Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Hurlbert reviewed

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“Although barely a month has elapsed since the publication of these volumes, events of more or less general notoriety have so far confirmed the views taken in them of the actual state and outlook of affairs in Ireland, that I gladly comply with the request of my publisher for a Preface to this Second Edition.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

The first edition of Ireland Under Coercion was published in August 1888. The Preface of the second edition, quoted above, was dated 21 September 1888. Mixed reviews of the book appeared that autumn in Irish, English and American newspapers and literary journals.

The Times of London devoted nearly a full page to the book, with “no apology for placing before our readers copious extracts.” It described IUC as “entertaining as well as instructive.” More importantly, the organ of Britain’s ruling Tory party “attached still greater value to the book as a collection of evidence on the present phase of the Irish difficulty, the genuineness of which it would be idle to impeach.”

This was ironic. The review appeared weeks before a special judicial commission began investigating alleged crimes by Charles Stewart Parnell and other Irish nationalists, driven primarily by an 1887 Times series. Once the commission exposed those reports as false, included the newspaper’s use of forged letters, the Times had to pay damages to Parnell. 

The pro-Parnell United Ireland, which Hurlbert described in IUC as “that dumb organ of a downtrodden people,” weighed in a week after the Times‘ review. It labeled Hurlbert “a clever politico-journalist hack, his ambitions, throughout a somewhat extended career, have ever outrun the appreciation of his countrymen … a slighted genius.” It condemned IUC as a “libelous book on Ireland … fit to take its place amongst other grotesque foreign commentaries.”

The same day, The Kerry Evening Post wrote that Hurlbert’ “ruthlessly dethrones many of the ‘pure-souled patriots’, who have been held up to the admiring gaze of the Irish peasants.” The Tralee paper circulated in the region of the Lixnaw murder and Glenbeigh eviction reported by Hurlbert. It generally represented “Protestant interests and conservative politics.” The Post concluded: “The opinions of an intelligent and instructed foreigner may well be commended to Mr. [William] Gladstone’s study, as an answer to his boast that the ‘civilized world’ is on his side in the great controversy of the day.” [The former and future PM supported Home Rule for Ireland.]

Hurlbert

The Saturday Review, a London newsweekly, described Hurlbert as “an American gentleman to whom the condition of Ireland is gravely interesting, because to a certain extent his own country is responsible for it. … He is evidently possessed of a keen sense of humor, and he writes like a well-educated Englishman, while he views men, morals and manners with all the disinterestedness to be expected from a foreigner.”

The Review also criticized Hurlbert for not attempting “any process of solution, short and summary, or tedious and expensive, by which the Irish difficulty might be solved … he has no pet plan to suggest.”

In America, cloth-bound, gilt top editions of Hurlbert’s book were sold for $1.25 by S.A. Maxwell & Co. The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle described the book as “… a sort of high class piece of newspaper reporting … [with] a map claiming to show the most disorderly and the most distressed districts, and that the latter are not the former.”

The Literary World, an American journal, explained to its readers: “The rule of the Land League is, in Mr. Hurlbert’s opinion, the only coercion to which Ireland is subjected; and the title of his volume has reference to this view.” The monthly praised IUC as a “keen and fair-minded report .. [that] may be commended as a practical and thoughtful treatise upon the Irish question.”

The Literary World also suggested that Hurlbert’s book could be read together with Philippe Daryl’s Ireland’s Disease, the English in Ireland, and George Pellew‘s In Castle and Cabin: or Talks in Ireland in 1887. “The three supplement each other well.”

“Hurlbert unmasked’

Hurlbert moved on to another political travel journal, this time about France. But his Ireland book got fresh attention in 1891 when Father Patrick White published a rebuttal pamphlet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’  

In his book, Hurlbert had accused the parish priest of organizing boycott activities  at Miltown Malbay, based on his February 1888 visit to County Clare. In Hurlbert unmasked, Father White disputed the charge, and criticized the American reporter on numerous other fronts.

The New York Sun noted that Father White ridiculed the former editor of the rival New York World “as a snob who made his tour of Ireland under the conduct and patronage of lords and others of social and Tory distinction, and who is scrupulous and persistent in advertising the fact.” Following the priest’s lead, the Sun also criticized Hurlbert’s use of unnamed sources.

In a review of Hurlbert’s book about France, The New York Times recalled the 1888 Ireland work as “superficial and tedious,” written “for no higher object and with no less ignoble a spirit than to please certain English nobles in the world of fashion.” At least, the Times suggested, Hurlbert did so “with very respectable success.”

Hurlbert’s book contained a map of his travels “claiming to show the most disorderly and the most distressed districts, and that the latter are not the former.”

NOTES: Top quote from Preface of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanReviews from Times of London, Aug. 18, 1888, page 12; United Ireland, Aug. 25, 1888, page ??; The Kerry Evening Post , Aug. 25, 1888, page 2; The Saturday Review, Sept. 29, 1888, pages 386-387; IUC advertised in The Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1888, page 13; The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, Nov. 25, 1888, page 7; The Literary World; a Monthly Review of Current Literature, Jan. 19, 1889; page 22; The New York Sun, Jan. 31, 1891, page 7; The New York Times, April 27, 1890, page 19.

Protestant interests and conservative politics,” from page 196-97 of Newspapers and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850-1892, by Marie-Louise Legg, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999.

NEXT: Hurlbert researched

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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