Louie Bennett, A Prisoner of His Word (Maunsel, 1908), 241pp. [signed copy] 6.50.

PLOT: Lambart Ross, a young Englishman and soldier serving in Ulster, is recruited for the United Irishmen by Thomas Russell, meets Harry Maxwell, and falls in love with his sister Katherine. Harry and Katherine are son and daughter of the Anglican rector of Ballynahinch, also a patriot though of no particular colour or association. Lambart is arrested by a double-agent before the Rising and imprisoned in Kilmainham, Dublin, where, after enduring hardships, he persuades the Governor’s wife to permit me ‘leave’ of 48 hours to visit his friends in Ulster on the collapse of the Rising ‘98 there. He arrives in time to witness the execution of Harry Maxwell, who dies on the gallows in spite of a plot to make the rope too short to break his neck. Kathleen extorts from Lambart the promise that he will help her get revenge for her brother’s death and the oppression of her countrymen under English misrule. Although he feels this to be an immoral bargain, he gives his word. After four more years in prison at Fort George in Scotland, he is released and goes to Paris, where he rejoins Thomas Russell. Together they travel to the North of Ireland to instigate an Northern rising in support of Emmet. Meanwhile, Lambart has sold the English home that he inherited as a token of his commitment to Ireland and to Katherine, who is meanwhile storing arms for the coming rebellion that she believes will take place when Russell returns to inspire his countrymen. Deeply disappointed by the failure of the Ulstermen to ‘come out,’ Katherine begins to respond to Lambart’s amorous addresses. Putting aside his growing misgivings about the bargain he has made, Lambart sets off to meet Russell, who is planning an attempt to release Robert Emmet from goal in Dublin. In a struggle to evade capture by a troop of soldiers, Lambert shoots one of them fatally, and is sentenced to death by hanging. Meanwhile, Katherine falls into a fever after her recent exertions and recovers only to hear that Lambart was due to die that morning. She now comes to feel that it was her immoderate patriotic passion which brought him to his death and she repents of it. But Lambart is not dead: at the last moment, as the planks were to be removed from under his feet, a messenger arrived with a reprieve from William Pitt, elicited by the influence of his English relatives. Visiting Lambart in prison, Katherine agrees to share his exile, and all—including the Governor—rejoice that ‘is glad one good life is spared.’

TREATMENT: In choosing an English hero who falls in love with an Irish patriot, Bennett defines a kind of nationalism that Protestant middle-class Ireland could indulge in, but which remained at one remove from the more belligerent nationalism of the majority of her Catholic contemporaries. Like many others of her class, she was sympathetic to the United Irishmen, who were felt to be much like themselves as distinct from the Anglo-Irish grandees. Equally typically, however, she cannot endorse their extremist politics nor accept it as a model for modern times in Ireland. Indeed, the main object of the narrative is to convey the dangers of a too emotional commitment to the idea of Irish nationhood, or—what usually coincides with it—to the idea of a national vendetta against perfidious England. The plot has an almost allegorical aspect in so far as Katherine—otherwise Kate, Katie, Katrin—is plainly a type of Kathleen Ni Houlihan, the personification of Ireland and her historic wrongs. It is Katherine who urges Lambart on to rebellion and revenge, and it is she who learns, finally, that her ignoble passions have sacrificed the life of her lover to the gallows. The implication is that others who fell victim to the military or judicial might of England in the Rising were equally deluded by a romantic spell. Indeed, it is explicitly stated that leader, Thomas Russell, is a rare charmer and capable of instilling passionate affection in his followers. It is he who made the ‘medicine’ that the Maxwell’s and Lambart have inbibed. Throughout the novel, Lambart Ross is magically led by his devotion equally to Russell and to Katie to do things that he would not contemplate in terms of his own political principles—those of an English Commonwealth republican—nor even in terms of his practical sense of Ireland’s terrible wrongs, since rebellion is not on any rational calculation the surest way to right them. A further disorder in the world of the novel is that Lambart permits himself to be led by a woman; and it is only when Katherine herself is persuaded by the shock of his supposed execution that she has compelled him to pay the price for her hysterical patriotism that the urge to fulfil the subservient part of an ordinary wife and mother takes possession of her soul. All of this suggests an acceptance of the political status quo, and a patriarchal conception of sexual relationships which leaves no room for the view that Louie Bennett was the advanced feminist and socialist reformer that her biographer, R.M. Fox shows her to have been (Louie Bennett, 1958). But this novel was indeed written early in her life, and notably before that great event—the Lock-Out Strike of 1913—which moulded her adult character. What the book represents as it stands is the outlook of a supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the era of John Redmond’s leadership, and nothing in fact that would have been mortally offensive to a Southern Unionist of the period when it was written. There is a pervasive sense of meliorism, but no definite argument for Home Rule, still less Republican Independence. There is a sense that some sort of reparation must be made for the long tale of English misgovernment in Ireland, but no substantive indication as to what form Irish political institutions of the future ought to take. When it comes to the specifics of political ideology, the novel retreats into the cloudy realm of Christian teleology, conjuring at the end a vague image of the Burning Bush with an even vaguer promise of a new covenant between God and man.

TEXT: [Lambart] was, in fact, an Englishman of good family, whose sympathy with republican principles had led him into contract with Irish malcontents.

[2] The Englishman laughed. “I’m not trying to detract from the fighting merits of the Irish. But we want to accomplish our purpose with as little bloodshed as possible, and if a few months of delay would save some good lives, why—let us delay!” [3]

[Mrs Maxwell] Her love of her boy was the Achilles’ heel of her strong character. [5]

[Kate] heart and soul of her were in the cause to which the cause to which brother and lvoer were devoting themselves; a passionate love and pity for [13] oppressed Ireland burned in her, and it was great joy to be made a sharer, if even only a passive sharer, in the schemes which were forming for the deliverance of her country. … all that [Lambart] told her invested him with a halo of romantic interest in her eyes, though indeed he was but a plain-spoken man, not a witty nor compellingly attractive, as Thomas Russell was … it pleased her feminine vanity to feel that she knew him as no others knew him. [14]

Words spoken by Lambart about Russell, and quoted ironically by Kate about Lambart himself: “The rogue has given me medicines to make me love him!” [21]

Katherine: “But I love Harry best … I shall always love Harry best. You must never want me to change to him.” … Lambart: “But what when I am your husband, Kate?” … Kate: “Even then I must love him best.” Her tone was defiant. Lambart: “No, not best, but differently. One sort of love for me and one for him, and both best of their kind. … I love no one in the world as I love you and Harry.” [23]

[Lambart and Katherine] Sometimes … he could make her feel like a princess; but sometimes too, in the rude simplicity of her home surroundings, his courtly ways and air of fine gentleman gave her an uncomfortable sense of inequality with him which their new intimacy seemed now to deepen rather than lessen. [24] … felt herself a little peasant girl … [25]

Mrs Maxwell was absolutely convinced that her moral code was the only true and right one, the only one handed down direct from heaven without any alterations on the journey. It was simple to expound, but extremely difficult to live up to. All that appealed to the lust of the flesh and the pride of the eye was sin. To live was to work. Pleasure-seeking was a snare. If a pleasure or a luxury were forced upon her she took it grudgingly … / She did not enjoy being happy. In times of prosperity she was wont to talk sepulcrhally of the dangers of life, od the evils likely to befall. But when times of trouble came she was almost cheerful. Adversity became her. [29] … She was a person to whom everyone instinctively turned for aid when trouble was at hand. To her husband … this hard-headed, upright Northern woman had been a pillar of strength … and at this day he loved her even more dearly than on the day she had become his wife. [30]

[Pt. I, Chp. VI, HOW ROSS LAMBART HAD BECOME A REBEL] … a Lambart had married a Puritan maiden of humble original (her grandfather had fought in the ranks of the Ironsides, and had fallen on the field of Naseby) … the strange revolutionary outbreak on the part of the heir of their house. For generations the Lambarts had served the kings of England in war and peace … their pleasant home in Hertfordshire, a long, high house on the slope of upward-sweeping meadow lands [45]

To Ross Lambart it was as if the French Revolution tore veils from his eyes … In the first flash, he saw nothing but the evil of his own country [46] … Wilberforce, Clarkson, Granville Sharp, were names to bring a glow to the heart … [while in] the Methodist movement, vivified by the Wesleys, Ross recognised a working of spirituality in the prevailing materialism. … England was not dead, though sunk so deep in the slough of materialism. [47]

[In Ireland] he had doubts of England’s civilising methods. His ideal of civilisation was not the popular one; and it seemed possible to him that semi-barbarism might be more tolerable than the corrupt civilisation in which he had hitherto lived. Some misgivings he had at being cut off in Ireland from intellectual interests … And at the moment when hs passion for ideas was awakening new energy, he fell under the [48] influnece of Thomas Russell, then one of the most interesting a fascinating men in Ireland … Caught up in the sanguine enthusiasm of this fine dreamer, Lambart’s soul stretched wings of longing towards tht great future and burned to accomplish something to hasten its coming. [49]

[from his prison letters to Katie] “‘Tis sonnets and roundelays I ought to be writing to you. But I have’t Russell’s gift for turning a verse, and anyhow, I’ afraid you would laugh at verses from a lover. [64]

[Lambart on Russell] His religion was a wonderful thing. Did I ever tell you of how once, when a man drinking at the Eagle’ persissted in talking scoffingly of religion, Russell stood up and left the room … and Lord! but we had some good times!” [63]

The Governor’s wife was an Englishwoman who took a perfunctory interest in the political prisoners, and at times remembered to show them a kindness by a gift of paper or books or some little delicacy … She had taken a special interest in Ross, partly because he was one of her own countrymen, but still more because of the courtliness of his manner, whcih marked him as springing from a more high-bred stock than most of the plain-spoke, hearty Irishmen whose cause he had adopted.

.. the Rebels last stand on Ednevady Hill. The English soldiers swarmed all over the place, stripping the fallen of their arms. As yet there was no thought of carrying the wounded to a place of refuge. .. / they [the Maxwells] faced a terrible an bloody sight; the women burst into uncontrollable sobbing and wailing as they looked around on their ppor countrymen, lying in every distortion of agony. Most were dead or dying; here or there a few were crawling blindly and futilely towards escape. [80] Many of the dying had been comforted by their presence, and with rough skill they had tended to the wounded and laid them side by side away from the dead. The burying had to be left for another day. [81]

[Cpt. Knox, prison guard:] “What ails these damned Irish,” he though, irritably, “that they must always be dragging themselves and us into such miserable affairs! … It’s harder to meet tht little girl’s eyes than it would be to stand up single-handed before a dozen Rebels!” [104]

Lambart: “Dear heart … you must not have such thoughts. Revenge is for mean souls.” … [132] Katie: “Ah, you are English! You don’t understnad—you don’t care!” … Lambart: “No no! We fight for freedom; we fight for justice. We are willing to give our lives for freedom and justice in Ireland. But revenge is a mean motive.” [PARAS] Ross was appalled by her fierceness, by the hard glitter of her eyes, the hard set of her lips. Her look betrayed to him all the ugliness [133] and evil of revengefulness.

” … Oh, Ross, if you love me, if you really love me, you will romise to help me to punish harry’s murderers.” Ross: “Whenever you may ask for help that I can give,” he said slowly, carried away by sympathy with her grief, “I promise to give it. I am yours.” / But even as he gave the promise, ross felt that he was renouncing a high ideal ofor a base one. He could never again put the same heart into a fight for Ireland as heretofore, [135] because henceforth he would always feel that he was working, however unwillingly, for a cause other than the cause of freedom.”

Now he saw clearly the horrors towards which he and she were drifting; he saw revenge as a sin; he saw how terrible a force it was, and to what crimes it might lead them. And the nobler emotions of his heart reasserted themselves. All that he had ssen an suffered in those few hours of freedom slew forever the unreasoning hopefulness and reckless enthusiasm of youth. But for what he thus lost, he gained in wisdom, in broader charity, in calmness of spirit. And all the lore and learning and poetry with which, to the scorn of his family, he had fed his youth, now stood him in good stead, comforting his dark hours and givng him strength and courage to endure inaction. [After this he returns to prison.] [139]

[Kate’s letter to Lambart] “.. you professed you love Harry … the man who can thus forget can be nothing to be. I have desire in life,—to avenge that death, to avenge the martyrdom of my dear, dear brother. … My country is not your country, nor my people your people. Go your way and be happy.” [145]

He had promised to help her ot avange her brother’s death, and he held a promise sacred. At the moment of giving it he had been so bereft of power and of hope that it seemed of little meaning. … he had never thought but that Kate’s feelings and wishes would have softened and changed with time, even as his had done [146]

He had learnt to doubt the widom of rebellion; he could not feel that Irealnd would gain anything by a further stirring up of strife. Only the healing and teaching power of time could avail to bring to his adopted country redress of grievances and a measure of prosperity. [146] … Surely men were now beginning to learn that the growth of wisdom and knoweldge would finally effect what hot heads and hot hearts had striven in vain to attain by force. … that the spirit of humainty, a broad humanity, was spreading liven leaven, and eventually, after patient waiting and quiet work, it would accomplish all the reforms men dreamed of and desired. Tha the desire existed was proof that fulfilment must come. Desires are subtly pervasice, subtly effectual; often they wrk unseen until the moment of fulfilment. [147]

[Kate sees Lambart again] At the sight of him, at the sound of his voice, Ireland and her wrongs, the desire for revenge, hatred of England and English rule were all forgotten … and, for a moment, to be a woman, loved and loving, was the whole joy of life. [152]

She realised now for the first time how much she had unconsciously missed and needed him all these years, how much of happiness her life lacked without him. [152] [Until] the black cloud that darkened her life had settled down upon her once more. [159]

”Oh no! The Irishman who does not thirst for vengeance is ignoble. You don’t know … you have been kept out of the sight of the doings of these English fiends. I have seen—” [161]

Lambart: “But it is not at a blow, with bloodshed and good lives sacrificed, that Ireland will come to her rights. ‘tis by quiet striving and by patient waiting from the teaching of time that her cause will be won.”

All that was woman in her responded to his claim of her. She yielded to him: she gave her lips to his kisses, rejoincing the stregnth that held her thus imprisoned, body and spirit. Her whole being cried out her love for him, her need for him. [166]

Ross recognised that his momentary domination of her was at an end, and his own uncertainy of motive left him without strength to sweep her from her stony resolve. Even whilst chafing against the feeling, he knew himself conquered, held in bondage, the prisoner of a hastily given word. If he could not [167] persuade her to go his way he was bound by his given word to go hers. Yet her way would drag him into a course of action utterly distasteful and opposed to both his principles and desires! And he could not be unmindful of the voice within him whcih had begun to sound his own country’s claims and the folloy and crime of rebellion by force.

Pt. II Chp IV HOW THOMAS RUSSELL FORGED THE PRISONER”S LAST FETTER [Russell’s library post is said to be at the Belfast Library; recte Linenhall.]

[Lambart] For many years he had persuaded himself that his duty in life was to help Ireland, but now his nationality betrayed itself in a growing desire to work for Ireland through England,—to help Ireland by striving to persuade Engliand to a sense of her wrongs and needs. / The fact was, the contemplative, philosophic mind was his; he had no real taste for party politics and rebellion. [179]

[Lambart] was homesick for England; homesick for the smell of English air, for the feel of English soil, for the comforting sight of English lands. … / … ‘these pastoral farms/Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke/Sent up in silence, from among the trees.’ [from ‘Tintern Abbey’] / The words called up a homely, soothing image, which made him groan for very yearning. he longed for the easeful peace of English life.

On the very day following his interview with Thomas Russell he wrote to arrange for the sale of the English home he had inherited, and so broke the last link that bound him to his own country. Thencefowrward he was Russell’s ally and agent in all that enthusiast’s plots against English rule in Ireland. [180-81]

[After the peasants have abandoned the cause] [Ross and Russell] each felt the other’s presence burdensome. / “This room reeks of whiskey and dirty humanity,” Ross exclaimed. “I’m going out for a smoke.”

[Kate’s reaction to the news that the Ulster peasants won’t rise] Thomas Russell would not say that all was lost. It was the Englishman who spoke thus gloomily. But surely Russell had plans! Surely he would make another venture! [198]

.. Ross did not kiss her; he took her hands and looked at her from as a man might look who wakes from a sweet dream, and fiding it a reality, is yet too dazed to believe in it. [199]

[Lambart] That sense of relief he had had wen his and Russell’s attempt at rebellion ended in nothing had made him realise, with a shock of horror, that to enter upon such an enterprise from motives such as his was a crime. A rash promise to a beloved woman and shame of seeming a renegade, had urged him to an undertaking of which his innermost conscience disapproved. … he thanked God there had been no bloodshed … [204]

Lambart to Katie: “When I joined Russell I did not honestly believe that I was doing the best for Ireland. ‘Twas too late for rebellion—I felt it. But I feared to lose you if I broke my promise to you, and so I entered upon an enterprise I did not appreove. That was a sin.” [210]

”Can there be any happiness for those who love Ireland?” she cried. / But the clasp of her arms around his neck, her face pressed to his, and the sobbing sigh on which the words came, betrayed a yerning for the simple joys that filled other women’s lives. [213]

[News reaches Katherine that Ross Lambart has gone to the scaffold] In the dark hours that followed, her life as she had lived it, rose up before her, and with horror she recognised the baseness of the motives which had influenced her in these last years. Not patriotism but revenge, had been her motive. To her desire for revenge she hasd sacrificed her lover’s happiness, nay, as it seemed now, his very life. [227] … [PARAS] It needed this awful hour to lead Kate to a knowledge that God’s ways are not as man’s ways. … He speaks out of the burning bush to the wayfarer left solitary in the desert; He speaks, and after the great fear and trembling come faith and courage, and a new hope. [227]

[Lambart’s last letter to Katherine] “Yet, if it were possible, I should like my body to lie amongst my people who have died. Generations of Lambart’s lie in a little graveyard on a hillside away there in Herefordshire … I’m fain these bones of mine may rest there too, at home. ..” [232]

[Mr Maxwell has the last garrulous word:] “.. I was afraid we’d have difficulty to get to see our dear friend, but the Governor was wonderfully kind. Sure I think he’s glad one good life is spared. And now, I suppose, I’ll be losing my daughter. But there! I don’t grudge her to Ross Lambart. He deserves her and all the happiness she can give him.” [END]

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