The following is an extract from the famous patriotic speech given by the Young Ireland founder and nationalist journalist Thomas Davis to Trinity College’s The Hist, of which he was acting president at the time. Typifying the brand of mature romantic nationalism that marked Davis, the oration gives voice to his belief in an emergent flavour of civic and cultural nationalism against the liberal and unionist current at the time. A full unabridged version of the speech is available online along with the collected works of Davis.
To educate the heart and strengthen the intellect of man are the means of ennobling him. To strain every nerve to this end is the duty from which no one aware of it can shrink. A sphere of influence belongs to every man and every age, and over every man, and every nation, and every succeeding age; but that of action is more confined.
The influence of moral power extends but gradually and indirectly over contemporary foreign nations. Those whose acts can directly influence the republic of nations are few, and at so lonely an elevation above common habits that they usually lose our common sympathies, and their power is a curse. But no man is without a sufficient sphere of action, and of direct influence. I speak now of private life; in it, blessed be God! our people are tender, generous, and true-hearted.
But Gentlemen you have a country.
The people among whom we were born, with whom we live, for whom, if our minds are in health, we have most sympathy, ore those over whom we have power – power to make them wise, great, good. Reason points out our native land as the field for our exertions, and tells us that without patriotism a profession of benevolence is the cloak of the selfish man; and does not sentiment confirm the decree of reason? The country of our birth, our education, of our recollections, ancestral, personal, national; the country of our loves, our friendships, our-hopes; our country – the cosmopolite is unnatural, base – I would fain say, impossible. To act on a world is for those above it, not of it. Patriotism is human philanthropy.
Gentlemen, many of you possess, more of you are growing into the possession of, great powers – powers which were given you for good, which you may use for evil. I trust that not as adventurers, or rash meddlers, will you enter on public life. But to enter on it in some way or other the state of mind in Ireland will compel you. You must act as citizens, and it is well, “non nobis solum nati sumus, ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat.” Patriotism once felt to be a duty becomes so. To act in politics is a matter of duty everywhere; here, of necessity. To make that action honourable to yourselves, and serviceable to your country, is a matter of choice. In your public career you will be solicited by a thousand temptations to sully your souls with the gold and place of a foreign court, or the transient breath of a dishonest popularity; dishonest, when adverse to the good, though flattering to the prejudices of the people.
You now abound in patriotism, and are sceptical of public corruption; yet most assuredly, if you be eloquent and strong-thinking, threats and bribes will be held out to you. You will be solicited to become the barking misleaders of a faction, or the gazehounds of a minister – dogs who can tell a patriot afar off. Be jealous of your honour and your virtue then; yield not. Bid back the tempter. Do not grasp remorse. Nay, if it be not a vain thought, in such hours of mortal doubt, when the tempted spirit rocks to and fro, pause and recall one of your youthful evenings, and remember the warning voice of your old companion, who felt as a friend, and used a friend’s liberty.
Let the voice of his warning rise upon your ear, think he stands before you as he does now, telling you in such moments, when pride or luxury or wrath make you Waver, to return to communings with nature’s priests, the Burns, the Wordsworths, the Shakespeares, but, above all, to nature’s self. She waits with a mother’s longings for the wanderer; fling yourselves into her arms, and as your heart beats upon her bosom your native nobility will return, and thoughts divine as the divinest you ever felt will bear you unscathed through the furnace. Pardon the presumption, pardon the hope (’tis one of my dearest now), “forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.” And I do not fear that any of you will be found among Ireland’s foes. To her every energy should be consecrated. Were she prosperous she would have man to serve her, though their hearts were cold in her cause. But it is because her people lieth down in misery and riseth to suffer, it is therefore you should be more deeply devoted.
Your country will, I fear, need all your devotion. She has no foreign friends. Beyond the limits of green Erin there is none to aid her. She may gain by the feuds of the stranger; she cannot hope for his peaceful help, be he distant, be he near; her trust is in her sons. You are Irish-men. She relies on your devotion. She solicits it by her present distraction and misery. No! her past distraction – her present woe. We have no more war bills: we have a mendicant bill for Ireland. The poor and the pest-houses are full, yet the valleys of her country and the streets of her metropolis swarm with the starving. Her poet has described her
“More dear in her sorrow, her gloom, and her showers,
Than the rest of the world in its sunniest hours.”
And if she be miserable, if “homely age hath the alluring beauty took from her poor cheek, then who hath wasted it?” The stranger from without, by means of the traitor within. Perchance ’tis a fanciful thing, yet in the misfortunes of Ireland, in her laurelled martyrs, in those who died “persecuted men for a persecuted country,” in the necessity she was under of bearing the palms to deck her best to the scaffold-foot and the lost battlefield, she has seemed to me chastened for some great future.
I have thought I saw her spirit from her dwelling, her sorrowing place among the tombs, rising, not without melancholy, yet with a purity and brightness beyond other nations, and I thought that God had made her purpose firm and her heart just; and I knew that if He had, small though she were, His angels would have charge over her, “lest at any time she should dash her foot against a stone.” And I have prayed that I might live to see the day when, amid the reverence of those once her foes, her sons would
“Like the leaves of the Shamrock unite,
A partition of sects from one foot stalk of right;
Give each his full share of the earth and the sky
Nor fatten the slave where the serpent would die.”
But not only by her sufferings does Ireland call upon you. Her past history furnishes something to awake proud recollections. I speak not of that remote and mysterious time when the men of Tyre traded to her well-known shores, and every art of peace found a home on her soil; and her armies, not unused to conquest, traversed Britain and Gaul. Nor yet of that time when her colleges offered a hospitable asylum to the learned and the learning of every land, and her missions bore knowledge and piety through savage Europe; nor yet of her gallant and romantic struggles, against the Dane, and Saxon, and Norman; still less of her hardy wars, in which her interest was sacrificed to a too-devoted loyalty, in many a successful, many a disastrous battle. Not of these. I speak of sixty years ago. The memory is fresh, the example pure, the success inspiring. I speak of the lifetime of Irelan.
Ireland was then a confederation of local governments, and her stubborn and protracted resistance may be added to the many such incidences accumulated by Sismondi to show the greater stability and greater defensive forces of countries with a minute local organisation and self-government over the larger centralised powers.)
But if neither the present nor the past can rouse you, let the sun of hope, the beams of the future, awake you to exertion in the cause of patriotism. Seek, oh seek to make your country not behind at least in the progress of the nations. Education, the apostle of progress, hath gone forth. Knowledge is not virtue, but may be rendered its precursor. Virtue is not alone enjoyment, is not all happiness; but be sure, when the annunciation of virtue comes, the advent of happiness is at hand. Seek to take your country forward in her progress to that goal, where she, in common with the other nations, may hear that annunciation of virtue, and share that advent of happiness, holiness, and peace.
Gentlemen, I have done. You have been disappointed; you expected, your partiality expected, from me prescriptions to make the best of good speeches, at the bar, pulpit, and senate-all in a brilliant address. Yet, though to hear them has given you little pleasure, and to write them has cost me little time, the thoughts are not rash or inconsiderate; they were the best I had. It would have been easier, much easier, for me to have written rhetorical precepts, and the distinctions of a shallow metaphysics, and to have conveyed such thoughts in a showy diction and with pointed periods. I should have avoided the trouble of combining my scattered thoughts on the subject of our education, but I should have violated my conscious duty. I should have won a louder and more frequent cheer. You would have cheered and have forgotten me. I shall heartily wish you, gentlemen, what each of you will, I know, wish me in return: that you may struggle and succeed in a career, honourable and useful to yourselves and those who are dear to you, in time; and which, I say it in the sincerest solemnity of my heart, may render you better fitted for eternity.