Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

his great ideals. She succeeds: and Rosmer offers her his hand. But the year and more that she has spent in his society have so far ennobled her views that she feels unworthy of the prize she has striven for so earnestly, and she declines it. How Rosmer is brought to see the fine possibilities of Rebecca's nature, and to realise that there at last, but separated for ever from him by a gulf of criminal intent, is the true and only partner for him; how all desire for life and work is shrivelled up in him, and how the two, in the end, commit suicide together, can only be rightly told in Ibsen's words. The majestic gloom that arrests our attention even for the horror of Ghosts broods over Rosmersholm from first to last. It is this power of atmospheric effect, of projecting over the whole drama the shadow of an awful, an inevitable fate, that makes Ibsen's plays what they are. In this solemn half light he can develop plots that no other writer would dare to handle—or at any rate that no other writer could handle—without evoking their condemnation as violent or absurd.

The Lady of the Sea appeared about two months ago. It is remarkable as being the only play of Ibsen's where a human will at war with unfriendly fates wins the fight. It ends happily after a long and anxious development. Before she was married, Mrs. Wangelthe lady of the sea—was engaged to a sailor, who one day told her that he had murdered his captain in the preceding night. He must flee for his life and travel far and long, but in the end he would come back and fetch her. He took a ring from her finger, and one from his own, and, fastening both to his keyring, he flung the whole into the sea in token that they were both now married to each other and to the ocean. The trick sounds little enough told 50—it seems only the commonplace staginess of a rascal. But the man was something more than a rascal. He was a man of pertinacity and courage. The girl was impressionable, and her former lover had gained a real ascendency over her. Thus when she had been three years married and found herself still thinking of the stranger she began to feel her disloyalty keenly. Their only child had died, and she was driven to tell her husband the whole story. He is, fortunately, a doctor and a wise man. He recognises that some of the disorder of her mind is to be physically explained, more may be accounted for by one of those mysterious affinities for the sea sometimes shown by sensitive natures, and the residuum representing any fraction of his wife's affection that is really not his, is exceedingly small. Forewarned, forearmed. The stranger appears and summons Mrs. Wangel to leave her husband's side and follow him. A sufficiently painful scene ensues; but the doctor is skilful and firm, he rides with a light hand, and the stranger is routed.

The Lady of the Sea seems to be Ibsen's answer to the charge, freely levelled at him, of pessimism. His genius had certainly led him to presiding for the most part over gloomy and hopeless tangles, and he has confessed himself to be a pessimist as regards humanity in most of the shapes it is likely to assume. At the same time, however, he is an optimist as to its future. Witness the admirable vigour with which he clothes Dr. Stockmann, and the teachableness displayed even by the insufferable Helmer. He has the most profound and cordial admiration for all strong individualities. To take perhaps the most conspicuous figure of our time, Prince Bismarck, he reveres the mighty ruler and only regrets that he does not understand the longing of his age for beauty.

Such in faint outline is Henrik Ibsen, one who is not to be laughed down nor damned with faint praise, still less cowed into silence. He says his word and strikes his blow for righteousness, as he conceives it, and cares neither who hears nor who forbears, neither who is smitten nor who is spared. He is already a power in the world of to-day, and it is hard to see that his influence has much more than dawned.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

MR. GLADSTONE'S PLAIN SPEAKING:

THERE are several very remarkable points in the last article which Mr. Gladstone has penned upon the question of the Irish Union. Perhaps one of the most remarkable is the fact of its having been written at all. It is easy to understand that a certain amount of uneasiness may have disturbed the mind of a statesman who, whilst confessing that the evidence was incomplete, and that no adequate history of the Union has yet been written,' has nevertheless given his verdict against his own country, and has denounced her, or those who used her authority,' as having, in her treatment of Ireland, combined violence and fraud, baseness, tyranny, and cruelty, in a degree rarely, if ever, paralleled in history.' But, apart from the natural desire to show some justification for a statement so wide and so strong, there seems scarcely sufficient reason for unearthing and calling the attention of the public to the sickening and ghastly details of a period over which a veil might well be thrown by all those who really desire that there should be a'union of hearts' between England and Ireland. To support that part of his indictment against England which is based upon her alleged cruelty, Mr. Gladstone relates several harrowing instances of brutality on the part of loyalists, with only a casual allusion to the atrocities committed on the other side. In this narration he commits two not inconsiderable mistakes.

In the first place, he omits to give due, or indeed any, weight to the circumstances under which these barbarities were committed, the abnormal state of the country at the time, and the terrible consequences which would have followed if victory had fallen to the traitors and enemies of England who had risen in rebellion against her. In the second place, he identifies the said barbarities with the policy of the Act of Union; whereas, however unjustifiable they may have been, they were committed in the suppression of a rebellion of a formidable character, the nature and conduct of which had been such as to excite and inflame men's minds to a terrible pitch, and which had been accompanied by acts of cruelty upon the part of the rebels which had provoked beyond endurance the loyal population of the country. Mr. Gladstone, indeed, admits that there was a rebellion and there were rebels,' but he goes on to repeat the old and long since exploded fallacy that people became rebels under a course of treatment such as allows of no rational interpretation but one, namely that the Government were determined that there should be rebels.'? To this conclusion it is impossible that any one should come who has read Lord Camden's letters and endeavoured to judge impartially upon the question. The British Government may not have been always right in its Irish policy, and some of its acts were probably such as a Minister would hardly propose, or a Parliament accept, in the present day. But we are far too apt, when we discuss such questions, to speak and write as if those whose conduct and policy we impugn had the same surrounding circumstances and the same experience as ourselves.

' I would refer those who wish to study the details of cruelty on the rebel side, to the third volume of Mr. Froude's English in Ireland, p. 404, where commences the chapter entitled The Rebellion.'

At the time of which we write, the effects of the French Revolution had by no means passed away. The seeds of anarchy and of revolutionary sentiment had been sown in every European country, and Ireland had certainly not been exempt from the visitation. Mr. Gladstone's favourite theory we know to be that Lord Fitzwilliam's recall was the cause of all the subsequent troubles in Ireland. The theory will not hold water for a moment. Long before Lord Fitzwilliam's brief viceroyalty, Ireland had been honey-combed with secret societies, which, under different titles and with slightly varying organisations, spread treason right and left, and threatened, if suffered to develop and strengthen themselves without check, to destroy British influence in Ireland, and to inflict a severe blow upon the British Monarchy itself. It may have been and very likely was the case that the rebellion was precipitated by the hope of the rebels that the disappointed Catholics"might be induced to assist them; but to assert of the rebellion in 1798, either that it was caused by Lord Fitzwilliam's recall in 1795, or that it was not connected with events which occurred long before that period, is to shut one's eyes to the overwhelming mass of evidence by which the contrary is proved. The rebellion had long been maturing, it was beyond all doubt a cruel and bloody insurrection, and evoked a retaliatory spirit from which sprang those cruelties which Mr. Gladstone parades in his indictment against his country. I do not wish to multiply the counter-quotations with which I might reply. The massacres of Scullabogue and Wexford Bridge are only examples of the spirit by which the rebels were animated, and Lord Cornwallis, whom Mr. Gladstone fairly cites against the excesses of the loyalists, writes at the end of June 1798: “The deluded wretches are still wandering about in considerable bodies, and are committing still greater cruelties than they themselves suffer.'

The truth of the matter is that in a rising which was intended, but failed, to take the Government by surprise, which at once assumed the character of a quasi-civil war, and in which the bitterness of

Plain Speaking, p. 16.

religious animosity was unfortunately aroused, both sides committed excesses which cannot be too strongly condemned. But, be this as it may, and however the action of Mr. Pitt's Government may now be stigmatised, we must not forget that the result of that action was that French invasion failed, secret societies were broken up, and the rebellion was crushed. I gladly join in the condemnation of cruelty on either side. I gladly recognise the fact that in the days of the rebellion Catholic priests were found (just as Catholic priests who obey the Head of their Church are found to-day) to condemn outrage and exert themselves to moderate and restrain the lawless and evil passions which were abroad. But these creditable instances do not change the main facts of history, and whoever endeavours to regard that history as a judge and not as an advocate, can hardly fail to come to the conclusion that whilst there is much to condemn on both sides, and certainly on the side of individual loyalists who committed cruelties after the rebellion had been suppressed, there is no valid foundation or justification for the attempt to fasten upon the British Government a monopoly of cruelty, and the imputation of having deliberately practised this cruelty as part and parcel of their policy towards Ireland.

The second mistake of which I submit that Mr. Gladstone has been guilty, is in his attempt to make out that the cruelties committed in the suppression of the rebellion had some connection with the policy of the Union, with which they had absolutely nothing whatever to do. In fact, it was entirely unnecessary to have introduced them at all in an article upon the Irish Union,' unless it was intended to create a prejudice against the authors of that measure, and to obscure the real issues which have to be considered. It is perfectly true that the British Government may have shared the opinion of Lord Clare, that 'the seditious and treasonable conspiracies which bad brought this country to the verge of ruin,' were the natural offspring of the adjustment of 1782, i. e. of "Grattan's Parliament.' But even if the Government believed that the character and condition of the Irish Parliament had fostered the secret societies which brought about the rebellion, it requires a wide stretch of imagination to infer from this circumstance that any cruelties practised in the suppression of that rebellion were part and parcel of a policy which aimed at the peaceful solution of the question by the union of the Parliaments of the two countries. Yet this is what Mr. Gladstone would apparently have us believe, and it would seem to follow that he considers the Act of Union in itself as a cruelty, inflicted upon Ireland as a punishment for the rebellion. The whole tone and tenor of the debates in both Legislatures show that the exact contrary was the case. The authors and advocates of the measure believed that they were conferring a boon upon Ireland, and Lord Clare concluded his speech on the 10th of February, 1800,

« ForrigeFortsett »