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Autobiographic Sketches By Thomas de Quincey Characters: 40227

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The decisive battle of Vinegar Hill took place at midsummer; and with that battle terminated the First Rebellion. Two months later, a French force, not making fully a thousand men, under the command of General Humbert, landed on the west coast of Ireland, and again roused the Irish peasantry to insurrection. This latter insurrection, and the invasion which aroused it, naturally had a peculiar interest for Lord Westport and myself, who, in our present abode of Westport House, were living in its local centre.

I, in particular, was led, by hearing on every side the conversation reverting to the dangers and tragic incidents of the era, separated from us by not quite two years, to make inquiries of every body who had personally participated in the commotions. Records there were on every side, and memorials even in our bed rooms, of this French visit; for, at one time, they had occupied Westport House in some strength. The largest town in our neighborhood was Castlebar, distant about eleven Irish miles. To this it was that the French addressed their very earliest efforts. Advancing rapidly, and with their usual style of theatrical confidence, they had obtained at first a degree of success which was almost surprising to their own insolent vanity, and which, long afterwards, became a subject of bitter mortification to our own army. Had there been at this point any energy at all corresponding to that of the enemy, or commensurate to the intrinsic superiority of our own troops in steadiness, the French would have been compelled to lay down their arms. The experience of those days, however, showed how deficient is the finest composition of an army, unless where its martial qualities have been developed by practice; and how liable is all courage, when utterly inexperienced to sudden panics. This gasconading advance, which would have foundered utterly against a single battalion of the troops which fought in 1812-13 amongst the Pyrenees, was here for the moment successful.

The bishop of this see, Dr. Stock, with his whole household, and, indeed, his whole pastoral charge, became, on this occasion, prisoners to the enemy. The republican head quarters were fixed for a time in the episcopal palace; and there it was that General Humbert and his staff lived in familiar intercourse with the bishop, who thus became well qualified to record (which he soon afterwards did in an anonymous pamphlet) the leading circumstances of the French incursion, and the consequent insurrection in Connaught, as well as the most striking features in the character and deportment of the republican officers. Riding over the scene of these transactions daily for some months, in company with Dr. Peter Browne, the Dean of Ferns, (an illegitimate son of the late Lord Altamont, and, therefore, half brother to the present,) whose sacred character had not prevented him from taking that military part which seemed, in those difficult moments, a duty of elementary patriotism laid upon all alike, I enjoyed many opportunities for checking the statements of the bishop. The small body of French troops which undertook this remote service had been detached in one half from the army of the Rhine; the other half had served under Napoleon in his first foreign campaign, viz., the Italian campaign of 1796, which accomplished the conquest of Northern Italy. Those from Germany showed, by their looks and their meagre condition, how much they had suffered; and some of them, in describing their hardships, told their Irish acquaintance that, during the seige of Metz, which had occurred in the previous winter of 1797, they had slept in holes made four feet below the surface of the snow. One officer declared solemnly that he had not once undressed, further than by taking off his coat, for a period of twelve months. The private soldiers had all the essential qualities fitting them for a difficult and trying service: "intelligence, activity, temperance, patience to a surprising degree, together with the exactest discipline." This is the statement of their candid and upright enemy. "Yet," says the bishop, "with all these martial qualities, if you except the grenadiers, they had nothing to catch the eye. Their stature, for the most part, was low, their complexion pale and yellow, their clothes much the worse for wear: to a superficial observer, they would have appeared incapable of enduring any hardship. These were the men, however, of whom it was presently observed, that they could be well content to live on bread or potatoes, to drink water, to make the stones of the street their bed, and to sleep in their clothes, with no covering but the canopy of heaven." "How vast," says Cicero, "is the revenue of Parsimony!" and, by a thousand degrees more striking, how celestial is the strength that descends upon the feeble through Temperance!

It may well be imagined in what terror the families of Killala heard of a French invasion, and the necessity of immediately receiving a republican army. As sans culottes, these men, all over Europe, had the reputation of pursuing a ferocious marauding policy; in fact, they were held little better than sanguinary brigands. In candor, it must be admitted that their conduct at Killala belied these reports; though, on the other hand, an obvious interest obliged them to a more pacific demeanor in a land which they saluted as friendly, and designed to raise into extensive insurrection. The French army, so much dreaded, at length arrived. The general and his staff entered the palace; and the first act of one officer, on coming into the dining room, was to advance to the sideboard, sweep all the plate into a basket, and deliver it to the bishop's butler, with a charge to carry it off to a place of security. [1]

The French officers, with the detachment left under their orders by the commander-in-chief, staid about one month at Killala. This period allowed opportunities enough for observing individual differences of character and the general tone of their manners. These opportunities were not thrown away upon the bishop; he noticed with a critical eye, and he recorded on the spot, whatever fell within his own experience. Had he, however, happened to be a political or courtier bishop, his record would, perhaps, have been suppressed; and, at any rate, it would have been colored by prejudice. As it was, I believe it to have been the honest testimony of an honest man; and, considering the minute circumstantiality of its delineations, I do not believe that, throughout the revolutionary war, any one document was made public which throws so much light on the quality and composition of the French republican armies. On this consideration I shall extract a few passages from the bishop's personal sketches.

The commander-in-chief of the French armament is thus delineated by the bishop:-

"Humbert, the leader of this singular body of men, was himself as extraordinary a personage as any in his army. Of a good height and shape, in the full vigor of life, prompt to decide, quick in execution, apparently master of his art, you could not refuse him the praise of a good officer, while his physiognomy forbade you to like him as a man. His eye, which was small and sleepy, cast a sidelong glance of insidiousness and even of cruelty; it was the eye of a cat preparing to spring upon her prey. His education and manners were indicative of a person sprung from the lower orders of society; though he knew how to assume, when it was convenient, the deportment of a gentleman. For learning, he had scarcely enough to enable him to write his name. His passions were furious; and all his behavior seemed marked with the character of roughness and insolence. A narrower observation of him, however, seemed to discover that much of this roughness was the result of art, being assumed with the view of extorting by terror a ready compliance with his commands. Of this truth the bishop himself was one of the first who had occasion to be made sensible."

The particular occasion here alluded to by the bishop arose out of the first attempts to effect the disembarkation of the military stores and equipments from the French shipping, as also to forward them when landed. The case was one of extreme urgency; and proportionate allowance must be made for the French general. Every moment might bring the British cruisers in sight,-two important expeditions had already been baffled in that way,-and the absolute certainty, known to all parties alike, that delay, under these circumstances, was tantamount to ruin; that upon a difference of ten or fifteen minutes, this way or that, might happen to hinge the whole issue of the expedition: such a consciousness gave unavoidably to every demur at this critical moment the color of treachery. Neither boats, nor carts, nor horses could be obtained; the owners most imprudently and selfishly retiring from that service. Such being the extremity, the French general made the bishop responsible for the execution of his orders; but the bishop had really no means to enforce this commission, and failed. Upon that, General Humbert threatened to send his lordship, together with his whole family, prisoners of war to France, and assumed the air of a man violently provoked. Here came the crisis for determining the bishop's weight amongst his immediate flock, and his hold upon their affections. One great bishop, not far off, would, on such a trial, have been exultingly consigned to his fate: that I well know; for Lord Westport and I, merely as his visitors, were attacked in the dusk so fiercely with stones, that we were obliged to forbear going out unless in broad daylight. Luckily the Bishop of Killala had shown himself a Christian pastor, and now he reaped the fruits of his goodness. The public selfishness gave way when the danger of the bishop was made known. The boats, the carts, the horses were now liberally brought in from their lurking-places; the artillery and stores were landed; and the drivers of the carts, &c., were paid in drafts upon the Irish Directory, which (if it were an aerial coin) served at least to mark an unwillingness in the enemy to adopt violent modes of hostility, and ultimately became available in the very character assigned to them by the French general; not, indeed, as drafts upon the rebel, but as claims upon the equity of the English government.

The officer left in command at Killala, when the presence of the commander-in-chief was required elsewhere, bore the name of Charost. He was a lieutenant colonel, aged forty-five years, the son of a Parisian watchmaker. Having been sent over at an early age to the unhappy Island of St. Domingo, with a view to some connections there by which he hoped to profit, he had been fortunate enough to marry a young woman who brought him a plantation for her dowry, which was reputed to have yielded him a revenue of £2000 sterling per annum. But this, of course, all went to wreck in one day, upon that mad decree of the French convention which proclaimed liberty, without distinction, without restrictions, and without gradations, to the unprepared and ferocious negroes. [2] Even his wife and daughter would have perished simultaneously with his property but for English protection, which delivered them from the black sabre, and transferred them to Jamaica. There, however, though safe, they were, as respected Colonel Charost, unavoidably captives; and "his eyes would fill," says the bishop," when he told the family that he had not seen these dear relatives for six years past, nor even had tidings of them for the last three years." On his return to France, finding that to have been a watchmaker's son was no longer a bar to the honors of the military profession, he had entered the army, and had risen by merit to the rank which he now held. "He had a plain, good understanding. He seemed careless or doubtful of revealed religion, but said that he believed in God; was inclined to think that there must be a future state; and was very sure that, while he lived in this world, it was his duty to do all the good to his fellow-creatures that he could. Yet what he did not exhibit in his own conduct he appeared to respect in others; for he took care that no noise or disturbance should be made in the castle (i.e., the bishop's palace) on Sundays, while the family, and many Protestants from the town, were assembled in the library at their devotions.

"Boudet, the next in command, was a captain of foot, twenty-eight years old. His father, he said, was still living, though sixty-seven years old when he was born. His height was six feet two inches. In person, complexion, and gravity, he was no inadequate representation of the Knight of La Mancha, whose example he followed in a recital of his own prowess and wonderful exploits, delivered in measured language and an imposing seriousness of aspect." The bishop represents him as vain and irritable, but distinguished by good feeling and principle. Another officer was Ponson, described as five feet six inches high, lively and animated in excess, volatile, noisy, and chattering à l'outrance. "He was hardy," says the bishop, "and patient to admiration of labor and want of rest." And of this last quality the following wonderful illustration is given: "A continued watching of five days and nights together, when the rebels were growing desperate for prey and mischief, did not appear to sink his spirits in the smallest degree."

Contrasting with the known rapacity of the French republican army in all its ranks the severest honesty of these particular officers, we must come to the conclusion, either that they had been selected for their tried qualities of abstinence and self-control, or else that the perilous tenure of their footing in Ireland had coerced them into forbearance. Of this same Ponson, the last described, the bishop declares that "he was strictly honest, and could not bear the absence of this quality in others; so that his patience was pretty well tried by his Irish allies. "At the same time, he expressed his contempt for religion in a way which the bishop saw reason for ascribing to vanity-"the miserable affectation of appearing worse than he really was." One officer there was, named Truc, whose brutality recalled the impression, so disadvantageous to French republicanism, which else had been partially effaced by the manners and conduct of his comrades. To him the bishop (and not the bishop only, but many of my own informants, to whom Truc had been familiarly known) ascribes "a front of brass, an incessant fraudful smile, manners altogether vulgar, and in his dress and person a neglect of cleanliness, even beyond the affected negligence of republicans."

Truc, however, happily, was not leader; and the principles or the policy of his superiors prevailed. To them, not merely in their own conduct, but also in their way of applying that influence which they held over their most bigoted allies, the Protestants of Connaught were under deep obligations. Speaking merely as to property, the honest bishop renders the following justice to the enemy: "And here it would be an act of great injustice to the excellent discipline constantly maintained by these invaders while they remained in our town, not to remark, that, with every temptation to plunder, which the time and the number of valuable articles within their reach presented to them in the bishop's palace, from a sideboard of plate and glasses, a hall filled with hats, whips, and greatcoats, as well of the guests as of the family, not a single particular of private property was found to have been carried away, when the owners, after the first fright, came to look for their effects, which was not for a day or two after the landing." Even in matters of delicacy the same forbearance was exhibited: "Beside the entire use of other apartments, during the stay of the French in Killala, the attic story, containing a library and three bed chambers, continued sacred to the bishop and his family. And so scrupulous was the delicacy of the French not to disturb the female part of the house, that not one of them was ever seen to go higher than the middle floor, except on the evening of the success at Castlebar, when two officers begged leave to carry to the family the news of the battle; and seemed a little mortified that the news was received with an air of dissatisfaction." These, however, were not the weightiest instances of that eminent service which the French had it in their power to render on this occasion. The royal army behaved ill in every sense. Liable to continual panics in the field,-panics which, but for the overwhelming force accumulated, and the discretion of Lord Cornwallis, would have been fatal to the good cause,-the royal forces erred as unthinkingly, in the abuse of any momentary triumph. Forgetting that the rebels held many hostages in their hands, they once recommenced the old system practised in Wexford and Kildare-of hanging and shooting without trial, and without a thought of the horrible reprisals that might be adopted. These reprisals, but for the fortunate influence of the French commanders, and but for their great energy in applying that influence according to the exigencies of time and place, would have been made: it cost the whole weight of the French power, their influence was stretched almost to breaking, before they could accomplish their purpose of neutralizing the senseless cruelty of the royalists, and of saving the trembling Protestants. Dreadful were the anxieties of these moments; and I myself heard persons, at a distance of nearly two years, declare that their lives hung at that time by a thread; and that, but for the hasty approach of the lord lieutenant by forced marches, that thread would have snapped. "We heard with panic," said they, "of the madness which characterized the proceedings of our soi-disant friends; and, for any chance of safety, unavoidably we looked only to our nominal enemies-the staff of the French army."

One story was still current, and very frequently repeated, at the time of my own residence upon the scene of these transactions. It would not be fair to mention it, without saying, at the same time, that the bishop, whose discretion was so much impeached by the affair, had the candor to blame himself most heavily, and always applauded the rebel for the lesson he had given him. The case was this: Day after day the royal forces had been accumulating upon military posts in the neighborhood of Killala, and could be descried from elevated stations in that town. Stories travelled simultaneously to Killala, every hour, of the atrocities which marked their advance; many, doubtless, being fictions, either of blind hatred, or of that ferocious policy which sought to make the rebels desperate, by tempting them into the last extremities of guilt, but, unhappily, too much countenanced as to their general outline, by excesses on the royal part, already proved, and undeniable. The ferment and the anxiety increased every hour amongst the rebel occupants of Killala. The French had no power to protect, beyond the moral one of their influence as allies; and, in the very crisis of this alarming situation, a rebel came to the bishop with the news that the royal cavalry was at that moment advancing from Sligo, and could be traced along the country by the line of blazing houses which accompanied their march. The bishop doubted this, and expressed his doubt. "Come with me," said the rebel. It was a matter of policy to yield, and his lordship went. They ascended together the Needle Tower Hill, from the summit of which the bishop now discovered that the fierce rebel had spoken but too truly. A line of smoke and fire ran over the country in the rear of a strong patrol detached from the king's forces. The moment was critical; the rebel's eye expressed the unsettled state of his feelings; and, at that instant, the imprudent bishop utterred a sentiment which, to his dying day, he could not forget. "They," said he, meaning the ruine

d houses, "are only wretched cabins." The rebel mused, and for a few moments seemed in self-conflict-a dreadful interval to the bishop, who became sensible of his own extreme imprudence the very moment after the words had escaped him. However, the man contented himself with saying, after a pause, "A poor man's cabin is to him as dear as a palace." It is probable that this retort was far from expressing the deep moral indignation at his heart, though his readiness of mind failed to furnish him with any other more stinging; and, in such cases, all depends upon the first movement of vindictive feeling being broken. The bishop, however, did not forget the lesson he had received; nor did he fail to blame himself most heavily, not so much for his imprudence as for his thoughtless adoption of a language expressing an aristocratic hauteur that did not belong to his real character. There was, indeed, at that moment no need that fresh fuel should be applied to the irritation of the rebels; they had already declared their intention of plundering the town; and, as they added, "in spite of the French," whom they now regarded, and openly denounced, as "abetters of the Protestants," much more than as their own allies.

Justice, however, must be done to the rebels as well as to their military associates. If they were disposed to plunder, they were found generally to shrink from bloodshed and cruelty, and yet from no want of energy or determination. "The peasantry never appeared to want animal courage," says the bishop, "for they flocked together to meet danger whenever it was expected. Had it pleased Heaven to be as liberal to them of brains as of hands, it is not easy to say to what length of mischief they might have proceeded; but they were all along unprovided with leaders of any ability." This, I believe, was true; and yet it would be doing poor justice to the Connaught rebels, nor would it be drawing the moral truly as respects this aspect of the rebellion, if their abstinence from mischief, in its worst form, were to be explained out of this defect in their leaders. Nor is it possible to suppose that the bishop's meaning, though his words seem to tend that way. For he himself elsewhere notices the absence of all wanton bloodshed as a feature of this Connaught rebellion most honorable in itself to the poor misguided rebels, and as distinguishing it very remarkably from the greater insurrection so recently crushed in the centre and the east. "It is a circumstance," says he, "worthy of particular notice, that, during the whole time of this civil commotion, not a single drop of blood was shed by the Connaught rebels, except in the field of war. It is true, the example and influence of the French went a great way to prevent sanguinary excesses. But it will not be deemed fair to ascribe to this cause alone the forbearance of which we were witnesses, when it is considered what a range of country lay at the mercy of the rebels for several days after the French power was known to be at an end."

To what, then, are we to ascribe the forbearance of the Connaught men, so singularly contrasted with the hideous excesses of their brethren in the east? Solely to the different complexion (so, at least, I was told) of the policy pursued by government. In Wexford, Kildare, Meath, Dublin, &c., it had been judged advisable to adopt, as a sort of precautionary policy, not for the punishment, but for the discovery of rebellious purposes, measures of the direst severity; not merely free quarterings of the soldiery, with liberty (or even an express commission) to commit outrages and insults upon all who were suspected, upon all who refused to countenance such measures, upon all who presumed to question their justice, but even, under color of martial law, to inflict croppings, and pitch cappings, half hangings, and the torture of "picketings;" to say nothing of houses burned, and farms laid waste-things which were done daily, and under military orders; the purpose avowed being either vengeance for some known act of insurrection, or the determination to extort confessions. Too often, however, as may well be supposed, in such utter disorganization of society, private malice, either personal or on account of old family feuds, was the true principle at work. And many were thus driven, by mere frenzy of just indignation, or, perhaps, by mere desperation, into acts of rebellion which else they had not meditated. Now, in Connaught, at this time, the same barbarous policy was no longer pursued; and then it was seen, that, unless maddened by ill usage, the peasantry were capable of great self-control. There was no repetition of the Enniscorthy massacres; and it was impossible to explain honestly why there was none, without, at the same time, reflecting back upon that atrocity some color of palliation.

These things considered, it must be granted that there was a spirit of unjustifiable violence in the royal army on achieving their triumph. It is shocking, however, to observe the effect of panic to irritate the instincts of cruelty and sanguinary violence, even in the gentlest minds. I remember well, on occasion of the memorable tumults in Bristol, (autumn of 1831,) that I, for my part, could not read, without horror and indignation, one statement, (made, I believe, officially at that time,) which yet won the cordial approbation of some ladies who had participated in the panic. I allude to that part of the report which represents several of the dragoons as having dismounted, resigned the care of their horses to persons in the street, and pursued the unhappy fugitives, criminals, undoubtedly, but no longer dangerous, up stairs and down stairs, to the last nook of their retreat. The worst criminals could not be known and identified as such; and even in a case where they could, vengeance so hellish and so unrelenting was not justified by houses burned or by momentary panics raised. Scenes of the same description were beheld upon the first triumph of the royal cause in Connaught; and but for Lord Cornwallis, equally firm before his success and moderate in its exercise, they would have prevailed more extensively. The poor rebels were pursued with a needless ferocity on the recapture of Killala. So hotly, indeed, did some of the conquerors hang upon the footsteps of the fugitives, that both rushed almost simultaneously-pursuers and pursued-into the terror-stricken houses of Killala; and, in some instances, the ball meant for a rebel told with mortal effect upon a royalist. Here, indeed, as in other cases of this rebellion, in candor it should be mentioned, that the royal army was composed chiefly of militia regiments. Not that militia, or regiments composed chiefly of men who had but just before volunteered for the line, have not often made unexceptionable soldiers; but in this case there was no reasonable proportion of veterans, or men who had seen any service. The Bishop of Killala was assured by an intelligent officer of the king's army that the victors were within a trifle of being beaten. I was myself told by a gentlemen who rode as a volunteer on that day, that, to the best of his belief, it was merely a mistaken order of the rebel chiefs causing a false application of a select reserve at a very critical moment, which had saved his own party from a ruinous defeat. It may be added, upon almost universal testimony, that the recapture of Killala was abused, not only as respected the defeated rebels, but also as respected the royalists of that town. "The regiments that came to their assistance, being all militia, seemed to think that they had a right to take the property they had been the means of preserving, and to use it as their own whenever they stood in need of it. Their rapacity differed in no respect from that of the rebels, except that they seized upon things with less of ceremony and excuse, and that his majesty's soldiers were incomparably superior to the Irish traitors in dexterity at stealing. In consequence, the town grew very weary of their guests, and were glad to see them march off to other quarters."

The military operations in this brief campaign were discreditable, in the last degree, to the energy, to the vigilance, and to the steadiness of the Orange army. Humbert had been a leader against the royalists of La Vendée, as well as on the Rhine; consequently he was an ambidextrous enemy-fitted equally for partisan warfare, and for the tactics of regular armies. Keenly alive to the necessity, under his circumstances, of vigor and despatch, after occupying Killala on the evening of the 22d August, (the day of his disembarkation,) where the small garrison of 50 men (yeomen and fencibles) had made a tolerable resistance, and after other trifling affairs, he had, on the 26th, marched against Castlebar with about 800 of his own men, and perhaps 1200 to 1500 of the rebels. Here was the advanced post of the royal army. General Lake (the Lord Lake of India) and Major General Hutchinson (the Lord Hutchinson of Egypt) had assembled upon this point a respectable force; some say upwards of 4000, others not more than 1100. The disgraceful result is well known: the French, marching all night over mountain roads, and through one pass which was thought impregnable, if it had been occupied by a battalion instead of a captain's guard, surprised Castlebar on the morning of the 27th. Surprised, I say, for no word short of that can express the circumstances of the case. About two o'clock in the morning, a courier had brought intelligence of the French advance; but from some unaccountable obstinacy, at head quarters, such as had proved fatal more than either once or twice in the Wexford campaign, his news was disbelieved; yet, if disbelieved, why therefore neglected? Neglected, however, it was; and at seven, when the news proved to be true, the royal army was drawn out in hurry and confusion to meet the enemy. The French, on their part, seeing our strength, looked for no better result to themselves than summary surrender; more especially as our artillery was well served, and soon began to tell upon their ranks. Better hopes first arose, as they afterwards declared, upon observing that many of the troops fired in a disorderly way, without waiting for the word of command; upon this they took new measures: in a few minutes a panic arose; General Lake ordered a retreat; and then, in spite of all that could be done by the indignant officers, the flight became irretrievable. The troops reached Tuam, thirty miles distant, on that same day; and one small party of mounted men actually pushed on to Athlone, which is above sixty miles from the field of battle. Fourteen pieces of artillery were lost on this occasion. However, it ought to be mentioned that some serious grounds appeared afterwards for suspecting treachery; most of those who had been reported "missing" having been afterwards observed in the ranks of the enemy, where it is remarkable enough (or perhaps not so remarkable, as simply implying how little they were trusted by their new allies, and for that reason how naturally they were put forward on the most dangerous services) that these deserters perished to a man. Meantime, the new lord lieutenant, having his foot constantly in the stirrup, marched from Dublin without a moment's delay. By means of the grand canal, he made a forced march of fifty-six English miles in two days; which brought him to Kilbeggan on the 27th. Very early on the following morning, he received the unpleasant news from Castlebar. Upon this he advanced to Athlone, meeting every indication of a routed and panic-struck army. Lord Lake was retreating upon that town, and thought himself (it is said) so little secure, even at this distance from the enemy, that the road from Tuam was covered with strong patrols. On the other hand, in ludicrous contrast to these demonstrations of alarm, (supposing them to be related without exaggeration,) the French had never stirred from Castlebar. On the 4th of September, Lord Cornwallis was within fourteen miles of that place. Humbert, however, had previously dislodged towards the county of Longford. His motive for this movement was to cooperate with an insurrection in that quarter, which had just then broken out in strength. He was now, however, hemmed in by a large army of perhaps 25,000 men, advancing from all points; and a few moves were all that remained of the game, played with whatever skill. Colonel Vereker, with about 300 of the Limerick militia, first came up with him, and skirmished very creditably (September 6) with part, or (as the colonel always maintained) with the whole of the French army. Other affairs of trivial importance followed; and at length, on the 8th of September, General Humbert surrendered with his whole army, now reduced to 844 men, of whom 96 were officers; having lost since their landing at Killala exactly 288 men. The rebels were not admitted to any terms; they were pursued and cut down without mercy. However, it is pleasant to know, that, from their agility in escaping, this cruel policy was defeated: not much above 500 perished; and thus were secured to the royal party the worst results of vengeance the fiercest, and of clemency the most undistinguishing, without any one advantage of either. Some districts, as Laggan and Eris, were treated with martial rigor; the cabins being burned, and their unhappy tenants driven out into the mountains for the winter. Rigor, therefore, there was; for the most humane politicians, erroneously, as one must believe, fancied it necessary for the army to leave behind some impressions of terror amongst the insurgents. It is certain, however, that, under the counsels of Lord Cornwallis, the standards of public severity were very much lowered, as compared with the previous examples in Wexford.

The tardiness and slovenly execution of the whole service, meantime, was well illustrated in what follows:-

Killala was not delivered from rebel hands until the 23rd of September, notwithstanding the general surrender had occurred on the 8th; and then only in consequence of an express from the bishop to General Trench, hastening his march. The situation of the Protestants was indeed critical. Humbert had left three French officers to protect the place, but their influence gradually had sunk to a shadow. And plans of pillage, with all its attendant horrors, were daily debated. Under these circumstances, the French officers behaved honorably and courageously. "Yet," says the bishop, "the poor commandant had no reason to be pleased with the treatment he had received immediately after the action. He had returned to the castle for his sabre, and advanced with it to the gate, in order to deliver it up to some English officer, when it was seized and forced from his hand by a common soldier of Fraser's. He came in, got another sword, which he surrendered to an officer, and turned to reenter the hall. At this moment a second Highlander burst through the gate, in spite of the sentinel placed there by the general, and fired at the commandant with an aim that was near proving fatal, for the ball passed under his arm, piercing a very thick door entirely through, and lodging in the jamb. Had we lost the worthy man by such an accident, his death would have spoiled the whole relish of our present enjoyment. He complained, and received an apology for the soldier's behavior from his officer. Leave was immediately granted to the three French officers (left behind by Humbert at Killala) to keep their swords, their effects, and even their bed chambers in the house."

* * * * *

Note applying generally to this chapter on the Second Irish Rebellion.-Already in 1833, when writing this 10th chapter, I felt a secret jealously (intermittingly recurring) that possibly I might have fallen under a false bias at this point of my youthful memorials. I myself had seen reason to believe-indeed, sometimes I knew for certain-that, in the personalities of Irish politics from Grattan downwards, a spirit of fiery misrepresentation prevailed, which made it hopeless to seek for any thing resembling truth. If in any quarter you found candor and liberality, that was because no interest existed in any thing Irish, and consequently no real information. Find out any man that could furnish you with information such as presupposed an interest in Ireland, and inevitably he turned out a bigoted partisan. There cannot be a stronger proof of this than the ridiculous libels and literary caricatures current even in England, through one whole generation, against the late Lord Londonderry-a most able and faithful manager of our English foreign interests in times of unparalleled difficulty. Already in the closing years of the last century, his Irish policy had been inextricably falsified: subsequently, when he came to assume a leading part in the English Parliament, the efforts to calumniate him became even more intense; and it is only within the last five years that a reaction of public opinion on this subject has been strong enough to reach even those among his enemies who were enlightened men. Liberal journals (such, e. g., as the "North British Review") now recognize his merits. Naturally it was impossible that the civil war of 1798 in Ireland, and the persons conspicuously connected with it, should escape this general destiny of Irish politics. I wrote, therefore, originally under a jealousy that partially I might have been duped. At present, in reviewing what I had written twenty years ago, I feel this jealousy much more keenly. I shrink from the bishop's malicious portraitures of our soldiers, sometimes of their officers, as composing a licentious army, without discipline, without humanity, without even steady courage. Has any man a right to ask our toleration for pictures so romantic as these? Duped perhaps I was myself: and it was natural that I should be so under the overwhelming influences oppressing any right that I could have at my early age to a free, independent judgment. But I will not any longer assist in duping the reader; and I will therefore suggest to him two grounds of vehement suspicion against all the insidious colorings given to his statements by the bishop:-

1st. I beg to remind the reader that this army of Mayo, in 1798, so unsteady and so undisciplined, if we believe the bishop, was in part the army of Egypt in the year 1801: how would the bishop have answered that?

2dly. The bishop allows great weight in treating any allegations whatever against the English army or the English government, to the moderation, equity, and self-control claimed for the Irish peasantry as notorious elements in their character. Meantime he forgets this doctrine most conspicuously at times; and represents the safety of the Protestants against pillage, or even against a spirit of massacre, as entirely dependent on the influence of the French. Whether for property or life, it was to the French that the Irish Protestants looked for protection: not I it is, but the bishop, on whom that representation will be found to rest.


[1] As this happened to be the truth, the bishop did right to report it. Otherwise, his lordship does not seem to have had much acquaintance with the French scenical mode of arranging their public acts for purposes of effect. Cynical people (like myself, when looking back to this anecdote from the year 1833) were too apt to remark that this plate and that basket were carefully numbered; that the episcopal butler (like Pharaoh's) was liable, alas! to be hanged in case the plate were not forthcoming on a summons from head quarters; and that the Killala "place of security" was kindly strengthened, under the maternal anxiety of the French republic, by doubling the French sentries.

[2] I leave this passage as it was written originally under an impression then universally current. But, from what I have since read on this subject, I beg to be considered as speaking very doubtfully on the true causes of the St. Domingo disasters.

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