, the Irish cause is lost," said John Dillon, who went to see O'Shea and told him to go after some pigmy his own size.

Sir Patrick O'Brien said to O'Shea, "You dress very well, Captain O'Shea, but you are not the correct thing."

As for London's upper circles, why, it certainly was a lapse for Parnell to leave his valise in the lady's room. Parnell the Puritan--Parnell the man who used no tobacco or strong drink, and never was known to slip a swear-word: Parnell the Irish Messiah! Ha, ha, ha!

As for the love-affair, all M.P.'s away from home without their families have them. You can do anything you choose, provided you do not talk about it, and you can talk about anything you choose, provided you do not do it. Promiscuity in London is a well-recognized fact, but a serious love-affair is quite a different thing. No one for a moment really believed that Parnell was so big a fool as to fall in love with one woman, and be true to her, and her alone--that was too absurd!

Captain O'Shea resigned his civil office and went back to his command. He was sent for service to India, where he remained for more than a year. When he returned to London, he did not go to Mrs. O'Shea's house, but took apartments downtown.

In the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty-six, political London was roused by the statement that Captain O'Shea was a candidate from Galway for the House of Commons, and was running under the protection of Parnell. To the knowing ones in London it looked like a clear bargain and sale. O'Shea had tried to harass Parnell; Parnell had warned O'Shea never to cross his path, and now the men had joined hands.

Parnell was in possession of O'Shea's wife, and O'Shea was going to Parliament with Parnell's help! O'Shea was a notoriously unfit man for a high public office, and Joseph Biggar and others openly denounced Parnell for putting forth such a creature. "He'll vote with the b'hoys, so what difference does it make?" said Sullivan. "The b'hoys," who vote as they are told, are in every legislative body. They are not so much to be feared as men with brains. Parnell went over to Ireland, and braved the mob by making speeches for O'Shea, and O'Shea was elected.

Parnell was evidently caught in a trap--he did the thing he had to do. His love for the woman was a consuming passion--her love for him was complete. Only death could part them. And besides, their hearts were in the Irish cause. To free Ireland was their constant prayer.

Scandal, until taken up by the newspapers, is only rumor. The newspapers seldom make charges until the matter gets into court--they fear the libel-laws--but when the court lends an excuse for giving "the news," the newspapers turn themselves loose like a pack of wolves upon a lame horse that has lost its way. And the reason the newspapers do this is because the people crave the savory morsel.

The newspapers are published by men in business, and the wares they carry are those in demand: mostly gossip, scandal and defamation. And humanity is of such a quality that it is not scandalized or shocked by facts, but by the recital of the facts in the courts or public prints.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

The House of Commons, in Eighteen Hundred Ninety, was at last ready to grant Home Rule to Ireland.

A bill satisfactory to the majority was prepared, and Parnell and Gladstone, the two strongest men of their respective countries, stood together in perfect accord. Then it was, in that little interval of perfect peace, that there came the explosion. Captain O'Shea brought suit against his wife for divorce. The affair was planned not only to secure the divorce, but also to do it in the most sensational and salacious manner. The bill of complaint, a voluminous affair, was really an alleged biography of Charles Parnell, and placed his conduct in the most offensive light possible. It recited that for more than ten years Parnell and Mrs. O'Shea had lived together as man and wife; that they had traveled together on the Continent under an alias; that Parnell had shaved off his beard to escape identity; and that the only interval of virtue that had come to the guilty couple since they first met was when Parnell was in Kilmainham Jail. The intent of the complaint was plainly to arouse a storm of indignation against Parnell that would make progress for any measure he might advocate, quite out of the question. The landlords were so filled with laughter that they forgot to collect rent; and the tenants were so amazed and wroth at the fall of their leader that they cashed up--or didn't, as the case happened. Scandal filled the air; the newspapers issued extras, and ten million housewives called the news over back fences.

And now at this distance it is very plain that the fuse was laid and fired by some one beside Captain O'Shea. The woman who was once his wife, O'Shea had not seen for five years, and was quite content in the snug arrangements he had in the interval made for himself.

When the divorce was granted without opposition, Justin McCarthy wrote, "Charles Stewart Parnell is well hated throughout Great Britain, but Captain O'Shea is despised."

The question has often been asked, "Who snatched Home Rule from Ireland just as she reached for it?" Opinions are divided, and I might say merged by most Irish people, thus: O'Shea, Parnell, Gladstone, Katharine O'Shea.

Fifteen years have softened Irish sentiment toward Parnell, and anywhere from Blarney to Balleck you will get into dire difficulties if you hint ill of Parnell. Gladstone and O'Shea are still unforgiven. In Cork I once spoke to a priest of Kitty O'Shea, and with a little needless acerbity the man of God corrected me and said, "You mean Mrs. Katharine Parnell!" And I apologized.

The facts are that no one snatched Home Rule from Ireland. Ireland pushed it from her. Had Ireland stood by Charles Parnell when it came out that he loved, and had loved for ten years, a most noble, intellectual, honest and excellent woman, Parnell would have still been the Irish Leader--the Uncrowned King. Gladstone did not desert the Irish Cause until the Irish had deserted Parnell. Then Gladstone followed their example--and gladly. Since then Home Rule for Ireland has been a joke.

The most persistent defamer of Charles Parnell never accused the man of promiscuous conduct, nor of being selfish and sensual in his habit of life. He loved this one woman, and never loved another. And when a scurrilous reporter, hiding behind anonymity, published a story to the effect that Katharine O'Shea had had other love-affairs, the publisher, growing alarmed, came out the following day with a disclaimer, thus:

"If Mrs. O'Shea has had other irregular experiences, they are, so far, unknown to the public."

It was an ungracious retraction--but a retraction still--and caused a few Irish bricks to find the publishers plate glass.

The Irish lost Home Rule by allowing themselves to be stampeded. Their English friends, the enemy, playing upon their prejudices, they became drunk with hate, and then their shillalahs resounded a tattoo upon the head of their leader. Nations and people who turn upon their best friends are too common to catalog.

In the "Westminster Review" for January, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-one, Elizabeth Cady Stanton says: "The spectacle of a whole nation hounding one man, and determined to administer summary punishment, is pitiful at a time when those who love their fellowmen are asking for all the best moral appliances and conditions for the reformation of mankind. Force, either in the form of bodily infliction or of mental lashing, has been abandoned by the experienced as evil and ineffective in all its attributes. Acting on this principle, what right has a nation to turn its whole engine of denunciation upon a human being for the violation of a personal unsettled question of morals?"

A great, noble and unswerving love between a man and a woman, mentally mated, is an unusual affair. That the Irish people should repudiate, scorn and spurn a man and a woman who possessed such a love is a criticism on their intelligence that needs no comment. But the world is fast reaching a point where it realizes that honesty, purity of purpose, loyalty and steadfastness in love fit people for leadership, if anything does or can, and that from such a relationship spring justice, freedom, charity, generosity and the love that suffereth long and is kind. There is no freedom on earth or in any star for those who deny freedom to others.

The people who desire political Home Rule must first of all learn to rule their own spirits, and be willing to grant to individuals the right and privilege of Home Rule in the home where love alone rules.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

From the time that O'Shea took his seat in Parliament, Parnell showed by his face and manner that he was a man with a rope tied to his foot. His health declined, he became apprehensive, nervous, and at times lost the perfect poise that had won for him the title of the "Uncrowned King." He had bargained with a man with whom no contract was sacred, and he was dealing with people as volatile and uncertain as Vesuvius.

"I have within my hand a Parliament for Ireland," said Parnell in a speech to a mob at Galway. "I have within my hand a Parliament for Ireland, and if you destroy me, you destroy Home Rule for Ireland!" And the Irish people destroyed Parnell. In this they had the assistance of Gladstone, who after years of bitter opposition to Parnell had finally been won over to Ireland's cause, not being able to disrupt it. When we can not down a strong man in fair fight, all is not lost--we can still join hands with him. When Captain O'Shea secured a divorce from his wife, naming Parnell as co-respondent, and Parnell practically pleaded guilty by making no defense, the rage against Parnell was so fierce that if he had appeared in Ireland, his life would have paid the forfeit.

Then, when in a few months he married the lady according to the Civil Code, but without Episcopal or Catholic sanction, the storm broke afresh, and a hypocritical world worked overtime trying to rival the Billingsgate Calendar. The newspapers employed watchers, who picketed the block where Parnell and his wife lived, and telegraphed to Christendom the time the lights were out, and whether Mr. Parnell appeared with a shamrock or a rose in his buttonhole. The facts that Mrs. Parnell wore her hair in curls, and smilingly hummed a tune as she walked to the corner, were construed into proof of brazen guilt and a desire to affront respectable society.

Gladstone was a strict Churchman, but he was also a man of the world. Parnell's offense was the offense committed by Lord Nelson, Lord Hastings, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Charles Dilke, Shakespeare, and most of those who had made the name and fame of England worldwide. Gladstone might have stood by Parnell and steadied the Nationalist Party until the storm of bigotry and prejudice abated; but he saw his chance to escape from a hopeless cause, and so he demanded the resignation of Parnell while the Irish were still rabid against the best friend they ever had. Feud and faction had discouraged Gladstone, and now was his chance to get out without either backing down or running away! By the stroke of a pen he killed the only man in Great Britain who rivaled him in power--the only Irishman worthy to rank with O'Connor and Grattan. It was an opportunity not to be lost--just to take the stand of virtue and lift up his hands in affected horror, instead of stretching out those hands to help a man whose sole offense was that he loved a woman with a love that counted not the cost, hesitated at no risk, and which eventually led not only to financial and political ruin, but to death itself.

Parnell died six months after his marriage, from nerve-wrack that had known no respite for ten years.

In half-apology for his turning upon Parnell, Gladstone once afterward said, "Home Rule for Ireland--what would she do with it anyway?" In this belief that Home Rule meant misrule, he may have been right. James Bryce, a sane and logical thinker, thought so, too. But this did not relieve Gladstone of the charge of owning a lumber-yard and putting up the price of plank when his friend fell overboard.

The ulster of virtue, put on and buttoned to the chin as an expedient move in times of social and political danger, is a garment still in vogue.

Says James Bryce:

To many Englishmen, the proposal to create an Irish Parliament seemed nothing more or less than a proposal to hand over to these men the government of Ireland, with all the opportunities thence arising to oppress the opposite party in Ireland and to worry England herself. It was all very well to urge that the tactics which the Nationalists had pursued when their object was to extort Home Rule would be dropped, because superfluous, when Home Rule had been granted; or to point out that an Irish Parliament would probably contain different men from those who had been sent to Westminster as Mr. Parnell's nominees. The internal condition of Ireland supplied more substantial grounds for alarm than English misrule.

Three-fourths of the people are Roman Catholics, one-fourth Protestants, and this Protestant fourth sub-divided into bodies not fond of one another, who have little community of sentiment. Besides the Scottish colony in Ulster, many English families have settled here and there through the country. They went further, and made the much bolder assumption that as such a Parliament would be chosen by electors, most of whom were Roman Catholics, it would be under the control of the Catholic priesthood, and hostile to Protestants. Thus they supposed that the grant of self-government to Ireland would mean the abandonment of the upper and wealthier class, the landlords and the Protestants, to the tender mercies of their enemies. The fact stood out that in Ireland two hostile factions had been contending for the last sixty years, and that the gift of self-government might enable one of them to tyrannize over the other. True, that party was the majority, and, according to the principles of democratic government, entitled therefore to prevail. The minority had the sympathy of the upper classes in England, because the minority contained the landlords. It had the sympathy of a large part of the middle class, because it contained the Protestants. There was another anticipation, another forecast of evils to follow, which told most of all upon English opinion. It was the notion that Home Rule was only a stage in the road to the complete separation of the two islands. Parnell's campaign diluted the greed of landlords, but Ireland, politically, is yet where she has been for two hundred years, governed by bureaucrats.


Elbert Hubbard