Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

he never was near the spot on the day of the rescue; that he was a loyal private in the marines, and no Fenian; that he never knew anything about the plot, or heard of it, until he was arrested. The jury convicted him along with all the others. But the reporters for the press had been so struck; with the apparent genuineness of the man's defence that they took the unprecedented step of joining in a memorial to the government, expressing their conviction that in his case the finding of the jury was a mistake. The government made inquiry, and it was found that Maguire's defence was a truth, and that his arrest was a mere blunder. He received a pardon at once, that being the only way in which he could be extricated from the effect of the mistaken verdict. Naturally the news of this singular miscarriage of justice threw a great doubt on the soundness of the verdict in the other cases. Many strenuous attempts were made to procure a commutaticn of the sentence. Mr. Bright exerted himself with characteristic energy and humanity. Mr. Swinburne, the poet, made an appeal to the people of England in lines of great power and beauty on behalf of a policy of mercy to the prisoners. Lord Derby, who had then come to be at the head of the government, refused to listen to any appeal. He declared that it was not a political offence, but simply a murder, commonplace in everything save its peculiar atrocity. He was even ungenerous enough to declare that the act for which he had determined that the men should die was a “dastardly" deed. This was not merely a superfluous piece of ungenerosity; it was simply a misapplication of words. A minister of the crown might well denounce, in the strongest language that could be made appropriate to the occasion, so lawless an act as that for which Allen and his companions were condemned, but there was no excuse for calling it dastardly. The conduct of a handful of men, who stopped a police-van in a great city, and at the risk of their own lives rescued-some of their political heroes from custody,

proclaiming at the same time their readiness to die for the deed, might be called lawless, might even be called crminal; but if words had any meaning at all, it could not be called dastardly. We can easily test the question, if we do not maintain the creed that the moral laws change according as they are applied by different persons. Let us suppose that, instead of the rescue of two Fenians in Manchester, Lord Derby had been talking of the rescue of two Garibaldians in Rome. Let us suppose that the Papal police were carrying off two of the followers of Garibaldi to a Roman prison, and that a few Garibaldians stopped the van in open day, and, within reach of the whole force of the Papal gendarmes, broke the van open and rescued the prisoners, and that in the affray one of the Papal police was killed. Does anybody suppose that Lord Derby would have stigmatized the conduct of the rescuing Garibaldians as dastardly? Is it not more likely that, even if he yielded so far to official proprieties as to call it misguided, he would have qualified his disapprobation by declaring that it was also heroic?

One other of the five prisoners who were convicted together escaped the death sentence. This was Condon, or Shore, an American, by citizenship if not by birth. He haj undoubtedly been concerned in the rescue; but for some reason a distinction was made between him and the others. This act of mercy, in itself highly commendable, added to to the bad effect produced in Ireland by the execution of the other three men; for it gave rise to the belief that Shore had been spared only because the protection of the American government might have been invoked on his behalf. The other three, Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien, were executed. They all met death with courage and composure. It would be superfluous to say that their deaths did not discourage the spirit of Fenianism. On the contrary, they gave it a new lease of lite.

Indeed, the execution of these men did not even tend to

prevent crime. The excitement caused by the attempt they had made and the penalty they paid had hardly died away when a crime of a peculiarly atrocious nature was committed in the name of Fenianism. On November 23d, 1867, Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien were hanged at Manchester. On December 13th, an attempt was made to blow up the House of Detention at Clerkenwell. About four o'clock that day all London was startled by a shock and a sound resembling the distant throb of an earthquake or the blowing up of a powder-mgazine. The explanation soon came. Two Fenian prisoners were in the Clerkenwell House of Detention, and some sympathizers outside had attempted to rescue them by placing a barrel of gunpowder close to the wall of the prison, and exploding the powder by means of a match and a fuse. About sixty yards of the prison wall were blown in, and numbers of small houses in the neighborhood were shattered to pieces. Six persons were killed on the spot; about six more died from the effects of the injuries they received ; some hundred and twenty persons were wounded. Forty premature confinements were the consequence of the shock received by women, and twenty of the babies died in their birth. The cluinsiness of the crime was only surpassed by its atrocity. Had the prisoners on whose behalf the attempt was made been near the wall at the time, they must have shared the fate of those who were victimized outside. Had they even been taking exercise in the yard, they would, in all probability, have been killed. They would have been taking exercise at the time had it not been for a warning the authorities at Scotland Yard received two days before, to the effect that an attempt at rescue was to be made by means of gunpowder and the blowing in of the wall. In consequence of this warning the governor of the prison had the prisoners confined to their cells that day; and thus, in all probability, they owed their lives to the disclosure of the secret plan which their officious and ill-omened admirers had

in preparation for their rescue. Why the prison authorities and the police, thus forewarned, did not keep a sufficient watch upon the line of prison wall to prevent the possibility of any such scheme being put into execution, it passes the wit of man to comprehend. At the very time that this hor. rible crime and blunder was perpetrated, one of the London theatres was nightly crowded by spectators eager to see an Irish melodrama, among the incidents of which was the discussion of a plan for the rescue of a prisoner from a castle cell. The audience were immensely amused by the proposal of one confederate to blow up the castle altogether, and the manner in which it occurred to the simple plotters, just in time, that if they carried out this plan they must send the prisoner himself flying into air. The Clerkenwell conspirators had either not seen the popular drama or had missed the point of its broadest joke.

Five men and a woman were put on trial for the crime. The Chief Justice, before whom the charge was tried, directed the withdrawal of the proceedings against the woman and one of the men, as there seemed to be no case against them. Three others were acquitted after a long trial; one man was convicted. Unfortunately for the moral effect of the conviction, the man was found guilty on the evidence of an informer; and a very strong attempt had been made to prove that the prisoner was not in London at all at the time when he was charged with the commission of the crime. A sort of official but extra-judicial inquiry took place as to the validity of the plea of alibi, and the result was that the Chief Justice and the authorities at the Home Office declared themselves satisfied with the verdict. Mr. Bright raised the question in the House of Commons, and urged a further delay of the execution; but he was answered with the assurance that no doubt was any longer felt as to the propriety of the verdict. The man was executed. So far as it is possible to ridge, the persons who were concerned in the plot

to blow in the prison wall appear to have been of that irresponsible crew who hang on to the skirts of all secret politi. cal associations, and whose adhesion is only one other reason for regarding such associations as deplorable and baneful, Such men are of the class who bring a curse, who bring many curses, on even the best cause that strives to work in secret. They prowl after the heels of organized conspiracy, and what it will not do they are ready in some fatal moment to attempt. It would be the merest injustice to deny that among the recognized leaders of the Fenian movement were men of honorable feeling and sincere although misguided patriotism. It would be as cruel and as unjust to suppose that these men could have had any sympathy with such an outrage as that which destroyed the innocent women and children at Clerkenwell. But the political conspirator may well pause, before entering on his schemes, to reflect that an authority exercised in secret can never be sure of making itself thoroughly felt, and of preventing some desperate follower from undertaking on his own account a deed which his leaders would never have sanctioned. If no other reason existed, this thought alone might be enough to set men's hearts against secret political confederation.

It is not necessary to follow out the steps of the Fenian movement any farther. There were many isolated attempts; there were many arrests, trials, imprisonments, banishments. The effect of all this, it must be stated as a mere historical fact, was only to increase the intensity of dissatisfaction and discontent among the Irish peasantry. It is curious to no. tice how entirely Irish in its character the movement was,

ow little sympathy it gave to or got from the move. ments of continental revolution. In one or two instances some restless soldier of universal democracy found his way from the continental revolution. In one or two instances some restless soldier of universal democracy found his way from the continent to place his services at the disposal of

« AnteriorContinuar »