Irish Race in the Past and the Present
Aug. J. Thebaud
Part 2 out of 14
Before Columba's time even the Church had become reconciled to
the bards and harpers; and, according to a beautiful legend,
Patrick himself had allowed Oisin, or Ossian, and his followers,
to sing the praises of ancient heroes. But Columbkill completed
the reconciliation of the religious spirit with the bardic
influence. Music and poetry were thenceforth identified with
ecclesiastical life. Monks and grave bishops played on the harp
in the churches, and it is said that this strange spectacle
surprised the first Norman invaders of Ireland. To use the words
of Montalembert, so well adapted to our subject: "Irish poetry,
which was in the days of Patrick and Columba so powerful and so
popular, has long undergone, in the country of Ossian, the same
fate as the religion of which these great saints were the apostles.
Rooted, like it, in the heart of a conquered people, and like it
proscribed and persecuted with an unwearying vehemence, it has
come ever forth anew from the bloody furrow in which it was
supposed to be buried. The bards became the most powerful allies
of patriotism, the most dauntless prophets of independence, and
also the favorite victims of the cruelty of spoilers and conquerors.
They made music and poetry weapons and bulwarks against foreign
oppression; and the oppressors used them as they had used the
priests and the nobles. A price was set upon their heads. But
while the last scions of the royal and noble races, decimated
or ruined in Ireland, departed to die out under a foreign sky,
amid the miseries of exile, the successor of the bards, the
minstrel, whom nothing could tear from his native soil, was pursued,
tracked, and taken like a wild beast, or chained and slaughtered
like the most dangerous of rebels.
"In the annals of the atrocious legislation, directed by the
English against the Irish people, as well before as after the
Reformation, special penalties against the minstrels, bards, and
rhymers, who sustained the lords and gentlemen, . . . are to be
met with at every step.
"Nevertheless, the harp has remained the emblem of Ireland, even
in the official arms of the British Empire, and during all last
century, the travelling harper, last and pitiful successor of the
bards, protected by Columba, was always to be found at the side of
the priest, to celebrate the holy mysteries of the proscribed worship.
He never ceased to be received with tender respect under the thatched
roof of the poor Irish peasant, whom he consoled in his misery and
oppression by the plaintive tenderness and solemn sweetness of the
music of his fathers."
Could any expression of ours set forth in stronger light the Celtic
mind and heart as portrayed in those native elements of music and
literature? Could any thing more forcibly depict the real character
of the race, materialized, as it were, in its exterior institutions?
We were right in saying that among no other race was what is
generally a mere adornment to a nation, raised to the dignity of
a social and political instrument as it was among the Celts. Hence
it was impossible for persecution and oppression to destroy it,
and the Celtic nature to-day is still traditional, full of faith,
and at the same time poetical and impulsive as when those great
features of the race held full sway.
Besides music, several other branches of art, particularly
architecture, design, and calligraphy, are worthy our attention,
presenting, as they do, features unseen anywhere else; and would
enable us still better to understand the character of the Celtic
race. But our limits require us to refrain from what might be
thought redundant and unnecessary.
We hasten, therefore, to consider another branch of our
investigation, one which might be esteemed paramount to all others,
and by the consideration of which we might have begun this chapter,
only that its importance will be better understood after what has
been already said. It is a chief characteristic which grew so
perfectly out of the Celtic mind and aptitudes, that long centuries
of most adverse circumstances, we may say, a whole host of contrary
influences were unable to make the Celts entirely abandon it. We
mean the clan system, which, as a system, indeed, has disappeared
these three centuries ago, but which may be said to subsist still
in the clan spirit, as ardent almost among them as ever.
It is beyond doubt that the patriarchal government was the first
established among men. The father ruled the family. As long as he
lived he was lawgiver, priest, master; his power was acknowledged
as absolute. Hiis children, even after their marriage, remained
to a certain extent subject to him. Yet each became in turn the
head of a small state, ruled with the primitive simplicity of
the first family.
In the East, history shows us that the patriarchal government
was succeeded immediately by an extensive and complete despotism.
Millions of men soon became the abject slaves of an irresponsible
monarch. Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, appear at once in history as
powerful states at the mercy of a despot whose will was law.
But in other more favored lands the family was succeeded by the
tribe, a simple development of the former, an agglomeration of
men of the same blood, who could all trace their pedigree to the
acknowledged head; possessing, consequently, a chief of the same
race, either hereditary or elective, according to variable rules
always based on tradition. This was the case among the Jews, among
the Arabs, with whom the system yet prevails; even it seems
primitively in Hindostan, where modern research has brought to
light modes of holding property which suppose the same system.
But especially was this the case among the Celts, where the system
having subsisted up to recently, it can be better known in all its
details. Indeed, their adherence to it, in spite of every obstacle
that could oppose it, shows that it was natural to them, congenial
to all their inclinations, the only system that could satisfy and
make them happy; consequently, a characteristic of the race.
There was a time when the system we speak of ruled many a land,
from the Western Irish Sea to the foot of the Caucasus. Everywhere
within those limits it presented the same general features; in
Ireland alone has it been preserved in all its vigor until the
beginning of the seventeenth century, so rooted was it in the
Irish blood. Consequently, it can be studied better there. What
we say, therefore, will be chiefly derived from the study of
Irish customs, although other Gaelic tribes will also furnish
us with data for our observations.
In countries ruled by the clan system, the territory was divided
among the clans, each of them occupying a particular district,
which was seldom enlarged or diminished. This is seen particularly
in Palestine, in ancient Gaul, in the British islands. Hence their
hostile encounters had always for object movable plunder of any
kind, chiefly cattle; never conquest nor annexation of territory.
The word "preying," which is generally used for their expeditions,
explains their nature at once. It was only in the event of the
extinction of a clan that the topography was altered, and frequently
a general repartition of land among neighboring tribes took place.
It is true, when a surplus population compelled them to send abroad
swarms of their youth, that the conquest of a foreign country became
an absolute necessity. But, on such occasions it was outside of Celtic
limits that they spread themselves, taking possession of a territory
not their own. They almost invariably respected the land of other
clans of the same race, even when most hostile to them; exceptions
to this rule are extremely rare. It was thus that they sent large
armies of their young men into Northern Italy, along the Danube,
into Grecian Albania and Thrace, and finally into the very centre
of Asia Minor. The fixing of the geographical position of each tribe
was, therefore, a rule among them; and in this they differed from
nomadic nations, such as the Tartars in Asia and even the North
American Indians, whose hold on the land was too slight to offer any
prolonged resistance to invaders. Hence the position of the Gallic
_civitates_ was definite, and, so to speak, immovable, as we may see
by consulting the maps of ancient Gaul at any time anterior to its
thorough conquest by the Romans; not so among the German tribes,
whose positions on the maps must differ according to time.
We have already seen that so sacred were the limits of the clan
districts, that one of the chief duties of ollamhs and shanachies
was to know them and see them preserved.
But if territory was defined in Celtic nations, the right of
holding land differed in the case of the chieftain and the
clansman. The head of the tribe had a certain well-defined portion
assigned to him in virtue of his office, and as long only as he
held it; the clansmen held the remainder in common, no particular
spot being assigned to any one of them.
As far, therefore, as the holding of land was concerned, there
were neither rich nor poor among the Celts; the wealth of the
best of them consisted of cattle, house furniture, money, jewelry,
and other movable property. In the time of St. Columba, the
owner of five cows was thought to be a very poor man, although
he could send them to graze on any free land of his tribe. There
is no doubt that the almost insurmountable difficulty of the land
question at this time originated in the attachment of the people
to the old system, which had not yet perished in their affections;
and certainly many "agrarian outrages," as they are called, have
had their source in the traditions of a people once accustomed
to move and act freely in a free territory.
It is needless to call the attention of the reader to another
consequence of that state of things, namely, the persistence of
territorial possessions. As no individual among them could alienate
his portion, no individual or family could absorb the territory to
the exclusion of others; no great landed aristocracy consequently
could exist, and no part of the land could pass by purchase or in
any other way to a different tribe or to an alien race. The force
of arms sometimes produced temporary changes, nothing more. It is
the same principle which has preserved the small Indian tribes
still existing in Canada. Their "reservations," as they are called,
having been legalized by the British Government at the time of
the conquest from the French, the territory assigned to them would
have remained in their occupancy forever in the midst of the
ever-shifting possessions of the white race, had not the Ottawa
Parliament lately "allowed" those reservations to be divided
among the families of the tribes, with power for each to dispose
of its portion, a power which will soon banish them from the
country of their ancestors.
The preceding observations do not conflict in the least with what
is generally said of inheritance by "gavel kind," whereby the
property was equally divided among the sons to the exclusion of
the daughters; as it is clear that the property to be thus divided
was only movable and personal property.
But after the _land_ we must consider the _persons_ under the
clan-system. Under this head we shall examine briefly:
I. The political offices, such as the dignities of Ard-Righ or
supreme monarch, of the provincial kings, and of the subordinate
II. The state of the common people.
III. The bondsmen or slaves.
All literary or civil offices, not political, were hereditary.
Hence the professions of ollamh, shanachy, bard, brehon, physician,
passed from father to son--a very injudicious arrangement apparently,
but it seems nevertheless to have worked well in Ireland. Strange
to say, however, these various classes formed no castes as in
Egypt or in India, because no one was prevented from embracing
those professions, even when not born to them; and, in the end,
success in study was the only requisite for reaching the highest
round of the literary or professional ladder, as in China.
But a stranger and more dangerous feature of the system was that
in political offices the dignities were hereditary as to the
family, elective as to the person. Hence the title of Ard-Righ
or supreme monarch did not necessarily pass to the eldest son of
the former king, but another member of the same family might be
elected to the office, and was even designated to it during the
lifetime of the actual holder, thus becoming _Tanist_ or heir-apparent.
Every one sees at a glance the numberless disadvantages resulting
from such an institution, and it must be said that most of the
bloody crimes recorded in Irish history sprang from it.
At first sight, the dignity of supreme monarch would almost seem
to be a sinecure under the clan system, as the authority attached
to it was extremely limited, and is generally compared in its
relations to the subordinate kings, as that of metropolitan to
suffragan bishops in the Church. Nevertheless, all Celtic nations
appear to have attached a great importance to it, and the real
misfortunes of Ireland began when contention ran so high for the
office that the people were divided in their supreme allegiance,
and no Ard-Righ was acknowledged at the same time by all; which
happened precisely at the period of the invasion under Strongbow.
Some few facts lately brought to light in the vicissitudes of
various branches of the Celtic family show at once how highly all
Celts, wherever they might be settled, esteemed the dignity of
supreme monarch. It existed, as we have said, in all Celtic
countries, and consequently in Gaul; and the passage in the
"Commentaries" of Julius Caesar on the subject is too important
to be entirely passed over.
After having remarked in the eleventh chapter, "De Bello Gallico,"
lib. vi., that in Gaul the whole country, each city or clan, and
every subdivision of it, even to single houses, presented the
strange spectacle of two parties, "factiones," always in presence
of and opposed to each other, he says in Chapter XII.: --at the
arrival of Caesar in Gaul the _Eduans_ and the _Sequanians_ were
contending for the supreme authority--"The latter civitas--clan--
namely, the Sequanians, being inferior in power--because from
time immemorial the supreme authority had been vested in the
Eduans--had called to its aid the Germans under Ariovist by the
inducement of great advantages and promises. After many successful
battles, in which the entire nobility of the Eduan clan perished,
the Sequanians acquired so much power that they rallied to
themselves the greatest number of the allies of their rivals,
obliged the Eduans to give as hostages the children of their
nobles who had perished, to swear that they would not attempt
any thing against their conquerors, and even took possession of
a part of their territory, and thus obtained the supreme command
of all Gaul."
We see by this passage that there was a supremacy resting in the
hands of some one, over the whole nation. The successful tribe
had a chief to whom that supremacy belonged. Caesar, it is true,
does not speak of a monarch as of a person, but attributes the
power to the "civitas," the tribe. It is well known, however,
that each tribe had a head, and that in Celtic countries the
power was never vested in a body of men, assembly, committee, or
board, as we say in modern times, but in the chieftain, whatever
may have been his degree.
The author of the "Commentaries" was a Roman in whose eyes the
state was every thing, the actual office-holder, dictator, consul,
or praetor, a mere instrument for a short time; and he was too apt,
like most of his countrymen, to judge of other nations by his own.
We may conclude from the passage quoted that there was a supreme
monarch in Gaul as well as in Ireland, and modern historians of
Gaul have acknowledged it.
But there is yet a stranger fact, which absolutely cannot be
explained, save on the supposition that the Celts everywhere held
the supreme dignity of extreme if not absolute importance in their
To give it the preeminence it deserves, we must refer to a subsequent
event in the history of the Celts in Britain, since it happened
there several centuries after Caesar, and we will quote the words
of Augustin Thierry, who relates it:
"After the retreat of the legions, recalled to Italy to protect
the centre of the empire and Rome itself against the invasion
of the Goths, the Britons ceased to acknowledge the power of the
foreign governors set over their provinces and cities. The forms,
the offices, the very spirit and language of the Roman administration
disappeared; in their place was reconstituted the traditional
authority of the clannish chieftains formerly abolished by Roman
power. Ancient genealogies carefully preserved by the poets,
called in the British language _bairdd_ - bards - helped to discover
those who could pretend to the dignity of chieftains of tribes
or families, tribe and family being synonymous in their language;
and the ties of relationship formed the basis of their social
state. Men of the lowest class, among that people, preserved in
memory the long line of their ancestry with a care scarcely known
to other nations, among the highest lords and princes. All the
British Celts, poor or rich, had to establish their genealogy in
order fully to enjoy their civil rights and secure their claim of
property in the territory of the tribe. The whole belonging to a
primitive family, no one could lay any claim to the soil, unless his
relationship was well established.
"At the top of this social order, composing a federation of small
hereditary sovereignties, the Britons, freed from Roman power,
constituted a high national sovereignty; they created a chieftain
of chieftains, in their tongue called _Penteyrn_, that is to say,
a _king of the whole_, in the language of their old annals. And
they made him elective.--It was also formerly the custom in Gaul.
--The object was to introduce into their system a kind of
centralization, which, however, was always loose among Celtic
tribes."--(_Conquete de l'Angleterre_, liv. i.)
It is evident to us that if the Britons _constituted_ a supreme
power, when freed from the Roman yoke, it was only because they
had possessed it before they became subject to that yoke. It is,
therefore, safe to conclude that there was a supreme monarch in
Britain and in Gaul as well as in Ireland; and since the Britons,
after having lost for several centuries their autonomy of government,
thought of reestablishing this supreme authority as soon as they
were free to do so, it is clear that they attached a real
importance to it, and that it entered as an essential element
into the social fabric.
But what in reality was the authority of the Ard-Righ in Ireland,
of the Penteyrn in Britain, of the supreme chief in Gaul, whose
name, as usual, is not mentioned by Caesar?
First, it is to be remarked that a certain extent of territory was
always under his immediate authority. Then, as far as we can gather
from history, there was a reciprocity of obligations between the
high power and the subordinate kings or chieftains, the former
granting subsidies to the latter, who in turn paid tribute to
support the munificence or military power of the former.
We know from the Irish annals that the dignity of Ard-Righ was
always sustained by alliances with some of the provincial kings,
to secure the submission of others, and we have a hint of the
same nature in the passage, already quoted, from Caesar, as also
taking place in Gaul.
We know also from the "Book of Rights" that the tributes and stipends
consisted of bondsmen, silver shields, embroidered cloaks, cattle,
weapons, corn, victuals, or any other contribution.
The Ard-Righ, moreover, convened the _Feis_, or general assembly
of the nation, every third year; first at Tara, and after Tara
was left to go to ruin in consequence of the curse of St. Ruadhan
in the sixth century, wherever the supreme monarch established
The order of succession to the supreme power was the weakest point
of the Irish constitution, and became the cause of by far the
greatest portion of the nation's calamities. Theoretically the
eldest son--some say the eldest relative--of the monarch succeeded
him, when he had no blemish constituting a radical defect: the
supreme power, however, alternating in two families. To secure
the succession, the heir-apparent was always declared during the
life of the supreme king; but this constitutional arrangement
caused, perhaps, more crimes and wars than any other social
institution among the Celts. The truth is that, after the
heir-apparent, sustained by some provincial king, supplanted the
reigning monarch, one of the provincial chieftains claimed the
crown and succeeded to it by violence.
Yet the general rule that the monarch was to belong to the race
of Miledh was adhered to almost without exception. One hundred
and eighteen sovereigns, according to the moat accredited annals,
governed the whole island from the Milesian conquest to St. Patrick
in 432. Of these, sixty were of the family of Heremon, settled
in the northern part of the island; twenty-nine of the posterity
of Heber, settled in the south; twenty-four of that of Ir; three
issued from Lugaid, the son of Ith. All these were of the race of
Miledh; one only was a _firbolg_, or plebeian, and one a woman.
It is certainly very remarkable that for so long a time--nearly
two thousand years, according to the best chronologists--Ireland
was ruled by princes of the same family. The fact is unparalleled
in history, and shows that the people were firmly attached to their
constitution, such as it was. It extorted the admiration of Sir
John Davies, the attorney-general of James I, and later of Lord Coke.
The functions of the provincial kings of Ulster, Munster,
Leinster, and Connaught, were in their several districts the same
as those which the Ard-Righ exercised over the whole country. They
also had their feuds and alliances with the inferior chieftains,
and in peaceful times there was also a reciprocity of obligations
between them. Presents were given by the superiors, tributes by
the inferiors; deliberations in assembly, mutual agreement for
public defence, wars against a common enemy, produced among them
traditional rules which were generally followed, or occasional
Sometimes a province had two kings, chiefly Munster, which
was often divided into north and south. Each king had his
heir-apparent, the same as the monarch. Indeed, every hereditary
office had, besides its actual holder, its Tanist, with right of
succession. Hence causes of division and feuds were needlessly
multiplied; yet all the Celtic tribes adhered tenaciously to all
those institutions which appeared rooted in their very nature, and
which contributed to foster the traditional spirit among them.
For these various offices and their inherent rights were all
derived from the universally prevailing family or clannish
disposition. Genealogies and traditions ruled the whole, and gave,
as we have seen, to their learned men a most important part and
function in the social state; and thus what the Greek and Latin
authors, Julius Caesar principally, have told us of the Celtic
Druids, is literally true of the ollamhs in their various degrees.
But the clannish spirit chiefly showed itself in the authority and
rights of every chieftain in his own territory. He was truly the
patriarch of all under him, acknowledged as he was to be the head
of the family, elected by all to that office at the death of his
predecessor, after due consultation with the files and shanachies,
to whom were intrusted the guardianship of the laws which governed
the clan, and the preservation of the rights of all according to
the strict order of their genealogies and the traditional rules
to be observed.
The power of the chieftain was immense, although limited on every
side by laws and customs. It was based on the deep affection of
relationship which is so ardent in the Celtic nature. For all the
clansmen were related by blood to the head of the tribe, and each
one took a personal pride in the success of his undertakings. No
feudal lord could ever expect from his vassals the like self-devotion;
for, in feudalism, the sense of honor, in clanship, family affection,
was the chief moving power.
In clanship the type was not an army, as in feudalism, but a
family. Such a system, doubtless, gave rise to many inconveniences.
"The breaking up of all general authority," says the Very Rev. Dean
Butler (Introduction to Clyn's "Annals"), "and the multiplication
of petty independent principalities, was an abuse _incident_ on
feudalism; it was _inherent_ in the very essence of the patriarchal
or family system. It began, as feudalism ended, with small independent
societies, each with its own separate centre of attraction, each
clustering round the lord or the chief, and each rather repelling
than attracting all similar societies. Yet it was not without its
advantages. If feudalism gave more strength to attack an enemy,
clanship secured more happiness at home. The first implied only
equality for the few, serfdom or even slavery for the many; the
other gave a feeling of equality to all."
It was, no doubt, this feeling of equality, joined to that of
relationship, which not only secured more happiness for the Celt,
but which so closely bound the nobility of the land to the inferior
classes, and gave these latter so ardent an affection for their
chieftains. Clanship, therefore, imparted a peculiar character
to the whole race, and its effect was so lasting and seemingly
ineradicable as to be seen in the nation to-day.
Wherever feudalism previously prevailed, we remark at this time
a fearful hatred existing between the two classes of the same
nation; and the great majority of modern revolutions had their
origin in that terrible antagonism. The same never existed, and
could not exist, in Celtic Countries; and if England, after a
conflict of many centuries, had not finally succeeded in destroying
or exiling the entire nobility of Ireland, we should, doubtless,
see to this very day that tender attachment between high and low,
rich and poor, which existed in the island in former ages.
This, therefore, not only imparted a peculiar character to the
people, but also gave to each subordinate chieftain an immense
power over his clan; and it is doubtful if the whole history of
the country can afford a single example of the clansmen refusing
obedience to their chief, unless in the case of great criminals
placed by their atrocities under the ban of society in former
times, and under the ban of the Church, since the establishment
of the Christian religion among them.
The previous observations give us an insight into the state of
the people in Celtic countries. Since, however, we know that
slavery existed among them, we must consider a moment what kind
of slavery it was, and how soon it disappeared without passing,
as in the rest of Europe, through the ordeal of serfdom.
At the outset, we cannot, as some have done, call slaves the
conquered races and poor Milesians, who, according to the ancient
annals of Ireland, rose in insurrection and established a king of
their own during what is supposed to be the first century of the
Christian era. The _attacotts_, as they were called, were not
slaves, but poor agriculturists obliged to pay heavy rents: their
very name in the Celtic language means "rent-paying tribes or
people." Their oppression never reached the degree of suffering
under which the Irish small farmers of our days are groaning. For,
according to history, they could in three years prepare from their
surplus productions a great feast, to which the monarch and all
his chieftains, with their retinue, were invited, to be treacherously
assassinated at the end of the banquet. The great plain of Magh Cro,
now Moy Cru, near Knockma, in the county of Galway, was required
for such a monster feast; profusion of meats, delicacies, and
drinks was, of course, a necessity for the entertainment of such
a number of high-born and athletic guests, and the feast lasted
nine days. Who can suppose that in our times the free cottiers
of a whole province in Ireland, after supporting their families
and paying their rent, could spare even in three years the money
and means requisite to meet the demands of such an occasion? But
the simple enunciation of the fact proves at least that the attacotts
were no slaves, but at most merely an inferior caste, deprived of
many civil rights, and compelled to pay taxes on land, contrary
to the universal custom of Celtic countries.
Caesar, it is true, pretends that real slavery existed among the
Celts in Gaul. But a close examination of that short passage in
his "Commentaries," upon which this opinion is based, will prove
to us that the slavery he mentions was a very different thing from
that existing among all other nations of antiquity.
"All over Gaul," he says, "there are two classes of men who enjoy
all the honors and social standing in the state--the Druids and
the knights. The plebeians are looked upon almost as slaves, having
no share in public affairs. Many among them, loaded with debt,
heavily taxed, or oppressed by the higher class, give themselves
in servitude to the nobility, and then, _in hos eadem omnia sunt
jura quoe dominis in servos_, the nobles lord it over them as, with
us, masters over their slaves."
It is clear from this very passage that among the Celts no such
servile class existed as among the Romans and other nations of
antiquity. The plebeians, as Caesar calls them, that is to say,
the simple clansmen, held no office in the state, were not summoned
to the councils of the nation, and, on that account, were nobodies
in the opinion of the writer. But the very name he gives them -
_plebs_ - shows that they were no more real slaves than the Roman
plebs. They exercised their functions in the state by the elections,
and Caesar did not know they could reach public office by application
to study, and by being _ordained_ to the rank of file, or shanachy,
or brehon, in Ireland, at least: and this gave them a direct share
in public affairs.
He adds that debt, taxation, and oppression, obliged a great many
to give themselves in servitude, and that then they were among
the Celts what slaves were among the Romans.
This assertion of Caesar requires some examination. That there
were slaves among the Gaels, and particularly in Ireland, we know
from several passages of old writers preserved in the various
annals of the country. St. Patrick himself was a slave there in
his youth, and we learn from his history and other sources how
slaves were generally procured, namely, by piratical expeditions
to the coast of Britain or Gaul. The Irish _curraghs_, in pagan
times, started from the eastern or southern shores of the island,
and, landing on the continent or on some British isle, they captured
women, children, and even men, when the crew of the craft was strong
enough to overcome them; the captives were then taken to Ireland
and sold there. They lost their rights, were reduced to the state
of "chattels," and thus became real slaves. Among the presents
made by a superior to an inferior chieftain are mentioned bondsmen
and bondsmaids. We cannot be surprised at this, since the same
thing took place among the most ancient patriarchal tribes of the
East, and the Bible has made us all acquainted with the male and
female servants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are also called
bondsmen and bondswomen. Among the Celts, therefore, slaves were
of two kinds: those stolen from foreign tribes, and those who
had, as it were, sold themselves, in order to escape a heavier
oppression: these latter are the ones mentioned by Caesar.
The number of the first class must always have been very small,
at least in Ireland and Britain, since the piratical excursions
of the Celtic tribes inhabiting those countries were almost
invariably undertaken in curraghs, which could only bring a
few of these unfortunate individuals from a foreign country.
As to the other class, whatever Caesar may say of their number
in Gaul, making it composed of the greatest part of the plebeians
or common clansmen, we have no doubt but that he was mistaken,
and that the number of real slaves reduced to that state by
their own act must have always been remarkably small.
How could we otherwise account for the numerous armies levied by
the Gaulish chieftains against the power of Rome, or by the British
and Irish lords in their continual internecine wars? The clansmen
engaged in both cases were certainly freemen, fighting with the
determination which freedom alone can give, and this consideration
of itself suffices to show that the great mass of the Celtic tribes
was never reduced to slavery or even to serfdom.
Moreover, the whole drift of the Irish annals goes to prove that
slavery never included any perceptible class of the Celtic population;
it always remained individual and domestic, never endangering the
safety of the state, never tending to insurrection and civil disorder,
never requiring the vigilance nor even the care of the masters
The story of Libran, recorded in the life of St. Columbkill, is
so pertinent to our present purpose, and so well adapted to give
us a true idea of what voluntary slavery was among the Celtic
tribes, that we will give it entire in the words of Montalembert:
"It was one day announced to Columba in Iona that a stranger
had just landed from Ireland, and Columba went to meet him in
the house reserved for guests, to talk with him in private and
question him as to his dwelliing-place, his family, and the cause
of his journey. The stranger told him that he had undertaken this
painful voyage in order, under the monastic habit and in exile,
to expiate his sins. Columba, desirous of trying the reality of
his repentance, drew a most repulsive picture of the hardships
and difficult obligations of the new life. 'I am ready,' said the
stranger, 'to submit to the most cruel and humiliating conditions
that thou canst command me.' And, after having made confession,
he swore, still upon his knees, to accomplish all the requirements
of penitence. 'It is well,' said the abbot: 'now rise from thy
knees, seat thyself, and listen. You must first do penance for
seven years in the neighboring island of Tirce, after which I
will see you again.' 'But,' said the penitent, still agitated by
remorse, 'how can I expiate a perjury of which I have not yet
spoken? Before I left my country I killed a poor man. I was about
to suffer the punishment of death for that crime, and I was already
in irons, when one of my relatives, who is very rich, delivered me
by paying the composition demanded. I swore that I would serve
him all my life; but, after some days of service, I abandoned him,
and here I am notwithstanding my oath.' Upon this the saint added
that he would only be admitted to the paschal communion after his
seven years of penitence.
"When these were completed, Columba, after having given him the
communion with his own hand, sent him back to Ireland to his patron,
carrying a sword with an ivory handle for his ransom. The patron,
however, moved by the entreaties of his wife, gave the penitent
his pardon without ransom. 'Why should we accept the price sent
us by the holy Columba? We are not worthy of it. The request of
such an intercessor should be granted freely. His blessing will
do more for us than any ransom.' And immediately he detached the
girdle from his waist, which was the ordinary form in Ireland for
the manumission of captives or slaves. Columba had, besides,
ordered his penitent to remain with his old father and mother
until he had rendered to them the last services. This accomplished,
his brothers let him go, saying, 'Far be it from us to detain a
man who has labored seven years for the salvation of his soul with
the holy Columba!' He then returned to Iona, bringing with him the
sword which was to have been his ransom. 'Henceforward thou shaft be
called Libran, for thou art free and emancipated from all ties,' said
Columba; and he immediately admitted him to take the monastic vows."
Servitude, therefore, continued in Ireland after the establishment
of Christianity; but how different from the slavery of other
European countries, which it took so many ages to destroy, and
which had to pass through so many different stages! Although we
cannot know precisely when servitude was completely abolished
among the Celts, the total silence of the contemporary annals on
the subject justifies the belief that the Danes, on their first
landing, found no real slaves in the country; and, if the Danes
themselves oppressed the people wherever they established their
power, they could not make a social institution of slavery. It
had never been more than a domestic arrangement; it could not
become a state affair, as among the nations of antiquity.
In clannish tribes, therefore, and particularly among the Celts,
the personal freedom of the lowest clansman was the rule, deprivation
of individual liberty the exception. Hence the manners of the people
were altogether free from the abject deportment of slaves and
villeins in other nations--a cringing disposition of the lower
class toward their superiors, which continues even to this day
among the peasantry of Europe, and which patriarchal nations have
never known. The Norman invaders of Ireland, in the twelfth century,
were struck with the easy freedom of manner and speech of the
people, so different from that of the lower orders in feudal
countries. They soon even came to like it; and the supercilious
followers of Strongbow readily adopted the dress, the habits, the
language, and the good-humor of the Celts, in the midst of whom
they found themselves settled.
And it is proper here to show what social dispositions and habits
were the natural result of the clan system, so as to become
characteristic of the race, and to endure forever, as long at least
as the race itself. The artless family state of the sept naturally
developed a peculiarly social feeling, much less complicated than
in nations more artificially constituted, but of a much deeper and
more lasting character. In the very nature of the mind of those
tribes there must have been a great simplicity of ideas, and on
that account an extraordinary tenacity of belief and will. There
is no complication and systematic combination of political, moral,
and social views, but a few axioms of life adhered to with a most
admirable energy; and we therefore find a singleness of purpose,
a unity of national and religious feeling, among all the individuals
of the tribe.
As nothing is complicated and systematized among them, the political
system must be extremely simple, and based entirely on the family.
And family ideas being as absolute as they are simple, the political
system also becomes absolute and lasting; without improving, it is
true, but also without the constant changes which bring misery
with revolution to thoughtful, reflective, and systematic nations.
What a frightful amount of misfortunes has not logic, as it is
called, brought upon the French! It was in the name of logical
and metaphysical principles that the fabric of society was destroyed
a hundred years ago, to make room for what was then called a more
rationally-constituted edifice; but the new building is not yet
finished, and God only knows when it will be!
The few axioms lying at the base of the Celtic mind with respect
to government are much preferable, because much more conducive
to stability, and consequently to peace and order, whatever may
have been the local agitation and temporary feuds and divisions.
Hence we see the permanence of the supreme authority resting in
one family among the Celts through so many ages, in spite of
continual wrangling for that supreme power. Hence the permanence
of territorial limits in spite of lasting feuds, although territory
was not invested in any particular inheriting family, but in a
purely moral being called the clan or sept.
As for the moral and social feelings in those tribes, they are
not drawn coldly from the mind, and sternly imposed by the external
law, in the form of axioms and enactments, as was the case chiefly
in Sparta, and as is still the case in the Chinese Empire to-day;
but they gush forth impetuously from impulsive and loving hearts,
and spread like living waters which no artificially-cut stones
can bank and confine, but which must expand freely in the land
Deep affection, then, is with them at the root of all moral and
social feelings; and as all those feelings, even the national and
patriotic, are merged in real domestic sentiment, a great purity
of morals must exist among them, nothing being so conducive
thereto as family affections.
Above all, when those purely-natural dispositions are raised to
the level of the supernatural ones by a divinely-inspired code, by
the sublime elevation of Christian purity, then can there be found
nothing on earth more lovely and admirable. Chastity is always
attractive to a pure heart; patriarchal guilelessness becomes
sacred even to the corrupt, if not altogether hardened, man.
Of course we do not pretend that this happy state of things is
without its exceptions; that the light has no shadow, the beauty
no occasional blemish. We speak of the generality, or at least of
the majority, of cases; for perfection cannot belong to this world.
Yet mysticism is entirely absent from such a moral and religious
state, on account, perhaps, of the paucity of ideas by which the
heart is ruled, and perhaps also on account of the artless
simplicity which characterizes every thing in primitively-constituted
nations. And, wonderful to say, without any mysticism there is
often among them a perfect holiness of life, adapting itself to
all circumstances, climates, and associations. The same heart of
a young maiden is capable of embracing a married life or of
devoting itself to religious celibacy; and in either case the
duties of each are performed with the most perfect simplicity and
the highest sanctity. Hence, how often does a trifling circumstance
determine for her her whole subsequent life, and make her either
the mother of a family or the devoted spouse of Christ! Yet, the
final determination once taken, the whole after-life seems to
have been predetermined from infancy as though no other course
could have been possible.
There is no doubt that sensual corruption is particularly engendered
by an artificial state of society, which necessarily fosters
morbidity of imagination and nervous excitability. A primitive
and patriarchal life, on the contrary, leads to moderation in all
things, and repose of the senses.
Herein is found the explanation of the eagerness with which the
Celts everywhere, but particularly in Ireland, as soon as
Christianity was preached to them, rushed to a life of perfection
and continence. St. Patrick himself expressed his surprise, and
showed, by several words in his "Confessio," that he was scarcely
prepared for it. "The sons of Irishmen," he says, "and the daughters
of their chieftains, want to become monks and virgins of Christ."
We know what a multitude of monasteries and nunneries sprang up
all over the island in the very days of the first apostle and of
his immediate successors. Montalembert remarks that, according to
the most reliable and oldest documents, a religious house is
scarcely mentioned which contained less than three thousand monks
or nuns. It appeared to be a consecrated number; and this took
place immediately after the conversion of the island to Christianity,
while even still a great number were pagans.
"There was particularly," says St. Patrick, "one blessed Irish girl,
gentle born, most beautiful, already of a marriageable age, whom I
had baptized. After a few days she came back and told me that a
messenger of God had appeared to her, advising her to become a virgin
of Christ, and live united to God. Thanks be to the Almighty! Six
days after, she obtained, with the greatest joy and avidity, what
she wished. The same must be said of all the virgins of God; their
parents--those remaining pagans, no doubt--instead of approving of
it, persecute them, and load them with obloquy; yet their number
increases constantly; and, indeed, of all those that have been
thus born to Christ, _I cannot give the number_, besides those
living in holy widowhood, and keeping continency in the midst of
"But those girls chiefly suffer most who are bound to service;
they are often subjected to terrors and threats--from pagan
masters surely--yet they persevere. The Lord has given his holy
grace of purity to those servant-girls; the more they are tempted
against chastity, the more able they show themselves to keep it."
Does not this passage, written by St. Patrick, describe precisely
what is now of every-day occurrence wherever the Irish emigrate?
The Celts, therefore, were evidently at the time of their conversion
what they are now; and it has been justly remarked that, of all
nations whose records have been kept in the history of the Catholic
Church, they have been the only ones whose chieftains, princes, even
kings, have shown themselves almost as eager to become, not only
Christians, but even monks and priests, as the last of their clansmen
and vassals. Every where else the lower orders chiefly have furnished
the first followers of Christ, the rich and the great being few at
the beginning, and forming only the exception.
The evident consequence of this well-attested fact is that the
pagan Celts, even of the highest rank, generally led pure lives,
and admired chastity. But there is something more. Morality rests
on the sense of duty; the deeper that sense is imprinted in the
heart of man, the more man becomes truly moral and holy. It can
be almost demonstrated that scarcely any thing gives more solidity
to the sense of duty than a simple and patriarchal life. Their
views of morals being no more complicated than their views of
any thing else; being accustomed to reduce every thing of a
spiritual, moral nature to a few feelings and axioms, as it were,
but at the same time becoming strongly attached to them on account
of the importance which every man naturally bestows on matters of
that sort; what among other nations forms a complicated code of
morality more or less pure, more or less corrupt, for the nations
of which we speak becomes compressed, so to speak, in a nutshell,
and, the essence remaining always at the bottom, the idea of duty
grows paramount in their minds and hearts, and every thing they
do is illumined by that light of the human conscience, which,
after all, is for each one of us the voice of God. False issues
do not distract their minds, and give a wrong bias to the
conscience. Hence Celtic tribes, by their very nature, were
So preeminently was this the case with them that spiritual things
in their eyes became, as they truly are, real and substantial.
Hence their religion was not an exterior thing only. On the contrary,
exterior rites were in their eyes only symbolical, and mere emblems
of the reality which they covered.
It should, therefore, be no matter of surprise to us to find that
for them religion has always been above all things; that they have
always sacrificed to it whatever is dear to man on earth. They all
seem to feel as instinctively and deeply as the thoroughly cultivated
and superior mind of Thomas More did, that eternal things are
infinitely superior to whatever is temporal, and that a wise man
ought to give up every thing rather than be faithless to his religion.
From the previous remarks, we map conclude, with Mr. Matthew
Arnold, who has applied his critical and appreciative mind to the
study of the Celtic character, that "the Celtic genius has sentiment
as its main basis, with love of beauty, charm, and spirituality
for its excellence," but, he adds, "ineffectualness and self-will
for its defects." On these last words we may be allowed to make a
few concluding observations.
If by "ineffectualness" is understood that, owing to their impulsive
nature, the Celts often attempted more than they could accomplish,
and thus failed; or that on many occasions of less import they
changed their mind, and, after a slight effort, did not persevere
in an undertaking just begun, there is no doubt of the truth of
the observation. But, if the celebrated writer meant to say that
this defect of character always accompanied the Celts in whatever
they attempted, and that thus they were constantly foiled and
never successful in any thing; or, still worse, that, owing to
want of perseverance and of energy, they too soon relaxed in their
efforts, and that every enterprise and determination on their
part became "ineffectual"--we so far disagree with him that the
main object of the following pages will be to contradict these
positions, and to show by the history of the race, in Ireland at
least, that, owing precisely to their "self-will," they were never
_ultimately unsuccessful_ in their aspirations; but that, on the
contrary, they have always in the end _effected_ what with their
accustomed perseverance and self-will they have at all times stood
for. At least this we hope will become evident, whenever they had a
great object in view, and with respect to things to which they
attached a real and paramount importance.
THE WORLD UNDER THE LEAD OF THE EUROPEAN RACES.--MISSION OF THE
IRISH RACE IN THE MOVEMENT.
"The old prophecies are being fulfilled; Japhet takes possession
of the tents of Sem."--(De Maistre, _Lettre au Comte d'Avaray_.)
The following considerations will at once demonstrate the importance
and reality of the subject which we have undertaken to treat upon:
It was at the second birth of mankind, when the family of Noah,
left alone after the flood, was to originate a new state of things,
and in its posterity to take possession of all the continents
and islands of the globe, that the prophecy alluded to at the
head of this chapter was uttered, to be afterward recorded by
Moses, and preserved by the Hebrews and the Christians till the
end of time.
Never before has it been so near its accomplishment as we see it
now; and the great Joseph de Maistre was the first to point this
out distinctly. Yet he did not intend to say that it is only in
our times that Europe has been placed by Providence at the head
of human affairs; he only meant that what the prophet saw and
announced six thousand years ago seems now to be on the point
of complete realization.
It will be interesting to examine, first, in a general way, how
the race of Japhet, to whom Europe was given as a dwelling place,
gradually crept more and more into prominence after having at the
outset been cast into the shade by the posterity of the two other
sons of Noah.
The Asiatic and African races, the posterity of Sem and Cham,
appear in our days destitute of all energy, and incapable not
only of ruling over foreign races, but even of standing alone and
escaping a foreign yoke. It has not been so from the beginning.
There was a period of wonderful activity for them. Asia and Africa
for many ages were in turn the respective centres of civilization
and of human history; and the material relics of their former
energy still astonish all European travellers who visit the Pyramids
of Egypt, the obelisks and temples of Nubia and Ethiopia, the
immense stone structures of Arabia, Petraea and Persia, as well
as the stupendous pagodas of Hindostan. How, under a burning sun,
men of those now-despised races could raise structures so mighty
and so vast in number; how the ancestors of the now-wretched Copt,
of the wandering Bedouin, of the effete Persian, of the dreamy
Hindoo, could display such mental vigor and such physical endurance
as the remains of their architectural skill and even of their
literature plainly show, is a mystery which no one has hitherto
attempted to solve. Nothing in modern Europe, where such activity
now prevails, can compare with what the Eastern and Southern races
accomplished thousands of years ago. Ethiopia, now buried in sand
and in sleep, was, according to Heeren, the most reliable observer
of antiquity in our days, a land of immense commercial enterprise,
and wonderful architectural skill and energy. In all probability
Egypt received her civilization from this country; and Homer sings
of the renowned prosperity of the long-lived and happy Ethiopians.
It is useless to repeat here what we have all learned in our youth
of Babylon and Nineveh, in Mesopotamia; of Persepolis, in fertile
and blooming Iran; of the now ruined mountain-cities of Idumaea
and Northern Arabia; of Thebes and Memphis; of Thadmor, in Syria;
of Balk and Samarcand, in Central Asia; of the wonderful cities
on the banks of the Ganges and in the southern districts of the
peninsula of Hindostan.
That the ancestors of the miserable men who continue to exist in
all those countries were able to raise fabrics which time seems
powerless to destroy, while their descendants can scarcely erect
huts for their habitation, which are buried under the sand at the
first breath of the storm, is inexplicable, especially when we take
into consideration the principles of the modern doctrine of human
progress and the indefinite perfectibility of man.
At the time when those Eastern and Southern nations flourished,
the sons of Japhet had not yet taken a place in history. Silently
and unnoticed they wandered from the cradle of mankind; and, if
scripture had not recorded their names, we should be at a loss
to-day to reach back to the origin of European nations. Yet were
they destined, according to prophecy, to be the future rulers of
the world; and their education for that high destiny was a rude
and painful one, receiving as they did for their share of the
globe its roughest portion: an uninterrupted forest covering all
their domain from the central plateau which they had left to the
shores of the northern and western ocean, their utmost limit.
Many branches of that bold race--_audax Japeti genus_--fell into
a state of barbarism, but a barbarism very different from that of
the tribes of Oriental or Southern origin. With them degradation
was not final, as it seems to have been with some branches at
least of the other stems. They were always reclaimable, always
apt to receive education, and, after having existed for centuries
in an almost savage state, they were capable of once more attaining
the highest civilization. This the Scandinavian and German tribes
have satisfactorily demonstrated.
It may even be said that all the branches of the stock of Japhet
first fell from their original elevation and passed through real
barbarism, to rise again by their own efforts and occupy a prominent
position on the stage of history; and this fact has, no doubt, given
rise to the fable of the primitive savage state of all men.
That the theory is false is proved at once by the sudden emergence
of all Eastern nations into splendor and strength without ever
having had barbarous ancestors. But, when they fall, it seems to
be forever; and it looks at least problematical whether Western
intercourse, and even the intermixture of Western blood, can
reinvigorate the apathetic races of Asia. As to their rising of
their own accord and assuming once again the lead of the world,
no one can for a moment give a second thought to the realization
of such a dream.
But how and when did the races of Japhet appear first in history?
How and when did the Eastern races begin to fall behind their
A great deal has been written, and with a vast amount of dogmatism,
concerning the Pelasgians and their colonizations and conquests on
the shore and over the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. But nothing
can be proved with certainty in regard to their origin and manners,
their rise and fall. In fact, European history begins with that of
Greece; and the struggle between Hellas and Persia is at once the
brilliant introduction of the sons of Japhet on the stage of the
world--the Trojan War being more than half fabulous.
The campaigns of Alexander established the supremacy of the West;
and from that epoch the Oriental races begin to fall into that
profound slumber wherein they still lie buried, and which the
brilliant activity of the Saracens and Moslems broke for a time--now,
we must hope, passed away forever.
The downfall of the far Orient was not, however, contemporaneous
with the supremacy of Greece over the East. The great peninsula
of India was still to show for many ages an astonishing activity
under the successive sway of the Hindoos, the Patans, the Moguls,
and the Sikhs. China also was to continue for a long time an immense
and prosperous empire; but the existence of both these countries
was concentrated in themselves, so that the rest of the world felt
no result from their internal agitations. Life was gradually ebbing
away in the great Mongolian family, and the silent beatings of
the pulse that indicated the slow freezing of their blood could
neither be heard nor felt beyond their own territorial limits.
Nothing new in literature and the arts is visible among them after
the appearance, on their western frontiers, of the sons of Japhet,
led by the Macedonian hero. It now seems established that Sanscrit
literature, the only, but really surprising proof of intellectual
life in Hindostan, is anterior to that epoch.
As to China, the great discoveries which in the hands of the
European races have led to such wonderful results, the mariner's
compass, the printing-press, gunpowder, paper, bank-notes, remained
for the Chinese mere toys or without further improvements after
their first discovery. It is not known when those great inventions
first appeared among them. They had been in operation for ages
before Marco Polo saw them in use, and scarcely understood them
himself. Europeans were at that time so little prepared for the
reception of those material instruments of civilization, that the
publication of his travels only produced incredulity with regard
to those mighty engines of good or evil.
But those very proofs of Oriental ingenuity establish the fact of
a point of suspension in mental activity among the nations which
discovered them. Its exact date is unknown; but every thing tends
to prove that it took place long ages ago, and nothing is so well
calculated to bring home to our minds the great fact which we are
now trying to establish as the simple mention of the two following
phenomena in the life of the most remote Eastern nations:
The genius of the East was at one time able to produce literary
works of a philosophical and poetical character unsurpassed by
those of any other nation. The most learned men of modern times
in Europe, when they are in the position to become practically
acquainted with them, and peruse them in their original dialects,
can scarcely find words to express their astonishment, intimately
conversant as they are with the masterpieces of Greece and Rome
and of the most polite Christian nations. They find in Sanscrit
poems and religious books models of every description; but they
chiefly find in them an abundance, a freshness, a mental energy,
which fill them with wonder; yet all those high intellectual
endowments have disappeared ages ago, no one knows how nor precisely
when. It is clear that the nation which produced them has fallen
into a kind of unconscious stupor, which has been its mental
condition ever since, and which to-day raises puny Europe to the
stature of a giant before the fallen colossus.
Again: many ages ago the Mongolian family in China invented many
material processes which have been mainly the clause of the rise
of Europe in our days. They were really the invention of the Chinese,
who neither received them from nor communicated them to any other
nation. Ages ago they became known to us accidentally through their
instrumentality; but, as we were not at that time prepared for the
adoption of such useful discoveries, their mention in a book then
read all over Europe excited only ridicule and unbelief. As soon
as the Western mind mastered them of itself, they became straightway
of immense importance, and gave rise, we may say, to all that we
call modern civilization. But in the hands of the Chinese they
remained useless and unproductive, as they are to this day, although
they may now see what we have done with them. Their mind, therefore,
once active enough to invent mighty instruments of material progress,
long ago became perfectly incapable of improving on its own invention,
so that European vessels convey to their astonished sight what was
originally theirs, but so improved and altered as to render the
original utterly contemptible and ridiculous. And, what is stranger
still, though they can compare their own rude implements with ours,
and possess a most acute mind in what is materially useful, they
cannot be brought to confess Western superiority. The advantage
which they really possessed over us a thousand years ago is still
a reality to their blind pride.
But it is time to return to the epoch when the race of Japhet began
to put forth its power.
Roman intellectual and physical vigor was the first great force
which gave Europe that preeminence she has never since lost; and
there was a moment in history when it seemed likely that a nation,
or a city rather, was on the point of realizing the prophetic
promise made to the sons of Noah.
But an idolatrous nation could not receive that boon; and the
Roman sway affected very slightly the African and Asiatic nations,
whatever its pretensions may have been.
For, when Rome had subdued what she called Europe, Asia, and Africa
--the whole globe--whenever she found that her empire did not reach
the sea, she established there posts of armed men; colonies were
sent out and legions distributed along the line; even in some places,
as in Britain, walls were constructed, stretching across islands, if
not along continents. Whatever country had the happiness of being
included between those limits belonged to "the city and the world"
-_urbi et orbi_; beyond was Cimmerian darkness in the North, or
burning deserts in the South. Mankind had no right to exist outside
of her sway; and, if some roaming barbarians strayed over the
inhospitable confines, they could not complain at having their
existence swept off from the field of history, so unworthy were
they of the name of men. Science itself, the science of those
times, had to admit such ideas and dictate them to polished writers.
Hence, according to the greatest geographers, mankind could exist
neither in tropical nor in arctic regions; and Strabo, dividing the
globe into five zones, declared that only two of them were habitable.
We now know how false were those assertions, and indeed how
circumscribed was the power of ancient Rome. She pretended to
universal as well as to eternal dominion; but she deceived herself
in both cases. Under her sway the races of Japhet were not "to
dwell in the tents of Sem." She was not worthy of accomplishing
the great prophecy which is now under our consideration.
It is, however, undoubtedly due to her that the children of Japhet
became the dominant race of the globe, and the Eastern nations,
once so active and so powerful, were overshadowed by her glory,
and had already fallen into that slumber which seems eternal.
Egypt was reduced so low that a victorious Roman general had only
to appear on her borders to insure immediate submission.
Syria and Mesopotamia were fast becoming the frightful deserts they
are to-day. Persia dared not move in the awful presence of a few
legions scattered along the Tigris; and, if, later on, the Parthian
kings made a successful resistance against Rome, it was only owing
to the abominable corruption of Roman society at the time; but,
in fact, Iran had fallen to rise no more, save spasmodically
under Mohammedan rule.
The fact is, that, in the subsequent flood of barbarians which for
centuries overwhelmed and destroyed the whole of Europe, we behold,
on all sides, streams of Northern European races, members of the
same family of Japhet. It was the Goths that ruined Palestine even
in the time of St. Jerome. If side by side with Northern nations
the Huns appeared, no one knows precisely whence they came. Attila
called himself King of the Scythians and the Goths, as well as
grandson of Nimrod. He came with his mighty hosts from beyond the
Danube; this is all that can be said with certainty of his origin.
The East, therefore, was already dead, and could furnish no powerful
foe against that Rome which it detested. It is even in this Oriental
supineness that we can find a reason for the duration of the
inglorious empire of Constantinople. Rome and the West, though far
more vigorous, were overwhelmed by barbarians of the same original
stock sent by Providence to "renew its youth like that of the eagle."
Constantinople and the East continued for a thousand years longer to
drag out their feeble existence, because the far Orient could not
send a few of its tribes to touch their walls and cause them to
crumble into dust. It is even remarkable that the armies of Mohammed
and his successors, in the flush of their new fanaticism, did not
dare for a long time to attack the race of Japhet settled on the
Bosporus. From their native Arabia they easily overran Egypt and
Northern Africa, Syria and Palestine, Mesopotamia and Persia. But
Asia Minor and Thrace remained for centuries proof against their
fury, and, whenever their fleets appeared in the Bosporus, they
were easily defeated by the unworthy successors of Constantine
and Theodosius. This fact, which has not been sufficiently noticed,
shows conclusively that the energy imparted by Mohammedanism
to Oriental nations would have lasted but a short time, and
encountered in the West a successful resistance, had not the
Turks appeared on the scene, destroyed the Saracen dynasties,
and, by infusing the blood of Central Asia into the veins of
Eastern and Southern fanatics, prolonged for so many ages the
sway of the Crescent over a large portion of the globe.
This was the turning-point in human affairs between the East and
the West. We do not write history, and cannot, consequently, enter
into details. It is enough to say that a new element, strengthened
by a long struggle with Moslemism, was to give to the West a lasting
preponderance which ancient Rome could not possess, and whose
developments we see in our days. This new element was the Christian
religion, solidly established on the ruins of idolatry and heresy;
far more solidly established, consequently, than under the Christian
emperors of Rome, while paganism still existed in the capital itself.
The Christian religion, which was to make one society of all the
children of Adam; which, at its birth, took the name of universal
or catholic (whereas previously all religions had been merely
national, and therefore very limited in their effects upon mankind
at large); which alone was destined to establish and maintain,
through all ages, spite of innumerable obstacles, a real universal
sway over all nations and tribes--the Christian religion alone
could give one race preponderance over others until all should
become, as it were, merged into _one_.
At first it seemed that Providence destined that high calling for
the Semitic branch of the human family. The Hebrew people, trained
by God himself, through so many ages, for the highest purposes,
finally gave birth to the great Leader who, by redeeming all men,
was to gather them all into one family. This Leader, our divine
Lord, himself a Hebrew, chose twelve men of the same nation to
be the founders of the great edifice. We know how, the divine
plan was frustrated by the stubbornness of the Jews, who
_rejected the corner-stone of the building_, to be themselves
dashed against its walls and destroyed. The sons of Japhet were
substituted for the sons of Sem, Europe for Asia, Rome for
Jerusalem; and the real commencement of the lasting preponderance
of the West dates from the establishment of the Christian Church
See how, from Christianity, the Caucasian race, as we call it,
came to be the rulers of the world. A mighty revolution, wherein
all the branches of that great race become intermingled and
confused, sweeps over the Roman Empire. Every thing seems
destroyed by the onset of the barbarians, in order that they, by
receiving the only true religion which they found without seeking
among those whom they conquered, might become worthy of fulfilling
the designs of Providence. All the barriers are overthrown that one
institution, called Christendom, may take form and harmony. There
are to be no more Romans, nor Gauls, nor Iberians, nor Germans, nor
Scandinavians--only Christians. It is a renewed and reinvigorated
race of Japhet, imbued with true doctrine, clothed with solid
virtues, animated with an overwhelming energy. It is a colossal
statue, moulded by popes, chiselled by bishops, set on its feet by
Christian emperors and kings, chiefly by Charlemagne, Alfred, Louis
IX, and Otho. Is there not perfect unity between those great men
divided by such intervals of space and time? Is not their work a
universal republic, whose foundations they laid with their own hands?
The rest of the world, still prostrate at the feet of foolish idols,
or carried away by human errors and delusions, sinks deeper and
deeper into apathy and corruption, while Europe is reserved for
mighty purposes in centuries to come. A stream is gathering in the
West, which is destined to sweep down and bear away all obstacles,
and to cover every continent with its regenerating waters.
That stream is modern European history. It has been recorded in
thousands of volumes, many of which, however, are totally unreliable
fables of those mighty events. Those only have had the key to its
right interpretation who have followed the Christian light given from
above, as a star, to guide the wonderful giant in his course. The
chief among them were: of old, Augustine, the author of the "City
of God;" Orosius, the first to condense the annals of the world
into the formula, "_divina providentia regitur mundus et homo;_"
Otho of Freysinguen, in his work "_De mutatione rerum;_" and the
author of "_Gesta Dei per Francos;_" in modern times, Bossuet and
The destruction of idolatry was of such vital importance in the
regeneration of the world that it sufficed as a dogma to imbue a
great branch of the Semitic family with a strong life for several
centuries. Moslemism has no other truth to support it than the
assertion of God's unity; but, by waging war against the Trinity
and, consequently, against the very foundation of Christian belief,
it became, for a long time, the greatest obstacle to the dissemination
of truth. It prevented the early triumph of the Caucasian race,
and galvanized, for a time, the nations of the East and South into
a false life.
The ravages of the Tartar hordes under Genghis Khan and his
successors were in no sense life, but only a fitful madness.
The European stream was thus impeded in its flood by the new
activity of Arabia and Turkomania. It was a struggle in which
victory, for a long time, hung in the balance: it required many
crusades of the whole of Western Europe; the long heroism of the
Spanish and Portuguese nations; the incessant attack and defence
of the Templars and the Knights of Malta over the whole surface
of the Mediterranean Sea, to secure the preponderance of the West.
It was finally decided at Lepanto. Since that great day,
Mohammedanism has gradually declined, and there now seems no
insurmountable obstacle to the free flowing of the European stream.
This stream, however, is not homogeneous: far from it. Had the
Christian element always remained alone in it, or at least supreme,
long ere this the victory would have been secure forever, and the
Catholic missions alone would have fulfilled the old prophecies
and given to the sons of Japhet possession of the tents of Sem--a
glorious work so well begun in the East, in India and Japan; in
the West, in the whole of America!
But, unfortunately, the policy of the papacy, which was also that
of Charlemagne, and of other great Christian sovereigns, was not
continued. The Norman feudalism of England and Northern France;
the Caesarism of Germany and the Capetian kings; the heresies
brought from the East by the Crusaders; the paganism and neo-Platonism
of the revival of learning; above all, the fearful upheaval of the
whole of Europe by the Protestant schism and heresy, troubled the
purity of that great Japhetic stream, and has retarded to our days
its momentous and overwhelming impetuosity.
Wonderful, indeed, that in the whole of Europe one small island
alone was forever stubbornly opposed to all these aberrations,
which has stood her ground firmly, and, we may now say, successfully.
The reader already knows that the demonstration of this stupendous
fact is the object of the present volume.
Having stood aloof so long from all those wanderings from the
right path, she has scarcely appeared in the field of European
history save as the victim of Scandinavia and of England. But
there is a time in the series of ages for the appearance of all
those called by Providence to enact a part. What is a myriad of
years for man is not a moment for God; and it would seem that we
had reached at last the epoch wherein Ireland is to be rewarded
for her steadfastness and fidelity.
The impetus now imparted to European power becomes each day more
clearly defined, and, to judge by recent appearances, Irishmen are
about to play no inglorious part in it. The power of expansion, so
characteristic of them from the beginning, has of late years assumed
gigantic proportions. The very hatred of their enemies, the measures
adopted by their oppressors to annihilate them, have only served to
give them a larger field of operations and a much stronger force.
It is not without purpose that God has spread them in such numbers
over so many different islands and continents. It is theirs to give
to the spread of Japhetism among the sons of Sem its right direction
and results. The other races of Western Europe would, had they been
left to themselves alone, have converted that great event into a
curse for mankind, and perhaps the forerunner of the last calamities;
but the Irish, having kept themselves pure, are the true instruments
in the hands of God for righting what is wrong and purifying what
Had Europe remained in its entirety as steadfast to the true
Christian spirit as the small island which dots the sea on its
western border, what an incalculable happiness it would have proved
to the whole globe, resting as it does to-day under the lead of
the race of Japhet !
But where now are the pure waters which should vivify and
fertilize it? Innumerable elements are floating in their midst
which can but destroy life and spread barrenness everywhere.
Let us see what Europeans believe; what are the motives which
actuate them; what they propose to themselves in disseminating
their influence and establishing their dominion; what the real,
openly-avowed purposes of the leaders are in the vast scheme
which embraces the whole earth; what becomes of foreign races
as soon as they come in contact with them.
The bare idea causes the blood of the Christian to curdle in
his veins, and he thanks God that his life shall not be
prolonged to witness the successful termination of the vast
conspiracy against God and humanity.
For, in our days, spite of so many deviations in the course of
the great European stream, it is truly a matter of wonder what
power it has obtained over the globe in its mastery, its control,
its unification. What, then, would have been the result had its
course remained constantly under Christian guidance!
It is only a short time since the whole earth has become known
to us; and we may say that, for Europe, it has been enough only
to know it in order to become at once the mistress of it; such
power has the Christian religion given her! The first circumnavigation
of the globe under Magellan took place but yesterday, and to-day
European ships cover the oceans and seas of the world, bearing
in every sail the breath and the spirit of Japhetism. The stubborn
ice-fields of the pole can scarcely retard their course, and hardy
navigators and adventurous travellers jeopardize their lives in
the pursuit of merely theoretical notions, void almost of any
The most remote and, up to recently, inaccessible parts of the
earth are as open to us, owing to steam, as were the countries
bordering on the Mediterranean to the ancients. The Argonautic
expedition along the southern coast of the Black Sea was in its
day an heroic undertaking. The Phoenician colonies established
in Africa and Spain by a race trying for the first time in the
history of man to launch their ships on the ocean in order
to trade with Northern tribes as far as Ireland and the Baltic,
though never losing sight of the coast; the attempts of the
Carthaginians to circumnavigate Africa; the three years' voyages
of the ships of Solomon in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf,
were one and all far more hazardous undertakings than the long
voyages of our steamships across the Indian Ocean to Australia,
or around Cape Horn to California and the South Sea Islands,
through the Southern and Northern Pacifics.
From all large seaboard cities in any part of the globe, lines
of steamers now bear men to every point of the compass, so that
the very boards at the entrances of offices, to be found everywhere
for the accommodation of travellers, are as indices of works on
And the European, still unsatisfied with all he has achieved
in speed and comfort, looks to more rapid and easier modes of
conveyance. Scientific men have been for many years engaged
in experiments by means of which they hope to replace the ocean
by the atmosphere as a public highway for nations; and the currents
of air rushing in every direction with the velocity of the
most rapid winds may yet be used by our children instead of
rivers, thenceforth deserted, and of ocean-streams at last left
empty and waste as before the voyages of Columbus and De Gama.
All this constitutes a positive and stern fact staring us in the
face, and giving to the Caucasian race a power of which our ancestors
would never have dreamed. And if all this is to be the only result
of man's activity--the attainment of merely worldly purposes--God,
whose world this is, may look down on it from heaven as on the work
of Titans preparing to attack his rights, and He will know how to
turn all these mighty efforts of the sons of Japhet to his own
holy designs. He may use a small branch of that great race,
preserved purposely from the beginning unsullied by mere thrift,
and prepared for his work by long persecution, a consideration
which we shall examine later on.
Meanwhile the great mass of the European family is allowed to go
on in its wonderful undertaking; and we turn to it yet a short while.
As if to favor still more directly this work of the unification
of the globe, Providence has placed at the disposal of the prime
movers in the enterprise pecuniary means which no one could have
foreseen a few years ago.
In 1846, on a small branch of one of the great rivers of California,
a colonist discovers gold carried as dust with the sand, and soon
a great part of the country is found to be immensely rich in the
precious metal. That first discovery is followed by others equally
important, and after a few years gold is found in abundance on both
sides of a long range of the Rocky Mountains; again in the north,
nearly as high up as the arctic circle. North America, in fact,
is found to be a vast gold deposit. Australia soon follows, and
that new continent, whose exploration has scarcely begun, is said
to be dotted all over by large oases of auriferous rock and gravel.
In due time the same news comes from South Africa, where it has
been lately reported that diamonds, in addition to gold, enrich
the explorer and the workman.
It is needless to speak of mines of silver and mercury after gold
and diamonds; but the result is that the European race is straightway
provided with an enormous wealth commensurate with the immense
commercial and manufacturing enterprises required for the establishment
of its supremacy all over the globe.
There is work, therefore, for all the ships afloat; others and
larger ones have to be constructed; and modern engineering skill
places on the bosom of the deep sea vessels which few, indeed, of
the greatest rivers can accommodate in their channels and bays.
All these means of dominion and dissemination once procured,
the great work clearly assigned to the race of Japhet may proceed.
Intercourse with the most savage and uncivilized tribes is eagerly
cultivated even at the risk of life. New avenues to trade are
opened up in places where men, still living in the most primitive
state, have few if any wants; and it is considered as part of the
keen merchant's skill to fill the minds of these uncouth and
unsophisticated barbarians with the desire of every possible
luxury. Have we not lately heard that the savages of the Feejee
Islands, who were a few years ago cannibals, have now a king
seeking the protection of England, if not the annexation of his
kingdom to the British empire?
Yes, the material civilization of Europe, the new discoveries
of steam and magnetism, the untiring energy of men aiming at
universal dominion, give to the Caucasian race such a superiority
over the rest of mankind that the time seems to be fast approaching
when the manners, the dress, the look even of Europeans, will
supersede all other types, and spread everywhere the dead level
of our habits.
This fact has already been realized in America, North and South.
Geographers may give lengthened descriptions of the original tribes
which still possess a shadow of existence; foreign readers may
perhaps imagine that the continent is still in the quiet
possession of rude and uncivilized races roaming at will over its
surface, and allowing some Europeans to occupy certain cities and
harbors for the purposes of trade and barter. We know that nothing
could be more erroneous. The Europeans are the real possessors,
north and south; the Indians are permitted to exist on a few spots
contracting year by year into narrower limits. The northern and
larger half of the continent is chiefly the dwelling-place of the
most active branch of the bold race of Japhet. The first of the
iron lines which are to connect its Atlantic and Pacific coasts
has recently been laid. Cities spring up all along its track: the
harbors of California, Oregon, and Alaska, will soon swarm much
more than now with hardy navigators ready to europeanize the various
groups of islands scattered over the Pacific. Already in the Sandwich
and Tahiti groups the number of Europeans is greatly in excess of
that of the natives. Those natives who, in the Philippine Islands,
have been preserved by the Catholic Church, will too soon disappear
from the surface of the largest ocean of the globe.
Then Eastern Asia will be attacked much more seriously than ever
before. Since its discovery, Europeans could only reach it
through the long distances which divide Western Europe from China
and Japan. But within a short time numerous lines of steamships,
starting from San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu, and many other
harbors yet nameless, will land travellers in Yokohama, Hakodadi,
Yeddo, Shanghai, Canton, and other emporiums of Asia.
Nor will the Americans of the United States be alone in the race.
Several governments are preparing to cut a canal through the Isthmus
of Panama, or Darien, or Tehuantepec, as has already been done
with that of Suez; and soon ships starting from Western Europe
will, with the aid of steam, traverse the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans successively as two large lakes to land their passengers
and cargoes on the frontiers of China and India.
The Japanese, those Englishmen of the East, are ready to adopt
European inventions. They are indeed already expert in many of
them, and seem on the alert to conform to European manners. It
is said that the nation is divided into two parties on that very
question of conformity; before long they will all be of one mind.
What an impulse will thus be given to the europeanization of China
In Hindostan, England has fairly begun the work; but the climate
of the peninsula offering an obstacle to the introduction of a
large number of men of the Caucasian race, it will be more probably
from the foot of the Himalaya Mountains that the spread of the race
will commence. Already the English and the Russians are concentrating
their forces on the Upper Indus. The question merely is, Which
nation will be the first to inoculate the dreamy sons of Sem with
the spirit and blood of Japhet? It seems that Central Asia will form
the rallying-ground for the last efforts of the Titans to unify their
power, as it was thence that the power of God first dispersed them.
A glance at the rest of the world as witnessing the same astonishing
spectacle, and we pass on. Australia is clearly destined to be entirely
European; the number of natives, already insignificant compared to that
of the colonists, will soon disappear utterly. Turkey, the Caucasus,
Bokhara, are rapidly taking a new shape and adopting Western manners.
The African triangle offers the greatest resistance, owing to its
deserts, its terrible climate, and the savage or childish disposition
of its inhabitants. Yet the attempt to europeanize it is at this
moment in earnest action at its southernmost cape, all along its
northern line skirting the Mediterranean, in Egypt chiefly, and
also through the Erythrean Gulf in the east; finally, on many
points of its western shore, which, strange to say, lags behind,
although it formed the first point of discovery by the Portuguese.
To condense all we have just said to a few lines: it looks as
though all races of men, except the Caucasian, were undergoing
a rapid process of unification or disappearance.
In America certainly the phenomenon is most striking.
In Asia all the native races seem palsied and unable to hold
together in the presence of the Russians and the English.
In Africa, Mohammedanism still preserves to the natives a certain
activity of life, but even that is fast on the wane.
Finally, in Australia and the Pacific Ocean the disappearance of
the natives is still more striking and more sudden in its action
than even in America.
This state of things did not exist two hundred years ago; and
when the Crusades began the reverse was the case.
We cannot believe that this immense, universal fact is merely an
exterior one resulting from new appliances, new comforts, new
outward habits; what is called material civilization. We cannot
believe that it is merely the dress, houses, culinary regime, the
popular customs of those numerous foreign tribes or nations which
are undergoing such a wonderful change. This outward phenomenon
supposes a _substratum_, an interior reality of ideas and principles
worthy our chief attention as the real cause of all those exterior
changes; a cause, nevertheless, which is scarcely thought of in
the public estimate of this mighty revolution.
It is the mind of Europe: it is the belief or want of belief,
the religious or irreligious views, the grasping ambition, the
headlong desire of an impossible or unholy happiness, the reckless
sway of unbridled passions, which try to spread themselves among
all nations, and bring them all up, or rather down, to the level
of intoxicated, tottering, maddened Europe.
If the monstrous scheme succeeds, there will be no more prayer in
the villages of the devout Maronites, no more submission to God in
the mountains of Armenia, no more simplicity of faith among the
shepherds of Chaldea, no more purity of life among the wandering
children of Asiatic deserts.
Side by side with truth and virtue many errors and monstrosities
will doubtless disappear, but not to be replaced with what is
The muezzin of the mosques will no longer raise his voice from the
minarets at noon and nightfall; the simple Lama will no longer
believe in the successive incarnations of Buddha; no longer will
the superstitious Hindoo cast himself beneath the car of Juggernaut;
many another such absurdity and crime will, let us hope, disappear
forever. But with what benefit to mankind? After all, is not
superstition even better for men than total unbelief? And, when
the whole world is reduced to the state of Europe, when what we
daily witness there shall be reproduced in all continents and
islands, will men really be more virtuous and happy?
We must not think, however, that there is nothing truly good in
the stupendous transformation which we have endeavored to sketch.
If it really be the accomplishment of the great prophecy mentioned
by us at the beginning of this chapter, it is a noble and a
glorious event. God will know how to turn it to good account, and
it is for us to hail its coming with thankfulness.
There is no doubt that the actual superiority of the race of Japhet,
by force of which this wonderful revolution is being accomplished,
is the result of Christianity, that is, of Catholicity. It is
because Europe, or the agglomeration of the various branches of
the race of Japhet, was for fifteen hundred years overshadowed
by the true temple of God, his glorious and infallible Church;
it is because the education of Europeans is mainly due to the
true messengers of God, the Popes and the bishops; it is because
the mind of Europe was really formed by the great Catholic thinkers,
nurtured in the monasteries and convents of the Church; it is,
finally, because Europeans are truly the sons of martyrs and
crusaders, that on them devolves the great mission of regenerating
and blending into one the whole world.
But, unfortunately, the work is spoiled by adjuncts in the movement
which have grown up in the centuries preceding us. In fact, the
whole European movement has been thrown on a wrong track, which
we have already pointed out as mere material civilization.
Still, in spite of all the dross, there is a great deal of pure
metal in the Japhetic movement. Underlying it all runs the
doctrine that all men are sprung from the same father, and that
all have had the same Redeemer; that, consequently, all are
brethren, and that there should be no place among them for castes
and classes, as of superior and inferior beings; that the God the
Christians adore is alone omnipotent; that idolatry of all kinds
ought to disappear, and that ultimately there should be but one
flock and one shepherd.
These are saving truths, still held to in the main by the race
of Japhet, in spite of some harsh and opposing false assertions,
truths which the Catholic Church alone teaches in their purity,
and which are yet destined, we hope, to make one of all mankind.
But her claims are yet far from being acknowledged by the
leaders in the movement. And who are those leaders? A question
England is certainly the first and foremost. Endowed with all the
characteristics of the Scandinavian race, which we shall touch upon
after, deeply infused with the blood of the Danes and Northmen, she
has all the indomitable energy, all the systematic grasp of mind and
sternness of purpose joined to the wise spirit of compromise and
conservatism of the men of the far North; she, of all nations, has
inherited their great power of expansion at sea, possessing all
the roving propensities of the old Vikings, and the spirit of
trade, enterprise, and colonization, of those old Phoenicians of
the arctic circle.
The Catholic south of Europe, Spain and Portugal, having, through
causes which it is not the place to investigate here, lost their
power on the ocean; the temporary maritime supremacy of Holland
having passed away, because the people of that flat country were
too close and narrow-minded to grasp the world for any length of
time; France, the only modern rival of England as a naval power,
having been compelled, owing to the revolutions of the last and
the present centuries, to concentrate her whole strength on the
Continent of Europe; the young giant of the West, America, being
yet unable to grasp at once a vast continent and universal sway
over the pathways of the ocean, England had free scope for her
maritime enterprises, and she threw herself headlong into this
career. Out of Europe she is incontestably the first power of the
whole world. To give a better idea of the extent of her dominion,
we subjoin an abridged sketch from the "History of a Hundred Years,"
by Cesare Cantu:
"In Europe she has colonies at Heligoland, Gibraltar, Malta, and
the Ionian Isles.
"In Africa, Bathurst, Sierra Leone, many establishments on the
coast of Guinea, the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigo, Sechelles,
Socotora, Ascension, St. Helena, and, most important of all,
the Cape Colony.
"In Asia, where she replaced the French and Dutch, she has,
besides Ceylon, an empire of 150,000,000 of people in India,
the islands of Singapore and Sumatra, part of Malacca, and many
establishments in China.
"In America, she is mistress of Canada, New Brunswick, and other
eastern provinces; the Lucayes, Bermudas, most of the Antilles,
part of Guiana, and the Falkland Isles.
"In the Southern Ocean, the greater part of Australia, Tasmania,
Norfolk, Van Diemen's Land, New Zealand, and many other groups
of Oceanica are hers.
"What other state can compete with her in the management of
colonies, and in the selection of situations from which she
could command the sea? Jersey and Guernsey are her keys of the
Straits of Dover; from Heligoland she can open or shut the mouths
of the Elbe and Weser; from Gibraltar she keeps her eye on Spain
and the States of Barbary, and holds the gates of the Mediterranean.
With Malta and Corfu she has a like advantage over the Levant.
Socotora is for her the key of the Red Sea, whence she commands
Eastern Africa and Abyssinia. Ormuz, Chesmi, and Buschir, give
her the mastery over the Persian Gulf, and the large rivers which
flow into it. Aden secures the communication of Bombay with Suez.
Pulo Pinang makes her mistress of the Straits of Malacca, and
Singapore, of the passage between China and India. At the Cape
of Good Hope her troops form an advanced guard over the Indian
Ocean; and from Jamaica she rules the Antilles and trades securely
with the rest of Central and South America.
"Englishmen have made a careful survey of the whole of the
Mediterranean Sea, of the course of the Indus, the Ganges, the
Bramaputra, the Godavery, and other rivers of India; of the
whole littoral between Cape Colony and China; England has steamships
on the Amazon and Niger, and her vessels are found everywhere on
the coast of Chili and Peru."
Other European families try to follow in her footsteps; at their
head the United States now stand. Primitively an offshoot of the
English stock, the blood of all other Japhetic races has given the
latter country an activity and boldness which will render it in
time superior in those respects to the mother-country herself.
Yet at this time, even in the presence of the United States, in
the presence of all other maritime powers, England stands at the
head of the Japhetic movement.
Unfortunately, her first aim, after acquiring wealth and securing
her power, is, to exclude the Roman Catholic Church as far as is
practicable from the benefit of the system, to oppose her whenever
she would follow in the wake of her progress, and either to allow
paganism or Mohammedanism to continue in quiet possession wherever
they exist, or to substitute for them as far as possible her
Protestantism. At all events, the Catholicity of the Church is
to be crushed, or at least thwarted, to make room for the
catholicity of the English nation.
And it looks as though such, in truth, would have been the result,
had not the stubbornness of the Irish character stood in the way;
if the Celt of Erin, after centuries of oppression and opposition
to the false wanderings of the European stream, had not insisted
on following the English lord in his travels, dogging his steps
everywhere, entering his ships welcome or unwelcome, rushing on
shore with him wherever he thought fit to land, and there planted
his shanty and his frame church in the very sight of stately
palaces lately erected, and gorgeous temples with storied windows
and softly-carpeted floors.
And after a few years the Irish Celt would show himself as active
and industrious in his new country as oppression had made him
indolent and careless on his own soil; the shanty would be replaced
by a house worthy of a man; above all, the humble dwelling which he
first raised to his God would disappear to make room for an edifice
not altogether unworthy of divine majesty; at least, far above the
pretentious structures of the oppressors of his religion. The eyes
of men would be again turned to "the city built upon a mountain;" and
the character of universality, instead of being wrested from the true
Church, would become more resplendent than ever through the steadfast
Thus the spreading of the Gospel in distant regions would be
accomplished without a navy of their own. As their ancestors did
in pagan times, they would use the vessels of nations born for
thrift and trade; the stately ships of the "Egyptians" would be
used by the true "people of God."
For them hath Stephenson perfected the steam-engine, so as to
enable vessels to undertake long voyages at sea without the necessary
help of sails; for them Brunel and others had spent long years in
planning and constructing novel Noah's arks capable of containing
all clean and unclean animals; for them the Barings and other
wealthy capitalists had embraced the five continents and the isles
of the ocean in their financial schemes; the Jews of England,
Germany, and France, the Rothschilds and Mendelssohns, had
accumulated large amounts of money to lend to ship-building
companies; for them, in fine, the long-hidden gold deposits
of California, Australia, and many other places, had been
discovered at the proper time to replenish the coffers of the godless,
that they might undertake to furnish the means of transportation
and settlement for the missionaries of God!
And, to prove that this is no exaggeration, it is enough to look
at the number of emigrants that were to be carried to foreign parts,
and that actually left England for her various colonies or for the
United States. For several years one thousand Irish people sailed
_daily_ from the ports of Great Britain; and for a great number
of years 200,000 at least did so every twelve months. When we come,
to contrast the Irish at home with the Irish abroad, we shall
give fuller details than are possible here. These few words suffice
to show the immense number of vessels and the vast sums that were
required for such an extraordinary operation.
This phenomenon is surely curious enough, universal enough, and
sufficiently portentous in its consequences, to deserve a thorough
inquiry into its causes and the way in which it was brought about.
It will be seen that it all came from the Irish having kept
themselves aloof from the other branches of the great Japhetic race
in order to join in the general movement at the right time and in
their own way, constantly opposed to all the evil that is in it,
but using it in the way Providence intended.
The chapters which follow will be devoted to the development of
this general idea; the few remarks with which we close the present
may tend to set the conclusion which we draw more distinctly before
There is no doubt that, taking the Irish nation as a whole, we
find in it features which are visible in no other European nation;
and that, taking Europe as a whole, in all its complexity of
habits, manners, tendencies, and ways of life, we have a picture
wholly distinct from that of the Irish people. England has striven
during the last eight hundred years to shape it and make it the
creature of her thought, and England has utterly failed.
The same race of men and women inhabit the isle of Erin to-day as
that which held it a thousand years ago, with the distinction that
it is now far more wretched and deserving of pity than it was then.
The people possess the same primitive habits, simple thoughts,
ardent impulsiveness, stubborn spirit, and buoyant disposition,
in spite of ages of oppression. In the course of centuries they
have not furnished a single man to that army of rash minds which
have carried the rest of Europe headlong through lofty, perhaps,
but at bottom empty and idle theories, to the brink of that
bottomless abyss into which no one can peer without a shudder.
No heresiarch has found place among them; no fanciful philosopher,
no holder of fitful and lurid light to deceive nations and lead
them astray, no propounder of social theories opposed to those
of the Gospel, no inventor of new theogonies and cosmologies--new
in name, old in fact--rediscovered by modern students in the
Kings_ of China, the _Vedas_ of Hindostan, the _Zends_ of Persia,
or _Eddas_ of the North; no ardent explorer of Nature, seeking
in the bowels of the earth, or on the summits of mountains, or
in the depths of the ocean, or the motions of the stars, proofs
that God does not exist, or that matter has always existed, that
man has made himself, developing his own consciousness out of
the instinct of the brute, or even out of the material motions
of the zoophyte.
We would beg the reader to bear in mind those insane theories so
prevalent to-day, out of which society can hope for nothing but
convulsions and calamities, to see how all the nations of Europe
have contributed to the baneful result except the Irish; that
they alone have furnished no false leader in those wanderings
from the right path; that their community has been opposed all
through to the adoption of the theories which led to them, have
spurned them with contempt, and even refused to inquire into
them: with these thoughts and recollections in his mind, he may
understand what we mean when we assert that the Irish have
stubbornly refused to enter upon the European movement. Although,
by the reception of Christianity, they were admitted into the
European family, the Christianity which they received was so
thoroughly imbibed and so completely carried out that any thing
in the least opposed to it was sternly rejected by the whole
nation. Hence they became a people of peculiar habits. Rejecting
the harsh features of feudalism, not caring for the refinement of
the so-called revival of learning, sternly opposed at all times to
Protestantism, they would have naught to do with what was rejected
or even suspected by the Church, until in our days they offer to
the eyes of the world the spectacle we have sketched. Thus have
they, not the least by reason of their long martyrdom, become fit
instruments for the great work Providence asks of them to-day.
England, the great leader in the material part of the social
movement which has been the subject of this chapter, for a long
time hesitated to adopt principles altogether subversive to
society. In her worldly good sense she endeavored to follow what
she imagined a _via media_ in her wisdom, to avoid what seemed
to her extremes, but what is in reality the eternal antagonism
of truth and falsehood, of order and chaos. Twenty years back
there was a unanimity among English writers to speak the
language of moderation and good sense whenever a rash author of
foreign nations hazarded some dangerous novelties; and in their
reviews they immediately pointed out the poison which lay
concealed under the covering of science or imagination, and the
peril of these ever-increasing new discoveries. If any
Englishman sanctioned those theories, he could not form a school
among his countrymen, and remained almost alone of his party.
But at last England has given way to the universal spread of
temptation, and to-day she runs the race of disorganization as
ardent as any, striving to be a leader among other leaders to
ruin. Every one is astounded at the sudden and remarkable change.
It is truly inexplicable, save by the fearful axiom, _Quos Deus
vult perdere, dementat_. Hence not a few expect soon to see
storms sweep over the devoted island of Great Britain, which no
longer forms an exception to the universality of the evil we
Which, then, is the one safe spot in Europe, whither the tide
of folly, or madness rather, has not yet come?
Ireland alone is the answer.
THE IRISH BETTER PREPARED TO RECEIVE CHRISTIANITY THAN
The introduction of Christianity gave Europe a power over the
world which pagan Rome could not possess. All the branches of
the Japhetic family combined to form what was with justice and
propriety called Christendom. Ireland, by receiving the Gospel,
was really making her first entry into the European family; but
there were certain peculiarities in her performance of this
great act which gave her national life, already deviating from
that of other European nations, a unique impulse. The first of
those peculiarities consisted in her preparation for the great
reception of the faith, and the few obstacles she encountered in
her adoption of it, compared with those of the rest of the world.
Providence wisely decreed that redemption should be delayed
until a large portion of mankind had attained to the highest
civilization. It was not in a time of ignorance and barbarism
that the Saviour was born. The Augustan is, undoubtedly, the
most intellectual and refined age, in point of literary and
artistic taste, that the world has ever seen. A few centuries
before, Greece had reached the summit of science and art. No
country, in ancient or modern times, has surpassed the acumen of
her philosophical writers and the aesthetic perfection of her
poets and artists. Rome made use of her to embellish her cities,
and inherited her taste for science and literature.
But art and literature embody ideas only; and, as Ozanam says so
well: "Beneath the current of ideas which dispute the empire of
the world, lies that world itself such as labor has made it,
with that treasure of wealth and visible adornment which render
it worthy of being the transient sojourn-place of immortal souls.
Beneath the true, the good, and the beautiful, lies the useful,
which is brightened by their reflection. No people has more
keenly appreciated the idea of utility than that of Rome; none
has ever laid upon the earth a hand more full of power, or more
capable of transforming it; nor more profusely flung the
treasures of earth at the feet of humanity . . . .
"At the close of the second century . . the rhetorician
Aristides celebrated in the following terms the greatness of the
Roman Empire: 'Romans, the whole world beneath your dominion
seems to keep a day of festival. From time to time a sound of
battle comes to you from the ends of the earth, where you are
repelling the Goth, the Moor, or the Arab. But soon that sound
is dispersed like a dream. Other are the rivalries and different
the conflicts which you excite through the universe. They are
combats of glory, rivalries in magnificence between provinces
and cities. Through you, gymnasia, aqueducts, porticoes, temples,
and schools, are multiplied; the very soil revives, and the
earth is but one vast garden!'
"Similar, also, was the language of the stern Tertullian: `In
truth, the world becomes day after day richer and better
cultivated; even the islands are no longer solitudes; the rocks
have no more terrors for the navigator; everywhere there are
habitations, population, law, and life.'
"The legions of Rome had constructed the roads which furrowed
mountains, leaped over marshes, and crossed so many different
provinces with a like solidity, regularity, and uniformity; and
the various races of men were lost in admiration at the sight of
the mighty works which were attributed in after-times to Caesar,
to Brunehaud, to Abelard!"
It was in the midst of those worldly glories that Christ was
born, that he preached, and suffered, that his religion was
established and propagated. It found proselytes at once among
the most polished and the most learned of men, as well as among
slaves and artisans; and thus was it proved that Christianity
could satisfy the loftiest aspirations of the most civilized as
well as insure the happiness of the most numerous and miserable
But we must reflect that the advanced civilization of Greece and
Rome was in fact an immense obstacle to the propagation of truth,
and, what is more to be regretted, often gave an unnatural
aspect to the Christianity of the first ages in the Roman world--
a half-pagan look--so that the barbarian invasion was almost
necessary to destroy every thing of the natural order; that the
Church alone remaining face to face with those uncouth children
of the North, might begin her mission anew and mould them all
into the family called "Christendom." "Christianity," to
quote Ozanam again, "shrank from condemning a veneration of the
beautiful, although idolatry was contained in it; and as it
honored the human mind and the arts it produced, so the
persecution of the apostate Julian, in which the study of the
classics had been forbidden to the faithful, was the severest of
its trials. Literary history possesses no moment of greater
interest than that which saw the school with its profane
--that is to say pagan--traditions and texts received into the
Church. The Fathers, whose christian austerity is our wonder,
were passionate in their love of antiquity, which they covered,
as it were, with their sacred vestments. . . . By their favor,
Virgil traversed the ages of iron without losing a page, and, by
right of his Fourth Eclogue, took rank among the prophets and
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