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John Redmond

( Originally Published 1907 )

WHEN I first looked down upon the House of Commons there was one figure that above all others touched the imagination. He sat in the corner seat below the gangway, cold, isolated, silent, a man nursing his gloomy wrath and his unconquerable hope. The sad eyes looked out with a sleepless passion from under the level and lowering brows. He affected you like the thunder-cloud. Presently, you felt, the forked lightning would leap out of the gloom and strike the offending earth. He held you by the fascination of the unknown. He was a dark secret an idea incarnate. Near by him sat a young man of Napoleonic profile, the Roman nose boldly sculptured, the chin firm, rounded, protruding, the eye full and fearless. Today that young man, young no longer, sits in the corner seat. The thunder-cloud has vanished. In-stead there is something of the warmth and generosity of frank comradeship with the House.

For Parnell was the symbol of Ireland's despair and Ireland's hate; Mr. Redmond is the symbol of Ire-land's hope and Ireland's expansiveness. He is the leader in a happier day. The sky has cleared, and the end is in view. The old passions have passed away, and with the new and more humane and enlightened spirit has come the need of a new leadership. It required Parnell's fierce intensity to create the cause, and to carry it through the wilderness; it needs another strategy to enter the promised land. Parnell was the incomparable guerilla chief, mysterious, secret, elusive, touching the imagination of his followers to a sort of frenzy of devotion; Mr. Redmond is the commander-in-chief of a regular army, pursuing his campaign in the open country according to the laws of Parliamentary strategy. He is not a dictator; he is the head of a staff.

Mr. Redmond could not wear the rebel robe, for his genius is Parliamentary and constitutional. He is, indeed, one of the ablest Parliamentarians in the House. He has the spirit of Parliament in his blood. Four generations of his family have sat in the House, and he himself learned the rules as a clerk in the House, and later by breaking them in those thrilling days when the duty of every Irish member was to smash the machine of government. When he rises in his spacious, authoritative way the House has that air of silence and respect which it only wears in the presence of a master. It is difficult to remember that this grave, senatorial figure, who comes into action with waving banners and measured pomp, learned the art of war in the fierce school of faction and rebellion. His baptism was in blood. It was in 1880 that he made his first appearance in politics side by side with Parnell. He accompanied the chief on the platform at Enniscorthy, in his native Wexford, when Parnell was pelted with rotten eggs and brutally attacked. Parnell remained impassive through it all. " When an egg struck him on the head," said Mr. Redmond in telling the story, " he never even raised his hand to brush it off, but calmly went on with his speech. Afterwards in the hotel he took his lunch as calmly while a tailor stitched his torn trousers." Later on that memorable day young Redmond was attacked by a mob in the streets, knocked down, and cut on the face. Parnell met him, and remarked, " Why, you are bleeding; what's the matter? " Being told, he said with his cold smile, " Well, you have shed your blood for me at all events."

Nor was his advent in the House less dramatic. He had intended to stand for the Wexford seat vacated by the death of his father, but Parnell selected Mr. Tim " Healy for the seat, and young Redmond loyally supported the Chief's nominee. In the following February of 1881 he was returned for Ross. " They were stirring times," he told me, " and I got a telegram from Parnell to come at once. I crossed the Channel immediately, took my seat, and was suspended with all the rest of the party the same night for refusing to vote. But not before I had made my maiden speech. It was brief, but conclusive. The Speaker called on me to withdraw, and I said, ' Mr. Speaker, I decline to withdraw.' That was all; but I had broken the ice." He took his share in many such scenes. " We were most of us high-spirited young fellows, fresh from the University, and enjoyed that rough campaigning."

Today the House has no warmer admirer. " Putting aside its attitude to Ireland," he says, " it is the finest assembly in the world so manly and generous. It has tenderness, too. It is remorseless to the bore, but the touch of sincere humanity goes to its heart. It came to love Biggar with his quaint figure and his interminable speeches. And you remember how, when Bradlaugh was dying, it passed a resolution cancelling the wrong it had done him. That was a fine and generous act." With all his apparent composure he has some awe of the House. " Familiarity does not breed contempt," he said to me once. " I find it harder and not easier to address it than I used. I am discovering that I have nerves. When I am going to make an important speech I am fidgety and unhappy."

He is the orator of the House the last representative of a tradition that has passed. Other men rise to speak: he rises to deliver an oration. He advances, as it were, with his colours flying and his drums beating. It is no longer a skirmish, but a general engagement. All his rhetorical legions are brought into action with pomp and circumstance. His commanding presence, his strong utterance, his unhurried manner give a certain dignity and authority to his lightest word. He could make the multiplication table sound as impressive as a funeral oration, and the alphabet would fall from his lips with the solemn cadence of Homeric verse. To hear him say " Mr. Speaker, sir," is alone a liberal education in the art of saying nothing with immense seriousness. It is the oratory of the grand manner, like that of Mr. Henry Chaplin; but there is " stuff " in his speech, while Mr. Chaplin has only stuffing. With all his air of deliberation, he relies largely upon the moment. On one of the rare occasions when he wrote out his speech he " missed the points," picked up his notes, found them in a hopeless confusion, tried again and failed, had a further and unavailing search among his papers, now more hopelessly jumbled than ever, put them away, and sailed off before the wind of his portly eloquence. It was all done with perfect gravity. He is a man who can even break down with dignity and repose.

In many respects he is the least representative of Irishmen. He has none of the gay, irresponsible wit of his brother " Willie," the idol of the House, who has a tongue as swift as a Dublin jarvey's, and whose interjections explode like joyous crackers on the floor of the Chamber. Mr. " Willie " refuses to be solemn. It is enough for him to be merry and mischievous. He holds that his brother has dignity enough for both. In the hot days after the " split," when he replied with his delightful impulsiveness to some exasperating attacks by Mr. " Tim " Healy, his brother remonstrated with him on the ground that his words were not "gentlemanly." One gentleman in the family is enough, John," he said with his delightful gaiety, and no doubt went off twirling his shillelagh.

Nor has he any of that Celtic mystery and passion which give the philippics of Mr. " Tim " Healy their touch of magic. Still less has he his spirit of impish mischief. Again, he has not the detachment of John Dillon, a patriot of the Brutus strain, simple, chivalrous, self-forgetful, a man who lives for a cause with a certain stainless purity that ennobles the House and enriches our public life. Mr. Dillon is the poetry of patriotism; Mr. Redmond is its politics. He is the plain, competent business man who has succeeded to the command of the concern and does his work with thoroughness and dispatch, but without passion-ate intensity or that tyrannic impulse that possessed Parnell. When Parnell was dethroned he died. If Mr. Redmond were dethroned you feel that he would simply have more leisure for sport No one has ever doubted his patriotism; but he has none of the bitterness of fanaticism. He is above all a man of the world and of affairs. The air of the country blows about him, and he loves the wholesome entertainment of life. You are not surprised to learn that he was a good cricketer and that he still follows the game with interest, that he is happiest tramping the mountains with a dog and a gun, that he can manoeuvre a salmon as skilfully as a Parliamentary motion, and sit a horse as firmly as he sits in the saddle of the chief. He is alone a sufficient answer to the foolish view that the Irish have not the gift of self-government. He is one of the ablest generals in the House. He has brought his frail barque through the wildest rapids that any statesman ever navigated. Through all the bitter war that followed the fall of Parnell he remained loyal to his old chief loyal in the face of English morality and Irish clericalism. He marched out of the battle with his little band of nine, and wandered with them through the wilderness for nearly ten years. At last he brought all the scattered flock together, and today even Tiger Tim consents to bear his mild yoke at least for a time.

He has. the great virtue of never making enemies, for there is no poison in his shafts. He has about him a spacious and sunlit atmosphere in which the rank growth of personal bitterness cannot live. He can be generous even to his political foes. " I like Balfour," he will tell you. " He bears no malice. When the round is over he shakes hands. After I came out of prison in 1888 he met me in the lobby. I'm glad to see you back,' he said. ` I hope you are no worse for it.' And he said it in a way that made you feel he meant it. Now that is not the way with " He will not even admit that Mr. Balfour was wholly bad as a Chief Secretary. "The worst Chief Secretary by far was ," and he mentions a name that fills one with mild surprise. " No man of sensitive feeling," he says, " can fill that office long. Birrell is too finely strung for it. It needs a man like Walter Long. ' I hunt three days a week and draw a fat cheque at the end of it,' he told an audience in Dublin. He is one of the good type of Tories. You know he is half an Irishman, and hunts in my country." He has, you see, a good word for everyone.

If the old ferocities of the Irish issue have vanished from the House, it is largely due to him as well as to the softening influence of time. He has no anti-British sentiment and will never talk of " cutting the painter." " Our stake in the Empire is too large for us to be detached from it," he said to me. We Irish have peopled the waste places of Greater Britain. Our roots are Imperial as well as national." He rejoices in the new spirit that has come over Ireland.

The old religious strife is dying. When I first went to Belfast, I went carrying my life in my hand. In those days you dared not be seen in the streets and had nowhere to speak save a remote schoolroom, and even there you were not safe. The last time I went to Belfast I spoke in the Ulster Hall, the largest building in the place, and a third of the audience were Protestants. At the close one after another of them came up and shook hands and spoke cordially about my speech. The world is growing better and saner."

Unlike Parnell, he is a Catholic, but in his urbane way he has fought an heroic fight with clericalism. When the Parnell split came he elected to stand by his political chief and to defy the lightnings of the Church. It needed courage. He has sat in his pew and heard himself denounced by name from the altar as the anti-Christ. He has seen the congregation rise in a body and walk out in revolt against the priest. His ultimate triumph was won without sacrifice, and it involved the end of the political domination of the priesthood, The secular power of the priest was split on the rock of Parnellism.

There have been moments of weakness. He made a mistake in tactics when he responded to Cardinal Logue's appeal and brought his party over to support the Education Bill in the autumn Session of 1902. And his action in moving the rejection of the Irish Councils Bill at the Convention did not square with his reception of the Bill in the House. His judgment is sometimes overruled by expediency. He is not the autocrat of his party, as Parnell was: he rules by consent.

When Home Rule comes, it is to be hoped that it will find him still in the saddle. It will be well for Ireland and well for England that his suave spirit should give the note to the new relationship of the two countries. For the fundamental fact about Mr. Redmond is that he stands for peace and goodwill. He is by nature the least combative of men. He has been fighting all his days, but he has always fought as though he loved his foes, and when he passes from St. Stephen's at Westminster to St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, he will not leave a single hitter memory behind him.

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