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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84



It seemed as if there were no bounds to the fiendish proclivities of the new class of Irish patriots. Despite all the efforts made to close up the tenantry in one solid rank, the gospel of plunder failed to present attraction; and there remained some who, despite the teachings and warnings which were addressed to them, dared to transgress the unwritten law, and to act in direct contravention to the orders of the Agitators. It became necessary, therefore, to punish persons acting in this way; and not alone to punish them, but to make of their cases, lessons which would have the effect of deterring others from doing likewise. The Reign of Terror was not complete, and another weapon required to be introduced, to the keeping of lands from which tenants had been evicted, out of cultivation. Accordingly, therefore, Mr. Parnell, in words of strange significance, enunciated another article in the new creed as follows,—his remarks being addressed to a meeting of tenants in Ennis, in the county of Clare :—

"When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him—you will find what the meaning of the word 4 show ' is afterwards—on the roadside when you meet him, you must show him in the streets or the town, you must show him at the shop counter—(a voice, 'shun him')—no, the word was not ' shun ' but ' show'—in the fair, and in the market-place, and even in the house of worship. Leaving him severely alone, by putting him into a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his kind, as if he were a leper of old; page 22 you must show him that that is your detestation of the crime he has committed, and you may depend upon it, that if the population of an entire county in Ireland carry out this doctrine, there will be no man so full of avarice, so lost to shame, as to dare the public opinions of all right-thinking men within the country, and to transgress your unwritten code of laws.

These remarks were principally directed to what the League described as "traitorous tenants;" but the new application of warfare was too effective to be confined to tenants. Obnoxious persons, landlords, agents, and others of different classes, were soon encircled within its operations; and from the fact that Captain Boycott, a land agent, was one of the first systematically affected by it, the method of treatment became known as "Boycotting;" which title still exists, and has, ere this, found a place in the reprints of our modem dictionaries. What Boycotting in time really amounted to, is best described in the following quotation :—

"It means—that a peaceable subject of the Queen is denied food and drink, and that he is ruined in his business; that his cattle are unsaleable at fairs; that the smith will not shoe his horse, nor the carpenter mend his cart; that old friends pass him by on the other side, making the sign of the cross; that his children are hooted at the village school; that he sits apart like an outcast in his usual place of public worship; all for doing nothing but what the law says he has a perfect right to do. I know of a man who is afraid to visit his own son. A trader who is even suspected of dealing with such a victim of tyranny may be ruined by the mere imputation: his customers shun him from fear, and he is obliged to get a character from some notorious leaguer. Membership of the National League is, in many cases, as necessary a protection as ever was a certificate of civism under Robespierre. The real Jacobins are few, but the masses groan and submit."

Boycotting was an idea hitherto unthought of in the range of agrarian procedure, and it proved such a powerful weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous section of the community that it began to be practised in the most wholesale manner. Its application could not be affected by law, owing to the peculiarity of its inception and the manner of its practice. The law, while it can take cognisance and powerfully punish criminal conspiracy and procedure, cannot proceed against a man or body of men for refusing to hold social intercourse with another; or for withholdng those interchanges of every-day life which tend to produce comfort or to foster progress. And so the new method throve and prospered, and Government looked on page 23 askance but powerless, But the development of the practice was in no way cloaked as regards its results; and, whilst the Agitators themselves sought to shirk the responsibility for the attendant consequences, there was no lack of testimony as to the truth of the situation. "What is meant by Boycotting?" asked the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, the then leader of the Liberal Government, who held the reigns of power; and, answering his own query in the House of Commons at Westminster, he replied, "In the first place, it is combined intimidation. In the second place, it is combined intimidation made use of for the purpose of destroying the private liberties of choice by fear of ruin and starvation. In the third place, that being what ' Boycotting ' is in itself, we must look to this: that the creed of 'Boycotting,' like every other creed, requires a sanction, and that the sanction of 'Boycotting'—that which stands in the rear of ' Boycotting,' and by which alone ' Boycotting ' can in the long run be made thoroughly effective—is the murder which is not to be denounced."

But "Boycotting" and other methods and systems of League procedure, flourished and progressed, despite the denunciations indulged in, and so hot was the situation towards the end of the year 1897, that Mr. Parnell and some of his leading followers were arrested under what was termed a "Coercion Act;" but what was simply a measure passed into law in order to allow the Executive to grapple with the extraordinary state of things brought about by the agitation, and on suitable cause shown to confine men without trial. The measure to an outsider may seem a little arbitrary, but it should be remembered that an exceptional state of affairs existed; and such a Reign of Terror was in force as to make it impossible for those charged with administering the law, to obtain convictions. Murders of the most horrible and brutal character were each day staining the annals of the country; and although little doubt existed as to their origin and source, the conspiracy was so complete as to prevent the whole truth becoming known. Events crowded upon each other very quickly at this period, and from the arrest of Mr. Parnell and others in October, 1881,—something like 1,000 of the conspirators throughout the country were imprisoned under the special Parliamentary powers spoken of—to the month of May, 1882, the times were of a very stirring character indeed. All the principal leaders of the conspiracy were unfortunately unavailable for arrest; as gentle- page 24 men of the peculiar type of bravery of the Messrs. Redmond, quietly scuttled away to Australia on hearing that warrants were out for their arrest; and turned the period of their absence to good account by collecting money from the Colonists by misrepresentation. In Colonial lands these gentlemen executed a complete volte-face by taking to singing "God Save the Queen instead of cursing the Queen and all things English; and speaking in honeyed language instead of the wild revolutionary sentences which attached themselves to their utterances on Irish soil. The Messrs. Redmond, it may be mentioned in passing, are credited with collecting £15,000 as the result of their mendacity.

After the arrest of the prominent Leaguers, a Ladies' Land League was started, and "the mothers, the sisters, the cousins, and the aunts" of the "Nationalists" inside and outside of prison, set to work to collect funds to sustain the so-called needy brethren, and to make the lot of those in confinement as easy as possible by the supplying of such luxuries as prison regulations allowed. And by this means a good many of the characteristics of martyrdom were tacked on to the cases of those who were undergoing the just consequence of their wrong-doing. The only other remarkable matter which occurred during the imprisonment of the leaders which calls for notice at this point was the issue of a "No-Rent Manifesto," signed by them and smuggled out of the gaol in which they were confined. The manifesto called on the people to pay no rent while their self-styled leaders were confined; and although not universally adopted, the advice [if the document, indeed, should not be styled the command] led to a very alarming condition of affairs all over the country, the obligations and forces of the law being set at naught in the most determined manner.