13 MAY 1882, Page 4



THE emotion of half-incredulous horror produced by the news which was circulated throughout England on Sun- day morning, was composed of various elements. The first feeling, perhaps, was one of wonder, amounting to inca- pacity for believing in the blank pitilessness of an assas- sination which sought out a wholly innocent victim,— innocent even in that sense in which Secret Societies such as exist to conceive and execute deeds of blood, must pronounce Lord Frederick Cavendish innocent, of wrong to Ireland. Indeed, the noble young man who had taken the post of risk without a minute's hesitation, was not only murdered without the pretence of a charge against him to justify the black-hearted deed, but in all probability was chosen as a victim because of the purity of his intentions, and in order to blight those pure intentions in the bud. The Society which condemned him must have condemned him chiefly for the good he was contemplating, and not even for fear of any ill. It was not to anticipate injustice, but to paralyse the hand of justice ; not to prevent wrong, but to extin- guish right in its earliest germs, that the new Irish Secre- tary was so ruthlessly cut off. His murderers were not only utterly pitiless, but all the more furious because they knew that their victim came to Ireland, more than innocent of any- thing which even they could interpret as evil, eager for what they could not deny to be•intrinsically good. And the reason they were thus appallingly wicked was that they hated right and justice coming from an English source, more than they hated wrong and injustice coming from the same source. They held that the latter would in the long-run play the game for which they were scheming, while the former would inevitably ruin it. They must have felt no scruple at shedding innocent• blood ; nay, they must have been all the more eager to shed it, when they were aware that it was not only innocent, but beating with ardent hopes for the good of Ireland ; and the reason they entertained this rancour against their victim, was that they hated England in her higher mood even more venomously than they hated England in her lower mood. No wonder that evidence of such feelings should have been received with a mixture of horror and incredulity. We have been forced of late years to realise that Secret Societies as bloodthirsty as they are bold do exist, and that they do not scruple to involve the innocent, if it be necessary for their purpose, in the fate of those whom they hold to be guilty ; but never until now had we evidence that they do not scruple to aim deliberately at the innocent, if only by doing so they can prevent those whom they hold to be guilty from undoing the evil they have done, and reversing the feelings with which they are regarded by their hereditary foes. This is a degree of wickedness which it is legitimate to regard with incredulity first, and with the pro- foundest horror afterwards, so soon as its existence is almost forced upon us. And yet, this incredulity has been overcome by the evidence of the great tragedy of May 6th. Mr. Burke could have been killed—if he had been the only object of ven- geance—at any time, for many months back. His habits were well known, and it was well known that he refused the protection of the police. No effort was ever made to destroy him till he was accompanied by the new Irish Secretary, who went to Ireland on purpose to complete the imperfect conciliation. Then they struck their murderous blow,—and struck down the victim innocent according, even to their own bloody canons of judgment,— struck him down, because he was not only innocent, but benevolent, finding in that innocence and benevolence what was worse to them than any guilt and malice, at least when connected with English statesmanship and frankly addressed to Irish hearts and consciences.

We are not very often proud of English popular feeling. But we confess that we do feel some pride in the evidence afforded by the history of the last week of the impres- sion produced upon England by this least excusable of all crimes in Ireland. The full iniquity of it was almost immediately perceived, but it was as instantane- ously perceived that that iniquity could not be reason- ably ascribed to any association of a genuinely popular character in Ireland, any association which had wide rami- fications amongst the Irish people. In the first place, it was the first instance in Irish history of a genuinely political assassination. In the next place, it was a most violent blow struck at the leaders of the Land League, and evidently intended to convince them that they should not be permitted to make terms of any kind with English statesmen. In the third place, it directly and gravely endangered the most sanguine hopes of the Irish peasantry, in relation to the land. And, therefore, in spite of the horror, pity, and passionate indignation with which these murders inspired the whole British people, the first distinct ebullition of popular feeling was in a sense utterly opposed to that spirit of bloody revenge against Ireland which one would ex- pect after a shock of so severe and so exceptional a kind. One may almost say that the complete innocence, and more than innocence, positive good-will, of the chosen victim, directly ennobled the temper with which his grieving fellow- countrymen received the blow. They dimly felt, perhaps, that in innocent blood permitted to be thus spilt, there must be something of the nature of a sacrifice of a higher kind,—a sacrifice that could not and should not be con- nected with any national frenzy of revenge, but that should be connected, and might be connected, with an act of purify- ing, nay, one might almost without exaggeration or bad taste say, atoning justice. However this may be, this at least is cer- tain,—that the first strong movement of popular feeling enjoined on the Government not to be misled by this colossal crime into a feeling of reaction and revenge, and warned them that in no way could the purposes of the wicked conspirators be more completely answered, than by permitting the double murder to turn them aside into the old and hopeless path of mere coercion or blind revenge. The British people felt as if by instinct, that the only way in which the object of the great crime could be defeated, would be by carrying out steadfastly the policy which it was plotted in order to avert. And we had the strange, and we may almost say, the proud spectacle, of a people whose efforts at generous justice had been met by a bloody and treacherous defiance, calling upon their Government not to be deterred, not to be " weary in well-doing," but to insist on their right intentions all the more steadfastly for the malignant attempt to embroil the two peoples with which those right intentions had been received. That seems to us, we confess, .a rare and a noble spectacle, showing singular magnanimity of feeling, singular sagacity of judgment, and singular presence of mind in appreciating both the character of the crisis and the importance of promptly resisting the rash impulses to which even legitimate horror and indignation so often give rise. The carious rightness of mind displayed by the Country Press is all the more creditable, because some of the leading organs of the London Press, as usual, did their best to mislead. But the popular feeling was both too noble and too sagacious to be thus misled. It perceived, with an intuition all the more unerring for the enormity of the crime committed, that we might render ourselves " accomplices after the fact " in that crime by throwing up the policy previously announced, and in no other way. And it proclaimed the weakness and immorality of so acting, in terms not to be mistaken. We have hardly ever known English public opinion declare itself so clearly and promptly, or with so noble an instinct, on a policy involving so many complex considerations, and so full of elements appealing to discordant chords of national sentiment.

We do not feel at all sure that had the crime been one, we do not say of more excusable, but of less conspicuously inexcusable malignity, the popular feeling would have been half as sound. Suppose that the assassin's knife had descended on Mr. Forster, for resisting the release of the suspects, instead of on Lord Frederick Cavendish, for associating himself with the order for their release, we suspect that the British feeling of revenge would have been much deeper. In that case, we should have felt bound to take up the national quarrel for one whose policy we were called upon to vindicate from a moral aspersion most unfair but yet half intelligible to us. In the present case, there is nothing to vindicate. It is so undeniable that Lord Frederick Cavendish went to Ireland on a message of generous conciliation, that we do not even feel accused of anything by this outbreak of murderous fury but a sincere desire to do right. And it is easier to feel right, where there is no room even for self-defence, than where the first movement of feeling is one of self-justification. It is the blood of martyrs—of true martyrs—which is the seed of the Church. And it is the blood not merely of abso- lutely innocent victims, but of victims whom it is impossible to suppose that any one could honestly accuse of guilt, which best reconciles those on whose behalf that blood is supposed to be shed, with those on whom the cruel and deadly blow has actually fallen. It may well be that this awful tragedy will end in the reconciliation for which, as Lord Granville told the House of Lords, the human being most cruelly wounded by this murder has had the Christian magnanimity to pray. If so, there will be few greater instances in history, excepting only in the history of a few great religious persecutions, of the success of those against whom a frightful crime has been directed, in inspiring a whole people with the resolute pur- pose of not being overcome of evil, but of overcoming evil with good.