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Bunting's valuable volume first became known to me. There elapsed no very long time before I was myself the happy proprietor of a copy of the work, and though never regularly instructed in music, could play over the airs with tolerable facility on the pianoforte. Robert Emmet used sometimes to sit by me, when I was thus engaged; and I remember one day his starting up as from a reverie, when I had just finished playing that spirited tune called the Red Fox,* and exclaiming, "Oh that I were at the head of twenty thousand men, marching to that air!"
How little did I then think that in one of the most touching of the sweet airs I used to play to him, his own dying words would find an interpreter so worthy of their sad, but proud feeling; † or that another of those mournful strains would long be associated, in the hearts of his countrymen, with the memory of her § who shared with Ireland his last blessing and prayer.
Though fully alive, of course, to the feelings which such music could not but inspire, I had not yet undertaken the task of adapting words to any of the airs; and it was, I am ashamed to say, in dull and turgid prose, that I made my first appearance in print as a champion of the popular cause. Towards the latter end of the year 1797, the celebrated
"Let Erin remember the days of old."
"Oh, breathe not his name."
"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps." § Miss Curran.
newspaper called "The Press " was set up by Arthur O'Connor, Thomas Addis Emmett, and other chiefs of the United Irish conspiracy, with the view of preparing and ripening the public mind for the great crisis then fast approaching. This memorable journal, according to the impression I at present retain of it, was far more distinguished for earnestness of purpose and intrepidity, than for any great display of literary talent; the bold letters written by Emmett (the elder), under the signature of "Montanus," being the only compositions I can now call to mind, as entitled to praise for their literary merit. It required, however, but a small sprinkling of talent to make bold writing, at that time, palatable; and, from the experience of my own home, I can answer for the avidity with which every line of this daring journal was devoured. It used to come out, I think, twice a week, and, on the evening of publication, I always read it aloud to our small circle after supper.
It may easily be conceived that, what with my ardour for the national cause, and a growing consciousness of some little turn for authorship, I was naturally eager to become a contributor to those patriotic and popular columns. But the constant anxiety about me which I knew my own family felt, a feeling more wakeful far than even their zeal in the public cause, - withheld me from hazarding any step that might cause them alarm. I had ventured, indeed, one evening, to pop privately into the letter
box of The Press, a short Fragment in imitation of Ossian. But this, though inserted, passed off quietly; and nobody was, in any sense of the phrase, the wiser for it. I was soon tempted, however, to try a more daring flight. Without communicating my secret to any one but Edward Hudson, I addressed a long Letter, in prose, to the ***** of * ***, in which a profusion of bad flowers of rhetoric was enwreathed plentifully with that weed which Shakspeare calls "the cockle of rebellion," and, in the same manner as before, committed it tremblingly to the chances of the letter-box. I hardly expected my prose would be honoured with insertion, when, lo, on the next evening of publication, when, seated as usual in my little corner by the fire, I unfolded the paper for the purpose of reading it to my select auditory, there was my own Letter staring me full in the face, being honoured with so conspicuous a place as to be one of the first articles my audience would expect to hear. Assuming an outward appearance of ease, while every nerve within me was trembling, I contrived to accomplish the reading of the Letter without raising in either of my auditors a suspicion that it was my own. I enjoyed the pleasure, too, of hearing it a good deal praised by them; and might have been tempted by this to acknowledge myself the author, had I not found that the language and sentiments of the article were considered by both to be "very bold." *
So thought also higher authorities; for among the extracts from The Press brought forward by the Secret Committee of the
I was not destined, however, to remain long undetected. On the following day, Edward Hudson,* the only one, as I have said, intrusted with my secret, called to pay us a morning visit, and had not been long in the room, conversing with my mother, when looking significantly at me, he said— "Well, you saw — Here he stopped; but the mother's eye had followed his, with the rapidity of lightning, to mine, and at once she perceived the whole truth. "That Letter was yours, then?" she asked of me eagerly; and, without hesitation, of course, I acknowledged the fact; when in the most earnest manner she entreated of me never again to have any connection with that paper; and, as every wish of hers was to me law, I readily pledged the solemn promise she required.
Though well aware how easily a sneer may be raised at the simple details of this domestic scene, I have yet ventured to put it on record, as affording an instance of the gentle and womanly watchful
House of Commons, to show how formidable had been the designs of the United Irishmen, there are two or three paragraphs cited from this redoubtable Letter.
Of the depth and extent to which Hudson had involved himself in the conspiracy, none of our family had harboured the least notion; till, on the seizure of the thirteen Leinster delegates, at Oliver Bond's, in the month of March, 1798, we found, to our astonishment and sorrow, that he was one of the number.
To those unread in the painful history of this period, it is right to mention that almost all the leaders of the United Irish conspiracy were Protestants. Among those companions of my own alluded to in these pages, I scarcely remember a single Catholic.
ness, the Providence, as it may be called, of the little world of home, by which, although placed almost in the very current of so headlong a movement, and living familiarly with some of the most daring of those who propelled it, I yet was guarded from any participation in their secret oaths, counsels, or plans, and thus escaped all share in that wild struggle to which so many far better men than myself fell victims.
In the mean while, this great conspiracy was hastening on, with fearful precipitancy, to its outbreak; and vague and shapeless as are now known to have been the views, even of those who were engaged practically in the plot, it is not any wonder that to the young and uninitiated like myself it should have opened prospects partaking far more of the wild. dreams of poesy than of the plain and honest prose of real life. But a crisis was then fast approaching, when such self-delusions could no longer be indulged; and when the mystery which had hitherto hung over the plans of the conspirators was to be rent asunder by the stern hand of power.
Of the horrors that foreran and followed the frightful explosion of the year 1798, I had neither inclination nor, luckily, occasion to speak. But among those introductory scenes, which had somewhat prepared the public mind for such a catastrophe, there was one, of a painful description, which, as having been myself an actor in it, I may be allowed briefly to notice.