Tag Archives: William Henry Hurlbert

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Hurlbert who?

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


“ … [A]ll my observations and comments have been made from an American, not from a British or an Irish point of view.  How or by whom Ireland shall be governed concerns me only in so far as … [it] may tend to affect the future of my country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

William Henry Hurlbert

My posts about Hurlbert’s reporting in Ireland have now covered the contents of Volume 1 of his book, roughly the one-month period from his late January 1888 arrival in Dublin through the third week of February, 1888. Before starting Volume 2, I want to take a break from the text to focus some attention on the author. This will serve as a foundation for later posts on his views about Ireland and the Irish in America.

The best source of information about Hurlbert is Daniel W. Crofts’ 2010 book,  A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public man”Crofts writes in his Preview:

His name will not be familiar—hardly anyone today ever has heard of this eccentric nineteenth-century genius. Sic transit gloria mundi. (Thus passes the glory of the world.) Acclaimed at his height as “the most brilliant talent of the New York press” and “the only artist among American journalists,” Hurlbert once commanded attention.

The quotes cited by Crofts are from 1869, nearly 20 years before Ireland Under Coercion and a decade before “The diary of a public man,” his most consequential work, was published in The North American Review. The Diary, as Crofts wrote in this 2011 piece for The New York Times:

…offered verbatim accounts of behind-the-scenes discussions at the very highest levels during the winter of 1860 and ’61. Its pithy quotations attributed to the key principals — Stephen A. Douglas, William H. Seward and especially Abraham Lincoln — have been endlessly recycled by historians. But the author of the diary remained cloaked in anonymity … [and] the purported diary was not an actual diary … [it] was a fictional construct … rooted in reality.

Crofts surveyed the “enormous printed output” of Hurlbert’s journalism career, before and after the Diary was published, to establish as well as possible more than 100 years later that he was the mysterious author. Crofts also worked with statistician David Holmes to subject the Diary to an analysis of literary style known as “stylometry,” which quantifies frequently used words and patterns of words.

Ireland Under Coercion had “important implications” for their analysis, Crofts wrote. Hurlbert’s vocabulary and alliterations in the 1888 book were “strikingly reminiscent” of the Diary published nine years earlier.

Other highlights of Hurlbert’s life from Crofts’ book:

  • Born in 1827 in Charleston, South Carolina. His family moved to Philadelphia in 1831 and remained there through 1843, then went back to South Carolina after Hurlbert’s father died.
  • Hurlbert attended Harvard College from 1845 through 1849, obtaining undergraduate and divinity degrees. “He appears to have been … a young man of enormous talent, plainly destined for great success.”
  • After college, Hurlbert traveled in Europe, served a brief stint as a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, and finally began working as a journalist, joining The New York Times in 1856.
  • Between 1857 and 1869, Hurlbert was portrayed as a fictional character in three novels by people who knew him. These portrayals offered “a baffling mix of qualities,” from “warmly ingratiating and intellectually brilliant” to “secretive, self-centered and ultimately self-destructive,” according to Crofts.
  • A Douglas supporter, Hurlbert’s personal peacekeeping mission in 1861 resulted in his 13-month imprisonment by the Confederates in Richmond, Virginia. He escaped, returned to the North, and soon joined the New York World, which he subsequently edited.
  • As he was writing the Diary in 1879, Hurlbert also led the successful campaign to move a 3,500-year-old obelisk, “Cleopatra’s Needle,” from Egypt to New York City’s Central Park, where it remains today.
  • After being ousted from the World in 1883 by new ownership, Hurlbert married and moved to Europe. He quickly followed Ireland Under Coercion with another book about France. But Hurlbert soon got caught up an extramarital affair and highly-publicized court case that scandalized his waning reputation. He died in Italy in 1895, “an exile [and] a fugitive from the law.”

As suggested above, future posts will deal with Hurlbert’s views of the Irish in America and how his experiences with the American Civil War influenced his views on the agrarian agitation and Home Rule movement in Ireland. I’ll also look at the U.S. and European reviews of Ireland Under Coercion.

New York City in the 1880s. After Hurlbert”s U.S. newspaper career peaked in 1883, he moved to Europe. He traveled in Ireland during the first half of 1888.

NOTES:  Opening quote from page 8 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Other material from A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public man by Daniel W. Crofts.

NEXT: An eviction

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Other books

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


“Before reaching Limerick we passed through so much really beautiful country that I could not help expressing my admiration of it to my only fellow traveler.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

My last post mentioned Hurlbert’s reference to French journalist Philippe Daryl, who wrote about his 1886 and 1887 travels to Ireland in a book published shortly before the American arrived in Dublin. Hurlbert referenced several other contemporary accounts in his book.

There have been numerous travel books written about Ireland, and not just by journalists. Travellers’ Accounts as Source-Material for Irish Historians, is an excellent 2009 reference by Christopher J. Woods. It details 209 accounts from Sir William Brereton in 1635 to S.P.B. Mais in 1949, including Hurlbert. Woods provides travel dates, itinerary, people encountered and content overviews.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

By the 18th century, “the act of ‘writing one’s journey’ became commonplace, and by the 1750s reading and emulating printed narratives was a firmly entrenched intellectual pursuit that heralded the golden age of travel writing, waning in the 1850s with the advent of rail,” Sylvie Kleinman commented in a History Ireland review of Woods’ book. “Accounts of journeys, even if not infallible sources, can especially serve the historian as material on a wide range of issues, if only as a record of conditions or places long since altered.”

The Tourist’s Gaze, Travellers to Ireland, 1800 to 2000, edited by Glen Hooper, contains excerpts from 72 accounts, including several titles not listed in Travellers’ Accounts. Tourist’s Gaze features a portion of the March 8, 1888, passage of Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion. (Elsewhere in the book, Hurlbert references his own 1878 and 1883 trips to Ireland.)

My exploration of Hurlbert’s book is part of my broader interests in 19th century Ireland, especially the 1880s Land War/Home Rule period. Among other digitized titles from that decade, representing a range of views:

Now, on the eve of my seventh trip to Ireland in 18 years, I will take a short break from my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited project as I do further research on this and other topics. I will update the hand-written entries of my black leather travel journal of my 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2016 trips. I also will post on the blog about my latest travels.

The #IUCRevisited project will resume by early March.

NOTES: Top quote from page 168 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanHurlbert notes his earlier visits to Ireland on pages 41-42. Historic books linked via HathiTrust Digital Library.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Unnamed sources

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


“When he wants to throw out some offensive innuendo on the Irish Party, or the Irish people, or the Irish Priests–anything Irish so it be on the National side–he nearly always introduces some unnamed and, as I believe, unnameable individual to to the work for him.”
–Father Patrick White commenting on William Henry Hurlbert

In a fortuitous coincidence, my launch of this project coincided with the January 2018 release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Micheal Wolff

Wolff’s book about the American presidential administration and Hurlbert’s 1888 publication about Irish political agitation share one significant characteristic: frequent use of unnamed sources.

As we’ve discovered in this blog serial, Hurlbert was very transparent about his sympathies for Irish landlords and the unionists supporters of London’s ruling conservative Tory government. He openly disdained Irish nationalists and the island’s urban and rural poor.

In his attacks on the latter, Hurlbert often relies on unnamed sources to make his point, as Father Patrick White noted in his rebuttal pamphlet to the American’s book, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’ [The text doesn’t show a year published. It appears to have been released in 1890 or 1891.]

Father White was Catholic parish priest in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis, County Clare. In his book, Hurlbert accused the priest of organizing boycott activities, which Father White strongly rebutted in his pamphlet. I’ll return to this matter in a future post.

In a section of Hurlbert unmasked headlined “Mr. Hurlbert’s Anonymous Informants,”  Father White savaged the American author’s use of unnamed sources, which included a …

  • Catholic from the south of Ireland
  • sarcastic Nationalist acquaintance of mine
  • jarvey with a knowing look
  • shrewd Galway man
  • resident of the county who gave me his views on the Plan of Campaign
  • magistrate familiar with Gweedore

“I will not here mince words,” Father White wrote. “Such tactics as these are cowardly and contemptible … [Hurlbert] finds vent by this devise for a stream of contempt and scorn poured out on the Irish representatives, which must have been pleasant reading, indeed, for all Unionists.”

William Henry Hurlbert

Or, as the New York Sun noted in its 1891 review of Hurlbert umasked, “the third person singular indefinite is a difficult witness to rebut.”

Father White heaps more scorn on Hurlbert for cloaking some of the people he encountered late in his travels with a series of  “* * * *” in place of their name or identifying characteristics. The priest calls the device “a sensational novelty” and “a fit crowning to the work.”

In a footnote, Hurlbert explained:

After this chapter had actually gone to press, I received a letter from the friend who had put me into communication … [with these people] begging me to strike out all direct indications of their whereabouts, on the ground that these might lead to grave annoyance and trouble for these poor men from the local tyrants. … What can be said for the freedom of a country in which a man of character and position [his “friend”] honestly believes it to be ‘dangerous’ for poor men to say things recorded in the text of this chapter about their own feelings, wishes, opinions, and interests?

The explanation bolsters Hurlbert’s contention that the worst coercion in Ireland came from shadowy and violent agrarian activists, not the police and government officials who enforced the laws of London. Ireland Under Coercion does identify people in this latter group, which is why the book remains relevant for historical study.

Which brings us back to 2018, and the furor that Fire and Fury has created over reporting with unnamed sources, whether in daily online journalism or modern book publishing. I give the last word to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact, from her 9 January review of Wolff’s book:

The lack of sourcing is a problem because it means evidence is given a back seat to narrative oomph. It encourages people to suspend their critical thinking skills and follow their emotions into a pleasing narrative. That narrative might be true or it might not be, and it’s almost impossible to independently evaluate.

NOTES: Bulleted “sources” from pages 54, 71, 88, 125, 152 and 179, respectively; footnote from page 361, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Father White’s comments on pages 24, 25 and 28 of Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’ Special thanks to Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. … New York Sun, 31 January 1891, page 7.

NEXT: Kilkenny visits

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: An Introduction

Happy New Year. For 2018, I’m producing an open-ended, work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by William Henry Hurlbert. #IUCRevisited.

William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert was 60 when he traveled around Ireland during the first six months of 1888, a period of resurgent agrarian violence and nationalist political agitation. The Charleston, S.C.-born, Harvard-educated, veteran New York City newspaperman supported the private property interests of Ireland’s mostly absentee landlords and the law-and-order response of London’s ruling conservative Tory government. He soon drew the scorn of Irish nationalists, including a rebuttal pamphlet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’

This blog serial will explore late 19th century Ireland through the people, places and events Hurlbert detailed in his travels. I will supplement his original text with background material and my own 21st century perspectives. The posts not only will cover the Land War and Home Rule conflicts of the day, but also other aspects of life in Ireland at the time, and Hurlbert’s numerous references to the Irish in America and the November 1888 U.S. presidential election.

In his Prologue, Hurlbert writes:

I went to Ireland, not to find some achromatic meaning for a prismatic phrase, which is flashed at you fifty times in England and America where you encounter it once in Ireland, but to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country. … I have done little more than set down, as fully and clearly as I could, what I actually saw and heard in Ireland. … As I had no case to make for or against any political party or any theory of government in Ireland, I took things great and small, and people high and low [especially] with those classes of the Irish people of whom we see least in America … “

The book is written in a travel diary format, beginning with his 30 January 1888, arrival in Dublin, and ending with a 26 June 1888, entry from Belfast. The Preface is dated 21 September 1888. I will quote extensively from the passages, but edit Hurlbert’s frequently meandering sentences.

I am 81 pages into the 475-page book. As I get deeper in the text, I will begin to cross-reference and circle back to earlier book passages and blog posts, as appropriate to understanding the material. Reader questions and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for joining me–and William Henry Hurlbert–on this adventure through “Ireland Under Coercion,” Revisited.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NEXT: Dublin arrival

NOTES: Quotes from pages 8 and 10 of the Prologue to Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanMost hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. I am maintaining a People, Places & Events reference on the project landing page.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan