« ForrigeFortsæt »
Desultory observations on historical writing. Its difficulties ex
treme. Discrepancies and falsehoods. Irish history more difficult, and more replete with fraud, than any other. President and Little Belt. Enormous errors in Temple, Borlase, Clarendon, Rapin, Warner, ge. To the reader of Irish, more than any other history, extreme caution is necessary. Adequate reasons for the falsehood and corruption of Irish history.
“There is but little respite from exasperating oppression and unmerited cruelly. The eye wanders over a dreary scene of desolation without a single point on which it can rest. The heart of the Philanthropist sinks under a hopeless despondency; and passively yields to the unchristian and impious reflexion, that the poor people of Ireland are a devoted race, whom Provi. dence has abandoned to the malignant ingenuity of an insatiable enemy."
LAWLESS. “I think I can hardly overrate the malignity of the principles of the protestant ascendancy, as they affect Ireland."-BURKE, V. 232.
OF all the modes of employing the intellectual powers of man for the benefit of the great family to which he belongs, there is probably none superior, in its beneficial tendency, to history, properly executed. When thus executed, and judiciously studied, it is fraught with advantages of the most signal kind. Its operation in the moral, bears a strong analogy to that of the sun in the natural world. It sheds beneficent rays of light around, and dispels those mists and darkness which bewilder the traveller, and obscure his path. It unerringly points
out, to governments and people, the career of rectitude and safety. The wisdom and folly of our predecessors, placed before our eyes, clearly display the course we ought to pursue, as well as the conduct we ought to shun; and the most characteristic difference between a sound and a pettifogging statesman, is, that the warning voice of history has its due share of influence on the former, while it sounds in vain in the ears of the latter.
But when this species of writing is made subservient to the sinister purposes of a party or faction, as is frequently the case—when servile fear, or a sordid and mercenary thirst of gain, or any other sinister motive induces a writer to calculate his work to palliate their enormities, or to perpetuate their power—when wicked and profligate men, who ought to be held up to the execration of mankind, are pourtrayed as objects of esteem and veneration when actions worthy of gibbets and guillotines, are blazoned forth as proofs of patriotism and public spirit-when fraud and falsehood guide the pen
or indolence neglects to unbar the entrance into those stores, whence alone the truth can be derived,—then the valuable purposes of history are perverted—the fountains of correct information corrupted and poisoned--an undue bias is given to the public mind and the guilty authors have a fair and indisputable claim to the most unqualified censure.
Under this censure fall the major part of those who have written on the affairs of Ireland, whether in the imposing form of histories, or political pamphlets, and anniversary sermons.*
The leading object with most of them has been to foster the most illiberal and unfounded prejudices,-to support and justify the oppression of a lordly aristocracy, which, for more than a century and a half, has, with the most unfeeling tyranny, rode rough-shod over the great mass of the nation, t-and to hold up that mass as objects of abhorrence. There are exceptions: a few writers have dared to utter bold truths, however unpalatable to this aristocracy. But it is a melancholy fact, that so inveterate has Prejudice been on these topics, and so difficult is it to shake off her iron yoke, that even well-intentioned writers on Irish affairs have fallen into many of the most egregious errors of their predecessors.
I shall give one instance, though rather out of place here. The least exceptionable English historian of the calamitous period of the civil war of 1641, is the Rev. Ferdinando Warner. He has, however, fallen into very glaring and numerous errors. In the account, for instance, which he gives of the massacre, (as it is termed,) of 1641, he colours as highly, and uses almost as extravagant terms, as those who asserted that there were one hundred and fifty-four thousand
00000000 * For above a century, the talents of numbers of clergymen of the established and presbyterian churches in Ireland were employed, through the medium of anniversary sermons, to perpetuate and increase the rancour and hostility instilled from the cradle into the tender minds of the different denominations of Protestants against their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, which they carry to the grave, many of them across an ocean three thousand miles in extent. The store. house, whence are derived these incendiary weapons, has been the " thirty-two volumes” of depositions, deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, on which Dr. Warner pronounces this sentence of condemnation: “ There is no credit to be given to any thing that was said by these people, which had not other evidence to confirm it. And the reason why so many idle tales were registered of, what this body heard another body say, as to swell the collection to two and thirty thick volumes in folio, closely written, it is easier to conjecture than it is to commend."1
+ This refers to the barbarous and piratical code, enacted for the ostensible purpose of "preventing the growth of Popery,” a system admirably calculated to oppress and impoverish, as well as brutalize and demoralize, the mass of the nation, and enslave them to the aristocracy or oligarchy that ruled the land ; to the development of the atrocious wickedness of which code I shall dedicate one or two chapters.
murdered in three months; or as others, who carried the number to three hundred thousand; or as Milton, who extends it to above six hundred thousand !* And yet, wonderful to tell, when, towards the close of his work, he enters on the examination of the evidence, he finds it so ridiculous and inadmissible, that he rejects nineteen-twentieths of it, and reduces the whole number murdered to "four thousand and twenty eight!!!". Thus, his facts not only do not warrant his inferences, but absolutely destroy them ; for it is perfectly obvious, that if there were but about four thousand murdered, the num
* Few, even of the learned, know this fact respecting Milton, which displays such an awful disregard of truth, as attaches an eternal blot on his memory. The reader may readily conceive what poignant distress was excited by the discovery of a procedure so diametrically opposite to the general character of Milton, whom we are taught, from infancy, to regard as ranking among the best of men. But, after all, it only adds one to the numberless proofs already before the world, of the fallibility of human nature, and evinces that he was but a mere man, and, so far as respects this case, either grossly deceived, or a gross deceiver ;-there is no other alternative and a liberal examination will more readily incline us to place in the latter than in the former class, the man who could, in cold blood, to pander to the purposes of a party, intimate an opinion, that there were above six hundred thousand Protestants massacred in Ireland, at a period when the whole population was only 1,466,000, and when the Protestants were but as two to eleven of the Roman Catholics.
This statement of the Massacre by Milton, I have taken from Harris's historical account of the life and writings of Charles I.* in these words—"Milton in the second edition of his Iconoclastes, has the following passage
“The rebellion and horrid massacre of English Protestants in Ireland to the amount of 154,000 in the province of Ulster only, by their own computation ; which, added to the other three, makes up the total sum of that waughter, in all likelihood, four times as great."
Let it be observed, however, that there are in the Philadelphia Library, two editions of Milton's works complete, dated 1738 and 1753, in both of which the latter part of the passage, in Italics, is omitted.
We are therefore reduced to this dilemma :-either Harris was guilty of a base fraud and literary forgery, or Milton stated the falsehood, as above quoted; but as Harris was a man of respectable character, and as, moreover, his work has passed the ordeal of criticism in England, the former supposition cannot be admitted, Indeed the supposition of such a fraud would be to the last degree incredible. The only conclusion that follows, is, that the passage is fairly quoted by Harris; and that Milton, ashamed of the monstrous and extravagant legend, to which he had lent the sanction of his name, struck it out, after the second edition of his work. This recantation extenuates the crime, but by no means does away the original guilt of the criminal.
3 Petty, 312
* Page 337. London, 1758.
berless cruelties he so elaborately pourtrays could not possibly have taken place.
In the whole range of history, there is not probably a period that holds out stronger inducements for discussion, that affords a more fertile field, but that is attended with more difficulty,* than that of Ireland, during the first half of the seventeenth century, to which I principally wish to call the attention of the reader.
But the sinister views or the indolence of historians, are by no means the only rocks on which history, so far as its noble and legitimate purposes are concerned, is in danger of shipwreck. There are various others, equally formidable. With the most enlightened mind, and the porest intentions, the task of the bistorian is extremely arduous; and he will, for want of proper charts, be occasionally, perhaps frequently, driven upon the shoals and quicksands of error and falsehood. So much of the real character of events, and of the actors in them, depends on numberless minute circumstances, which elude observation, or are liable to extraordinary misconception, that it is obvious, historians are often obliged to substitute conjecture for fact; and hence profound observers have styled histories - splendid romances;" to which designation unfortunately a large portion of them are fairly entitled.
In the accounts given of the same occurrences, by cotemporaneous writers, of adverse parties or hostile nations, there is often such a total discrepancy, that they hardly agree in any thing but the dates and names of persons and places; were these stricken out, it could not be conceived that the narratives had reference to the same events. And the most extraordinay trait in the affair is, that these contradictory and irreconcileable accounts are frequently bolstered up, on both sides, by the solemnity of appeals to heaven, in the form of oaths, taken by persons, who, from their standing in society, ought to be above the suspicion, not merely of perjury, but of the slightest departure from truth.
As one appropriate example is of more avail than a long train of reasoning, I wish to call the reader's attention to a striking and recent case, which places the difficulty I have stated in the strongest point of light, and cannot fail to impress him with a clear idea of its serious importance. On the 16th of May, 1811, a rencontre took place between two vessels of war, Ainerican and English, the Presi
* This difficulty requires explanation. The powerand influence of the oligarchy in Ireland, which triumphantly styles itself, “ the Protestant ascendancy," have been erected on the basis of the frauds of this portion of the history of Ireland, whereby they have been enabled to enslave, oppress, and plunder their fellow subjects at their pleasure: and “Great is the Diana of Ephesus," whenever the craft was in danger,” by any serious efforts to dispel the mists of prejudice, they have spared neither pains nor expense to counteract the Godlike purpose, and to perpetuate the falsehoods, on the basis of which their predominance was originally established. Their most sacred maxim, like that of all other oppressors, has been-Divide et impera.
dent and Little Belt, in which the latter lost a number of men, and was in imminent danger of sinking. In every material fact, the ac, counts of the commanders were entirely different; and to such an extraordinary degree, that there is no room to ascribe the discordance to mistake. There must have been clear, deliberate, and disgraceful falsehood on one side or the other. There is no other alternative.
Commodore Rodgers stated, that he hailed first,--that his inquiries what was the name of the vessel, &c. were returned by similar inquiries, and that, when he repeated his hail, he was saluted by a shot, which he of course returned ;-that then three others were fired by the Little Belt, which were followed by the rest of her broadside, and all her musketry;--that he then“ gave a general order to fire," which, in " from four to six minutes,” partially silenced the guns of his antagonist, and induced the commodore to order a cessation of firing ;-that, in four minutes, the fire was renewed by the Little Belt, and returned by the President with so much effect, that the gaff and colours of the former were down, her mainsail-yard upon the cap, and her fire silenced.
Captain Bingham, on the contrary, stated, that he first hailed the President, of which there was no notice taken ;-that he was hailed afterwards by that vessel, and the inquiry accompanied by “ a broadside," which was “instantly returned.” He adds, “ the action then became general, and continued for three quarters of an hour, when the President ceased firing, and appeared to be on fire.” “He was,” he adds,“ obliged to desist from firing,” that is to say, from the attack on the President, as the latter vessel “ falling off," his guns 6 would not bear on her.” However quixotic and ludicrous it may appear, the inference is not overstrained, that he wished it to be understood that the President had escaped from him!
The discrepancy here is extreme. Each party charges the other with the original offence of the aggression. This is all-important The American commander states, that, on the first rencontre, he silenced the Little Belt in from four to six minutes, and, on the second, in from three to five: whereas, according to captain Bingham, the action continued three quarters of an hour,” and was discontinued by commodore Rodgers, whose vessel was on fire;-and he, [captain B.] was disabled from pursuing the President, in consequence of the state of his sails and rigging. To cap the climax, the depositions of a number of the officers and men on both sides were taken, and appeared to confirm these contradictory accounts; so that, to gross and revolting falsehood, is added barefaced perjury, on one side or the other. It is wholly irrelevant to my purpose to inquire where the falsification rested. Subsequent events, however, have shed amply adequate light upon the subject.
This strong and pointed case, merits the most serious attention of the reader. To the falsehood and perjury involved in it, there were no extraordinary temptations, except on the part of the aggressing commander. It might have been of great importance, indeed, to him to exonerate himself from the criminality of the aggression, in order to escape the danger of being cashiered: but the officers and men had no such temptation; nor is it easy to perceive what temptation they could have had to the commission of such a heinous offence.