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Copy of Antoni Ostrowski’s letter to Daniel O’Connell (November 1837) – Source Analysis, Part II, II/2022

Part II

Copy of Antoni Ostrowski’s letter to Daniel O’Connell (November 1837)

“Your name Sir … [is] from now on written in our history.”

The above letter of Antoni Ostrowski (1782-1845) is probably his first attempt to establish direct contact with Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) after the fall of the November Uprising (1830-1831).[1] Ostrowski, who was in exile at the time – as one of only two senators from the uprising period who were sentenced to death (see “Antoni Ostrowski and Polish-Irish Historical Contexts”) – once again noticed O’Connell’s extraordinary activity in the Polish Question. As he himself states – like other Polish emigrants – he is content to see that “the famous defender for the right of the oppressed and the nations” again raised his “powerful voice on behalf of our sacred cause!” Although the letter primarily concerns O’Connell’s undertaking to preside over the celebrations commemorating the November Night (November 29, 1830; this night initiated the November Uprising) in London on 29 November 1837, it refers to the wider pro-Polish activities of the Irish politician in the earlier period. This applies, among other things, to material support (allowance) for Polish exiles, which was granted in June 1834, and opinions expressed by him and other politicians in defence of the Republic of Cracow (see „Irish Voices in Defence of the Republic of Cracow: Selected Aspects of Irish Involvement”), as well as relatively frequent public speeches in which he exposed the Polish cause.[2]

With reference to the allowance granted to the Poles, it is worth emphasising here that Daniel O’Connell strongly sought to provide this support from the very start. In March 1834, during a debate in the House of Commons concerning Poles, he had already refuted the arguments of Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple, 1784-1865) – representing the government – who at the time refused to grant relief to the Polish refugees. O’Connell then said that “Poland had … become the victim of the contemptible and brutal despot of Russia”, and he would therefore like to “see a sum of money by the Government to the Poles, and would have it called Russian blood-money”, as “the ambition of Russia was dangerous to the peace and well-being of Europe”.[3] In the opinion of O’Connell, it was “high time for England to speak out in favour of Poland, and against Russian ambition”, because “Russia, in defiance of treaties of the most solemn and binding nature, had blotted out Poland from the map of Europe”, and “The gallant people of that country were now trampled under the hoof of the brutal and sanguinary despot of St. Petersburgh.”[4] O’Connell also expressed hope for a “cordial” alliance of England and France to “oppose the ambition of the Court of St. Petersburgh”.[5]

More than three years later, as Ostrowski writes in his letter a few days before the event, the Irish leader presided over the celebrations commemorating the November Night. The meeting itself, as reported by the Irish Freeman’s Journal (after The Sun), was “very numerous” and “respectably” attended.[6] Among others, the event was attended by Lord Dudley Coutts Stuart (1803-1854; member of the House of Commons and Vice-President of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland in London),[7] Thomas Attwood (1783-1856; member of the House of Commons), General Józef Dwernicki (1779-1857; commander in the November Uprising), Napoleon Feliks Żaba (1803-1885; participant in the November Uprising, lecturer in history and literature, who also gave talks in Ireland) and Charles Buller (1806-1848; member of the House of Commons). Mr. Buller was standing in for another important Irish guest, Richard Lalor Sheil (1791-1851; member of the House of Commons and advocate of the Polish cause), who was sick at the time (“a severe fit of the gout”).[8] Leonard Niedźwiecki (1811-1892), a keen observer of the life of the Polish émigrés, was excited the day before the meeting to read, in the programme of the celebrations, that Richard Sheil, who was, in his opinion, “the most famous speaker” in the House of Commons, would participate in this event.[9] 

Daniel O’Connell’s presidency was supposed to be a breakthrough.[10] This was reported by Leonard Niedźwiecki – associated with the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland in London, and later with the political camp of Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski – in his correspondence with Karol Sienkiewicz (1793-1860). The latter was a librarian and historian, very closely associated with Prince Adam. Sienkiewicz was also somewhat familiar with Ireland, which he visited in search of publications dedicated to Poland; however, his visit to the library of Trinity College Dublin proved to be rather unsuccessful.[11] As Niedźwiecki reported, “the annual celebration of our insurrection in November of this year in London was so splendid as we had long wished for in vain”.[12] In addition, he explained the deeper reason for commemorating this event, which foreigners were encouraged to take part in, namely – as Niedźwiecki emphasised – that it is the essence of Polish pilgrimage, the Polish cause, and national matter: “to show the cause preserved in our pilgrimage, as in the Ark of the Covenant, to show it to the world, to teach the world of its holiness, to hold it in the right direction in the opinion of the peoples….”[13]

Niedźwiecki very vividly managed to convey the atmosphere of this event, which took place on 29 November 1837 in the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London. And, as the Irish newspaper reported, the assembly was very numerous; it was attended mainly by the English, in the ratio of twenty to one Pole.[14] The meeting began at one o’clock in the afternoon, “Daniel O’Connell, the saviour of Ireland, in the chair. Polish banners hung on both sides of him, behind the chair protruded and stretched extensively a huge, ceiling reaching, window. The floor was raised, where the seat of the chairman was…. Then, the rest of the huge room densely filled with people.”[15] He then described the solemn moment when O’Connell began to speak: “he arose, his almost enormous figure…clearly outlined on the windowpanes. Athletic build and height…and the light fell around him – hence his movements were as if darkly drawn on glass. He stood between the banners. A cause as sacred as ours…inspired him with a prophetic spirit.”[16] O’Connell began by saying: “It is, indeed, no small honour and gratification to me to be permitted to preside upon such an occasion as the present – the anniversary of the glorious struggle with the gallant Poles for their native country and for liberty (cheers). I feel a deep sympathy in their sufferings – in their holy cause.”[17]

Niedźwiecki further described the Irishman’s speech: “He spoke slowly, solemnly, and when he raised his hand with his finger raised and called: Poland must be, because the providence of the just God watches over us! – it was so solemn that raising only the host in the church can give a universal impression of this emotion. The speaker’s words poured into the hearts of the audience and, as one Tory present uttered, “could move stones”’.[18] Niedźwiecki here paraphrased the words of O’Connell, who was to say that, “So long as we recognise the providence of the God of justice, we should never dare to despair of the progress of right and the downfall of oppression and injustice (loud cheers).”[19]

In his speech, Daniel O’Connell not only showed eloquence and knowledge of Polish history (including the most recent past), but also made it clear that he was very well aware of the fundamental weaknesses of Polish emigration: lack of unity and internal conflicts. The Irish politician stressed that the first purpose of this ceremony commemorating the November Uprising was to encourage Poles to persevere in their work of regaining independence. He pointed to the need to leave internal disputes, saying: “All anger and irritation ought to be directed against the common enemy”[20] – until the homeland is regained, and only then, in a peaceful way, will there be a time of deliberation as to the shape of its future system. As he emphasised, “Union is most necessary among…men [who] fall into misfortune.”[21] This was repaid with applause from the audience. O’Connell then pointed to the second purpose of the November Night commemoration, namely, to bear witness to the British compassion shown for the Polish cause. Hence, as Niedźwiecki reported, “he was glad to be pleased with so many listeners and the fact that he presides over such a circumstance”.[22]  O’Connell said in rapture: “Oh! I delight to behold this assembly so crowded in so noble a cause (loud cheers). It will be heard at Warsaw – it will resound through the streets of Petersburg – the miscreant autocrat will hear the shout (loud cheers) – and even on his blood-stained throne he will tremble at it (continued cheering).”[23] Although O’Connell showed strong independence of opinion on the Polish Question, he maintained close ties with the camp of Prince Czartoryski, whose activities were consistent with the goals of the Irish leader: to influence British public opinion.

While presenting Polish history, O’Connell knew perfectly well that the Second and Third Partition of Poland took place in a reforming, living state organism. He said it without mincing his words, in his well-known style, when he spoke about Poland, and this is worth quoting in a longer fragment: during the “French Revolution…the Poles began to rise. They raised the cry of liberty – they formed a constitution [Constitution of 3 May 1791] – they formed a free constitution for the remaining portion of their territory, which was respected by all Europe and emphatically praised by the eloquent Mr. Burke [Edmund Burke], the opponent of the French revolution. It was a constitution by which every one gained, and nobody lost. Blessed be Heaven, it conferred benefits upon all without injuring any one. A very few years would have consolidated what remained of Polish strength – would have given a confidence to the Polish people which nothing could have withstood, and [would] have compelled the despot to disgorge his plunder, and make restitution to this much-injured people. This was foreseen by Russia, and before Poland had time to amalgamate herself into a nation, to concentrate her young strength, another crime was committed upon them. They dared to set themselves free, and to proclaim the constitution. Another partition took place, three more slices were taken off, and, sacred Heaven!”[24] 

In conclusion, Niedźwiecki wrote that the Irish politician “spoke for a long time. They listened to him tirelessly and clapped for a long time when he finished and were waving their hats”.[25] 

Adam A. Kucharski and Robert T. Tomczak

See also „Irish Voices in Defence of the Republic of Cracow: Selected Aspects of Irish Involvement.”

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[1] See also a letter from Antoni Ostrowski to Daniel O’Connell from September 1839.

[2] Regarding British support for the Poles see Krzysztof Marchlewicz, Wielka emigracja na wyspach brytyjskich (1831-1863) (Poznań, 2008), pp. 49-65; Mieczysław Paszkiewicz, ‘Lista emigrantów polskich w Wielkiej Brytanii otrzymujących zasiłki od rządu brytyjskiego w latach 1834-1899’, in Materiały do Biografii, Genealogii i Heraldyki Polskiej (Buenos Aires-Paryż, 1964), vol. 2, pp. 59-109.

[3] HC Deb 25 March 1834, Hansard Parliamentary Debates, vol. 22, col. 656-657.

[4] Ibid., col. 657.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837.

[7] The Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, founded in 1832, was the most important Polonophile organisation in Victorian England.

[8] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837.

[9] Leonard Niedźwiecki to Eustachy Januszkiewicz, London 28 November 1837, in [Leonard Niedźwiecki], Listy wybrane z lat 1832-1839, Stanisław Makowski (ed.) (Warszawa, 2009), p. 317.

[10] Ostrowski’s letter may wrongly suggest that O’Connell had presided over the ceremony in 1836, but this was not the case. The editors would like to thank Professor Krzysztof Marchlewicz for the additional verification of this information.  

[11] See Katarzyna Gmerek, Polacy i materia celtycka w XIX wieku (Poznań, 2010), pp. 26-27.

[12] Leonard Niedźwiecki to Karol Sienkiewicz, London 30 November 1837, in [Leonard Niedźwiecki], Listy wybrane z lat 1832-1839, p. 318.  

[13] Ibid., p. 319.

[14] Ibid., p. 320.

[15] Ibid., p. 319.

[16] Ibid., p. 320.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837; see also 29 listopada w roku 1837. W Londynie, w Paryżu, w Edymburgu (Paryż, 1837), p. 1.

[18] Leonard Niedźwiecki to Karol Sienkiewicz, London 30 November 1837, in [Leonard Niedźwiecki], Listy wybrane z lat 1832-1839, p. 320.

[19] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837.

[20] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837; see also 29 listopada w roku 1837. W Londynie, w Paryżu, w Edymburgu, p. 2.

[21] 29 listopada w roku 1837. W Londynie, w Paryżu, w Edymburgu, p. 2; see also Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837.

[22] Leonard Niedźwiecki to Karol Sienkiewicz, London 30 November 1837, in [Leonard Niedźwiecki], Listy wybrane z lat 1832-1839, p. 320.

[23] 29 listopada w roku 1837. W Londynie, w Paryżu, w Edymburgu, p. 2; see also Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837.

[24] Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1837; see also 29 listopada w roku 1837. W Londynie, w Paryżu, w Edymburgu, p. 3.

[25] Leonard Niedźwiecki to Karol Sienkiewicz, London 30 November 1837, in [Leonard Niedźwiecki], Listy wybrane z lat 1832-1839 p. 320.

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