The Fate of MacNevin - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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O'Brien's sorrow was less demonstrative, but not less deep, and much more lasting. Duffy, who almost idolized Thomas Davis, seemed for a time bewildered and stunned by the blow. The Nation was as a fortress ungarrisoned. "The Party" had lost its centre; and those young men who had been held in their sphere by the strong attraction of their chief, though they still remained friends, comrades, and zealous nationalists, were no longer a compact body informed by a single soul. To me it seemed that every survivor of that band lost a part of himself, of his power, purpose, capacity; part of him was buried; and in some cases the better part.

Before quitting this personal topic, I shall tell you how it fared with MacNevin. Brilliant, accomplished, and vivacious, with a pungent dash of sarcasm, he would probably never have been anything but a wit, of the sneering species, if he had not known Davis. Not one of our company was more devotedly attached to Davis, nor so entirely dependent on him, possessed by him. Though assuredly MacNevin was no intellectual pauper, and with strong literary ambition, yet he took his literary tasks submissively at the hand of his friend; and almost saw and felt as the more potent nature willed that he should see and feel. To him Davis had assigned to write for the Library a narrative of the "Plantation of Ulster;" and he was far off at Rose Park, in Galway,—his father's house,—busy on his history when Davis died. A few days after, on October 2d, he wrote to me, inquiring about some authorities for his book; and suddenly remembering, he exclaims—

"Poor Davis! how his overflowing treasury would have opened to my importunacy! The more I think of this death—and day by day it grows even more terrible—the more I am afraid to look its effects on the country and ourselves in the face. How well we could have spared a million lives for that bright, pure, manly spirit!"

Thus, throughout the letter, he interrupts himself with outbreaks of despair. The book was written. MacNevin seemed to regard it as a sacred task, imposed on him by the dead: but almost immediately after its publication his intimates perceived that his tasks in this world were over. He was going mad. From the moment of his friend's death, he had been drifting like a ship without a helm; his compass was lost; his pole-star gone out. At last he whirled into the vortex, hopelessly insane, and died in a lunatic asylum.

So far I have lingered on memories both sad and proud. Here I wave to the dead farewell and requiescant.

We are next to see what was destined for the living. Before ...continue reading »

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