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Gossamer   By: (1865-1950)

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By G. A. Birmingham

Copyright, 1915, George H. Doran Company


"For that mercy," said Gorman, "you may thank with brief thanksgiving whatever gods there be." We were discussing, for perhaps the twentieth time, the case of poor Ascher. Gorman had reminded me, as he often does, that I am incapable of understanding Ascher or entering into his feelings, because I am a man of no country and therefore know nothing of the emotion of patriotism. This seems a curious thing to say to a man who has just had his leg mangled in a battle; but I think Gorman is quite right about his fact I went out to the fight, when the fight came on, but only because I could not avoid going. I never supposed that I was fighting for my country. But Gorman is wrong in his inference. I have no country, but I believe I can understand Ascher quite as well as Gorman does. Nor am I sure that I ought to be thankful for my immunity from the fever of patriotism. Ascher suffered severely because at a critical moment in his life a feeling of loyalty to his native land gripped him hard. I have also suffered, a rending of the body at least comparable to Ascher's rending of the soul. But I have not the consolation of feeling that I am a hero.

I have often told Gorman that if he were as thorough going as he pretends to be he would call himself O'Gorabhain or at the very least, O'Gorman. He is an Irishman by birth, sympathy and conviction. He is a Member of Parliament, pledged to support the cause of Ireland, and this in spite of the fact that he has brains. He might have been a brilliant, perhaps even a successful and popular novelist. He wrote two stories which critics acclaimed, which are still remembered and even occasionally read. He might have risen to affluence as a dramatist. He was the author of one single act play which made the fortune of a very charming actress ten years ago. He has made a name for himself as a journalist, and his articles are the chief glory of a leading weekly paper. But the business to which he has really devoted himself is that of an Irish patriot. He says amazingly foolish things in public and, in private, is always quite ready to laugh at his own speeches. He is a genuine lover of Ireland, an inheritor of that curious tradition of Irish patriotism which has survived centuries of disappointed hopes, and, a much stranger thing, has never been quite asphyxiated by its own gases.

I happen to belong to that unfortunate class of Irishmen whom neither Gorman nor any one else will recognise as being Irish at all. I owned, at one time, a small estate in Co. Cork. I sold it to my tenants and became a man of moderate income, incumbered with a baronetcy of respectable antiquity and occupied chiefly in finding profitable investments for my capital. By way of recreation I interest myself in my neighbours and acquaintances, in the actual men and women rather than in their affairs. No definition of the Irish people has yet been framed which would include me, though I am indubitably a person I take "person" to be the singular of people which is a noun of multitude and come of a family which held on to an Irish property for 300 years. My religion consists chiefly of a dislike of the Roman Catholic Church and an instinctive distrust of the priests of all churches. My father was an active Unionist, and I have no political opinions of any sort. I am therefore cut off, both by religion and politics, from any chance of taking part in Irish affairs. On the other hand I cannot manage to feel myself an Englishman. Even now, though I have fought in their army without incurring the reproach of cowardice, I cannot get out of the habit of looking at Englishmen from a distance. This convinces me that I am not one of them.

I am thus Gorman is quite right about this a man of no country. But I understand Ascher as well as Gorman does; though I take a different view of Ascher's ultimate decision.

I met Gorman first on board a Cunard steamer in the autumn of 1913... Continue reading book >>

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