THe Autobiography Of James Hope United Irishman.
Above, Joe At Jimmy Hope's Grave at Mallusk graveyard.
Preface by R. R. Madden
“Master, go on, and I will follow thee To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty.”
As you like it, Act 2. Sc.3
In the following narrative, James Hope, a native of Templepatrick, in the North of Ireland—a poor mechanic, self-taught and seif-enobled, now verging on his eighty- first year, has told his own story, recorded his own acts and opinions; and the duty which devolved on me was to reduce to order a mass of unconnected materials, piled on one another in reference to events, not in the order of their succession, but as passing circumstances or topics of conversation chanced to recall them. The labour which this duty imposed was sufficiently arduous. With the arrangement of those materials, their orthography and grammar, I have taken the liberty of dealing, as it seemed to me the disinterment of the sense required. It only remains for me to add a few words, as to my own opinions of the character and mental qualities of the writer of the narrative, calculated, I think, to show that no ordinary powers of mind were bestowed on this illiterate man.
James Hope, one of nature’s nobility, and one of the finest specimens of “his order” whom I ever met with, is a poor weaver, living in Belfast, not in absolute poverty, but in very humble circumstances. My first interview with him was at the house of a man of his own class, and his own stamp—Israel Milliken, of Belfast. Nothing could be more unpromising than our first acquaintance. I have reason to feel proud, however, of having appreciated the man’s worth, under discouraging circumstances, of having obtained his confidence, and got the better of his reserve on the second occasion of our coming together. To that circumstance is due the publication of the following narrative. The portrait which has been given of Hope, in a former series of this work, conveys a correct idea of the mild, thoughtful, resolute expression of his countenance. He is now in his eighty-first year—hale, hearty, cheerful and steadfast in his early principles and opinions. Though bent with age, and impaired in bodily vigour, his gait, his frame, his deportment, still give the idea of a man who had been fitted to endure fatigue and hardship, and moulded for emergencies in which great activity and energy of mind and body were requisite to his safety, or that of others. *
His wife died in Belfast some fifteen or sixteen years ago. He seldom speaks of her; but when he does, it seems as if he felt her spirit was hovering over him, and that it was not permitted to him to give expression to the praise which rises to his lips when her name is mentioned. There is something of refinement—rare as it is pleasing to contemplate, in the nature of his attachment—in the ties which bound him to that amiable, exemplary, and enthusiastic creature; for such she is represented to have been by those who knew her, amongst whom was Miss McCracken, of Belfast.
Hope is a modest, observant, though retiring man, discreet and thoughtful. His height is about five feet seven inches, his frame slight but compact, his features remarkable for the tranquillity and simplicity of their expression. His spirits seem to undergo no change: he is always in good humour, gay without levity, and yet laughter appears seldom to go beyond his eyes. His private character is most excellent: he is strictly moral, utterly fearless, inflexible, and incorruptible. The most eminent leaders, both of 1798 and 1803, had a thorough confidence in him. He was always temperate, moderate in his desires, and industrious in his habits. I have had personal experience of the independence of his principles: to no man would he be indebted for his opinions or his comforts. He is a self- taught man, of most clear and vigorous intellect; fond of reading history, of the lives and maxims especially of ancient philosophers, and of the application of the latter to modern times. For a term of upwards of sixty years he has earned his bread by his own industry; strictly honourable in his dealings and in his connections; he is unalterable in his attachments, faithful to his promises, fearless of every consequence in the performance of his duty to his friends and to his country. He is a man of very profound reflection. His courage has been tried on numerous occasions: his fidelity to his associates no less often—to Neilson, McCracken, Emmet, Russell, and Hamilton. He was at all times averse to bloodshed. His mind seems so constructed, as to make it impossible for him to feel or manifest any respect for men, whatever may be their station, except on account of their good or noble qualities. He treats of events in which he was an actor, as if his only anxiety was for the fame of his associates, and his only object had been to promote their common cause. He is perfectly conscious, however, of his intellectual powers.
Letter from James Hope to R. R. Madden
I have read the first and second volumes of your work. You could not have sent anything to me of equal value: it refreshes my memory, and recalls the events connected with that resistance which was offered to mis-government in 1798; for I cannot call it by any other name.
I am so well convinced of the impartiality of your intentions, and their accordance with my own, to be fair and faithful, that my notes are at your service, if you think them of any value to my country, which was the only view I had in writing them.
To write the history of Ireland from 1782 until 1804, is a difficult task in 1843. Many useful documents having been lost, and few are now alive who have a true knowledge of the events of that period in remembrance. The power and ingenuity of the enemies of our country during that period, exerted in distorting and suppressing truth, have never been surpassed in any age.
When writing of Ulster, you would require an extensive view of the influence with which patriotism had to contend—sectarian, mercantile, and landed—to a greater extent than in any other part of Ireland. The other provinces had only the land and church interests against them; our landed aristocracy extended to the forty-shilling freeholders, a class to which no other province compared in numbers. We had also a manufacturing aristocracy, little known in the South or West; and corruption ran through those different channels, like that which now flows into a common reservoir elsewhere.
At the time that politics were first mooted in the North by the press, the mass confided in the writers and speakers, as men who were necessarily competent to the direction of public affairs, and laid more on them than they were able to perform, had they even been all honest men. The seeming confidence of the mass emboldened their advocates; but the corruption above alluded to, kept pace with the progress of light, detached views of interest prevailed, and every honest man became a victim to ill-placed confidence. Besides, the idea of secrecy was a mere delusion, when so many complicated interests were connected with the business.
The historian who avoids suspicion and surmise has the best title to credit. It is hard for a man who did not live at the time, to believe or comprehend the extent to which misrepresentations were carried at the close of our struggle; for, besides the paid agents, the men who flinched and fell away from our cause, grasped at any apology for their own delinquency.
I know no responsibility equal to that of the historian. To direct the judgement of future ages to the events of the past, is a difficult, and in many instances, a very delicate task.
The contradiction of falsehood was called sedition in the wicked times of Pitt and Castlereagh, in consequence of which the labour of the historian of those times, who wishes to transmit truth to after ages, is attended with great difficulty, and, in some instances, with difficulties beyond his power to overcome. But the leading facts are still attainable by unwearied perseverance, to which it is the duty of every survivor of that period to contribute his share.
Neilson, McCracken, Russell, and Emmet, were the leading men in that struggle, with whom I was in closest intimacy. They were men—Irishmen—than whom I have met none more true—than whom none could be more true. The cause of Ireland was then confined to a few individuals. The masses had no idea of the possibility of managing their own affairs.
It is easy to asperse our struggle; but let those who asperse us, take care that those, who come after them, have not to shield them from the misrepresentations which false friends and wicked enemies have forged against them. We had bad men with us, and so may they have amongst them; but no good cause requires the support of bad men. The bad men who joined us had to play the hypocrite; they had the enemy’s ranks for a retreat, whenever they feared detection, and they then charged us with their own evil intentions.
Mr. O’Connell has written a history of Ireland. He knows more of the corruption in his own ranks than I do; and I know more than he does of the corruption in mine. If our knowledge could be combined, the history would be enlarged perhaps, and enriched. When I speak of myself, I mean the survivors of the working classes, who struggled from 1794 until 1806, when the State prisoners were banished, and the Castle spies paid off: that twelve years was the period of Ireland’s infancy in politics compared to what it is now. Things have undergone a complete change, which make our present struggle comparatively safe and easy. We have not now an overgrown mercantile and agricultural aristocracy flushed with the profits of every speculation, which an exclusive cotton manufacture, and the war price of provisions, furnished in abundance. A printer cannot now be banished for publishing the advantages of reform to Ireland (as John Rab of the Northern Star was), or pilloried for the expression of truth, as Richard Dry of Dublin was. The leaders of that day had the raw material of moral force to manufacture; they had tyranny to face, and treachery to defeat; and their descendants have misrepresentation to get rid of. A writer in the Nation, speaking of Sam M’Skiminin, of Carrickfergus, cannot account for his aversion to United Irishmen. But I can; he was a spy, and in arms against them in 1798, and was gained over by Sergeant Lee, of the Invalids, in Carrickfergus.
Belfast was the cradle of politics in Ulster, of which the ideas held forth at their public meetings is a clear proof. The foundation of Ireland’s freedom was laid there by a few master spirits; aid, although they now rest in death, their memory can neither die, nor be run down.
In my youth, competence was attainable by industry, until the increase of ingenuity produced the means of luxury, and worldly possession was mistaken for the chief good: ranks arose in rapid succession, and physical force became the order of the day; the pressure of ranks on each other had a convulsive effect on the mass, of which every rank in its turn took advantage, and social intercourse became a civil war, which like convulsions in the elements, expend their fury and finally settle into a calm. Witness the physical-force men of 1798 (myself among the number), appealing to moral force in 1843, a fact that no writer of Irish history ought to overlook, and here a question arises, Do men change? Or is it only a change of circumstances, that shows what they are?
My life has been a scene of escapes, demonstrating to me that ‘with God all things are possible.’ I wanted help, and I have found it in you, for which I wish to direct thanks. where it in due. Let us look to a higher motive than praise or profit—tc promote truth, and labour together as
Irishmen, bound by the love of country, which is a stronger tie than any human obligation.
To mix biography with the history of any political movement, and do justice to both, is the most difficult to the historian, especially when he interferes with the personal character, of men of whom he has no personal knowledge, whereby he may take, for truthful testimony, the insinuation of a traitor, corroborated by some proof in writing or other evidence, the result of an interested intercourse between him and the person concerning whose character the historian wishes to inquire. I was the bosom friend of Neilson, McCracken, Russell, and Emmet—I mean there was not a thought respecting public affairs that one of us, to the best of my belief, would conceal from the other, and for their truth I would answer with my life.
Volumes have been written, recording the crimes and cruelty of mankind, but the causes from which they spring is often overlooked, of which the circumstances in which men are placed appear to have a prominent share, and historians often have some reasons for avoiding their delineation, sometimes ignorance. If the Scriptures were searched for application to our condition for rules of life, and understanding of the springs of action, instead of recurring to them for arguments for controversy, we would be better prepared for events as they occur. If historians would only state what they knew to be facts, truth would run in a freer channel from age to age. From the extension. of literature, the present age lies under a heavier responsibility, than any age since the world began for the transmission of truth to posterity.
(signed) James Hope