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Give a Dog a Bad Name: Roger Casement & F.E. Smith

John Campbell on the curious case of F.E. Smith and the 'black diaries' of Sir Roger Casement

In the course of a colourful and forthright career in politics, F.E. Smith attracted many enemies; and it was no part of the purpose of my recent biography of him to defend him from them all. Few public men could less convincingly be portrayed in robes of spotless innocence, selflessness and virtue. Curiously, however, in the single episode in connection with which his name has been most thoroughly blackened, in which he has for nearly seventy years now been most specifically and confidently accused of blackguardly conduct, I find him, after careful investigation of all the evidence, almost entirely blameless: I mean the trial and execution for treason of Sir Roger Casement in 1916, and in particular the unscrupulous use made by the Asquith Government of Casement's homosexual diaries, which has been repeatedly laid by Casement's apologists at Smith's door – and attributed, moreover, not merely to the overzealous service of the State but to personal spite. Since these few pages of attempted rehabilitation, buried in a long book, attracted the attention of few reviewers, I welcome the opportunity to try again, more visibly, to put the record straight. Smith and Casement apart, the episode provides an instructive lesson in the durability of myth founded on no basis more substantial than plausible gossip.

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