The Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone

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Whittaker, Treacher, and Arnot, 1831 - Ireland - 347 pages

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The Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone By: William T. Wolfe Tone
Reviewed By: Martin Griffin
The five star rating accorded this book by me is not rewarded for the usual reasons. While the prose is
fine and the sentiments expressed cover the entire spectrum of human emotion, the books importance is its place in the freeing of the long oppressed People of Ireland. Theobald Wolfe Tone is the philosophical, father of 'radica'l Irish Republicanism; the political theory inspired in part by the French Revolution that led its adherents to proclaim independence and fight the battles which ultimately led to truncated Irish Free State, more than a century later.
Wolfe Tone’s autobiography is actually a heavily redacted reproduction of his personal diary. His intent was to memorialize for his wife Matilda, family and intimate friends, the events that led to the French Republic rendering succor to the cause of Irish liberation.
Tone writes about his college experiences as well as his pursuit of a career at the bar for which he declares himself singularly unfit. The heavy editing of the document encouraged by wife Matilda and son William, the actual wielder of the blue pencil, is an attempt to downplay the suggestion that Tone was something of a lady’s man or libertine. The version published in 1831 runs 347 pages while the entire corpus of Wolfe Tone’s papers in later editions runs 1002 pages.
Among the other subjects highlighted in the diary are the events leading to Wolfe Tone leaving Ireland with his family barely a few steps ahead of the ire of the government which had previously assured him of his liberty after whispered suggestions and court testimony that Tone was engaged in treason, the hazards at sea where British ships were boarding all manner of other vessels looking to impress men into Crown Naval service, his narrow escape of not only that fate but identification was also discussed in some detail.
Wolfe Tone was delegated the task of acting the part of ambassador for the United Irishmen, making new and utilizing old friends in an effort to reach France and seek the aid of the newly formed French revolutionary Republic in throwing off the increasingly intolerable yoke of British rule and oppression.
His impression of the new American Republic occupies a number of pages and interestingly is not the usual rave review that has usually been the result where quills scratched paper. Meetings with future American President, James Madison as well as the resident French Minister in the United States are the most important of his activities before sailing for France, along with setting his family up in adequate living quarters for the duration of his absence.
Tone chronicles his favorable reception in Paris by the revolutionary Republican Government, represented at first by member of the Directory Lazare Carnot, the result of being the agent of Irish revolutionaries as well as his being recommended by the French Minister in the US in addition to carrying a letter of introduction from the future American Minister to France James Madison.
The French then at war with the crowned heads of Europe were more than happy to add an ally at their British enemies back door. His receiving a Commission as Chef De Brigade (Colonel), promotion to Adjutant General in the French Army under General Hoche, fulfilling a boyhood desire, is a source of great pride, happiness and desperately needed income.
Since the autobiography is in reality a personal diary it is a series of specific, dated entries, detailing meetings, the impression of various prominent persons, i. e Napper Tandy, Napoleon, etc.; living expenses, needs, desires and fears. Tone’s intended audience being his loved ones necessarily influences the tone of the language used throughout the pages. In some sections Tone’s thoughts are upbeat and encouraged even tender and loving while in others he is clearly deeply despondent.
Nowhere does the despondency come through clearer than when Tone discusses the delays in negotiations or decision making

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Page 64 - To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter.
Page 124 - I have on my part endeavoured to fulfil — never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence.
Page 188 - He then proceeded to ask me, in case of the landing being effectuated, might he rely on finding provisions, and particularly bread? I said it would be impossible to make any arrangements in Ireland previous to the landing, because of the surveillance of the government ; but if that were once accomplished there would be no want of provisions ; that Ireland abounded in cattle, and...
Page 65 - Catholics had but one common interest, and one common enemy ; that the depression and slavery of Ireland was produced and perpetuated by the divisions existing between them, and that, consequently, to assert the independence of their country and their own individual liberties, it was necessary to forget all former feuds, to consolidate the entire strength of the •whole nation, and to form for the future but one people.
Page 41 - A closer examination into the situation of my native country had very considerably extended my views, and, as I was sincerely and honestly attached to her interests, I soon found reason not to regret that the Whigs had not thought me an object worthy their cultivation. I made speedily what was to me a great discovery, though I might have found it in Swift and Molyneux...
Page 227 - It is altogether an enterprise truly unique ; we have not one guinea; we have not a tent; we have not a horse to draw our four pieces of artillery; the general-in-chief marches on foot ; we leave all our l>aggage behind us ; we have nothing but the arms in our hands, the clothes on our backs, and a good courage, but that is sufficient.
Page 220 - If we are mark'd to die, we are enough To do our country loss ;• and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will ! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Page 41 - Molyneux, that the influence of England was the radical vice of our government ; and consequently that Ireland would never be either free, prosperous, or happy, until she was independent, and that independence was unattainable, whilst the connexion with England existed.
Page 223 - This morning, at eight, we have neared Bantry Bay considerably, but the fleet is terribly scattered ; no news of the Fraternite ; I believe it is the first instance of an admiral in a clean frigate, with moderate weather, and moonlight nights, parting company with his fleet. Captain Grammont, our first Lieutenant, told me his opinion is that she is either taken or lost; and, in either event, it is a terrible blow to us. All rests now upon Grouchy, and I hope he may turn out well ; he has a glorious...
Page 69 - ... speculations. My object was to secure the independence of my country under any form of government, to which I was led by a hatred of England, so deeply rooted in my nature, that it was rather an instinct than a principle. I left to others, better qualified for the inquiry, the investigation and merits of the different forms of government, and I contented myself with labouring on my own system, which was luckily in perfect coincidence as to its operation with that of those men who viewed the question...

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