Story type: Essay
1. Whitelaw’s History of the City of Dublin. 4to. Cadell and Davies.
2. Observations on the State of Ireland, principally directed to its Agriculture and Rural Population; in a Series of Letters written on a Tour through that Country. In 2 vols. By J. C. Curwen, Esq., M.P. London, 1818.
3. Gamble’s Views of Society in Ireland.
These are all the late publications that treat of Irish interests in general, and none of them are of first-rate importance. Mr. Gamble’s “Travels in Ireland” are of a very ordinary description, low scenes and low humour making up the principal part of the narrative. There are readers, however, whom it will amuse; and the reading market becomes more and more extensive, and embraces a greater variety of persons every day. Mr. Whitelaw’s “History of Dublin” is a book of great accuracy and research, highly creditable to the industry, good sense, and benevolence of its author. Of the “Travels” of Mr. Christian Curwen we hardly know what to say. He is bold and honest in his politics, a great enemy to abuses, vapid in his levity and pleasantry, and infinitely too much inclined to declaim upon commonplace topics of morality and benevolence. But, with these drawbacks, the book is not ill-written, and may be advantageously read by those who are desirous of information upon the present state of Ireland.
So great and so long has been the misgovernment of that country, that we verily believe the empire would be much stronger if everything was open sea between England and the Atlantic, and if SKATES AND COD-FISH swam over the fair land of Ulster. Such jobbing, such profligacy, so much direct tyranny and oppression, such an abuse of God’s gifts, such a profanation of God’s name for the purposes of bigotry and party spirit, cannot be exceeded in the history of civilised Europe, and will long remain a monument of infamy and shame to England. But it will be more useful to suppress the indignation which the very name of Ireland inspires, and to consider impartially those causes which have marred this fair portion of the creation, and kept it wild and savage in the midst of improving Europe.
The great misfortune of Ireland is that the mass of the people have been given up for a century to a handful of Protestants, by whom they have been treated as Helots, and subjected to every species of persecution and disgrace. The sufferings of the Catholics have been so loudly chanted in the very streets, that it is almost needless to remind our readers that, during the reigns of George I. and George II., the Irish Roman Catholics were disabled from holding any civil or military office, from voting at elections, from admission into corporations, from practising law or physic. A younger brother, by turning Protestant, might deprive his elder brother of his birthright; by the same process he might force his father, under the name of a liberal provision, to yield up to him a part of his landed property; and, if an eldest son, he might, in the same way, reduce his father’s fee-simple to a life-estate. A Papist was disabled from purchasing freehold lands, and even from holding long leases; and any person might take his Catholic neighbour’s house by paying 5 pounds for it. If the child of a Catholic father turned Protestant he was taken away from his father and put into the hands of a Protestant relation. No Papist could purchase a freehold or lease for more than thirty years, or inherit from an intestate Protestant, nor from an intestate Catholic, nor dwell in Limerick or Galway, nor hold an advowson, nor buy an annuity for life. 50 pounds was given for discovering a Popish archbishop, 30 pounds for a Popish clergyman, and 10s. for a schoolmaster. No one was allowed to be trustee for Catholics; no Catholic was allowed to take more than two apprentices; no Papist to be solicitor, sheriff, or to serve on Grand Juries. Horses of Papists might be seized for the militia, for which militia Papists were to pay double, and to find Protestant substitutes. Papists were prohibited from being present at vestries, or from being high or petty constables: and, when resident in towns, they were compelled to find Protestant watchmen. Barristers and solicitors marrying Catholics were exposed to the penalties of Catholics. Persons plundered by privateers during a war with any Popish prince were reimbursed by a levy on the Catholic inhabitants where they lived. All Popish priests celebrating marriages contrary to 12 Geo. I., cap 3, were to be HANGED!
The greater part of these incapacities are removed, though many of a very serious and oppressive nature still remain. But the grand misfortune is that the spirit which these oppressive laws engendered remains. The Protestant still looks upon the Catholic as a degraded being. The Catholic does not yet consider himself upon an equality with his former tyrant and taskmaster. That religious hatred which required all the prohibiting vigilance of the law for its restraint has found in the law its strongest support; and the spirit which the law first exasperated and embittered continues to act long after the original stimulus is withdrawn. The law which prevented Catholics from serving on Grand Juries is repealed; but Catholics are not called upon Grand Juries in the proportion in which they are entitled by their rank and fortune. The Duke of Bedford did all he could to give them the benefit of those laws which are already passed in their favour. But power is seldom entrusted in this country to one of the Duke of Bedford’s liberality, and everything has fallen back in the hands of his successors into the ancient division of the privileged and degraded castes. We do not mean to cast any reflection upon the present Secretary for Ireland, whom we believe to be upon this subject a very liberal politician, and on all subjects an honourable and excellent man. The Government under which he serves allows him to indulge in a little harmless liberality; but it is perfectly understood that nothing is intended to be done for the Catholics; that no loaves and fishes will be lost by indulgence in Protestant insolence and tyranny; and, therefore, among the generality of Irish Protestants, insolence, tyranny, and exclusion continue to operate. However eligible the Catholic may be, he is not elected; whatever barriers may be thrown down, he does not advance a step. He was first kept out by law; he is now kept out by opinion and habit. They have been so long in chains that nobody believes they are capable of using their hands and feet.
It is not, however, the only or the worst misfortune of the Catholics that the relaxations of the law are hitherto of little benefit to them; the law is not yet sufficiently relaxed. A Catholic, as everybody knows, cannot be made sheriff; cannot be in parliament; cannot be a director of the Irish Bank; cannot fill the great departments of the law, the army, and the navy; is cut off from all the high objects of human ambition, and treated as a marked and degraded person.
The common admission now is that the Catholics are to the Protestants in Ireland as about four to one, of which Protestants not more than ONE HALF belong to the Church of Ireland. This, then, is one of the most striking features in the state of Ireland. That the great mass of the population is completely subjugated and overawed by a handful of comparatively recent settlers, in whom all the power and patronage of the country is vested, who have been reluctantly compelled to desist from still greater abuses of authority, and who look with trembling apprehension to the increasing liberality of the parliament and the country towards these unfortunate persons whom they have always looked upon as their property and their prey.
Whatever evils may result from these proportions between the oppressor and oppressed–to whatever dangers a country so situated may be considered to be exposed, these evils and dangers are rapidly increasing in Ireland. The proportion of Catholics to Protestants is infinitely greater now than it was thirty years ago, and is becoming more and more favourable to the former. By a return made to the Irish House of Lords in 1732 the proportion of Catholics to Protestants was not two to one. It is now (as we have already observed) four to one; and the causes which have thus altered the proportions in favour of the Catholics are sufficiently obvious to any one acquainted with the state of Ireland. The Roman Catholic priest resides; his income entirely depends upon the number of his flock; and he must exert himself or he starves. There is some chance of success, therefore, in HIS efforts to convert; but the Protestant clergyman, if he were equally eager, has little or no probability of persuading so much larger a proportion of the population to come over to his Church. The Catholic clergyman belongs to a religion that has always been more desirous of gaining proselytes than the Protestant Church; and he is animated by a sense of injury and a desire of revenge. Another reason for the disproportionate increase of Catholics is that the Catholics will marry upon means which the Protestant considers as insufficient for marriage. A few potatoes and a shed of turf are all that Luther has left for the Romanist; and, when the latter gets these, he instantly begins upon the great Irish manufacture of children. But a Protestant belongs to the sect that eats the fine flour and heaves the bran to others; he must have comforts, and he does not marry till he gets them. He would be ashamed if he were seen living as a Catholic lives. This is the principal reason why the Protestants who remain attached to their Church do not increase so fast as the Catholics. But in common minds, daily scenes, the example of the majority, the power of imitation, decide their habits, religious as well as civil. A Protestant labourer who works among Catholics soon learns to think and act and talk as they do; he is not proof against the eternal panegyric which he hears of Father O’Leary. His Protestantism is rubbed away, and he goes at last, after some little resistance, to the chapel where he sees everybody else going.
These eight Catholics not only hate the ninth man, the Protestant of the Establishment, for the unjust privileges he enjoys–not only remember that the lands of their father were given to his father– but they find themselves forced to pay for the support of his religion. In the wretched state of poverty in which the lower orders of Irish are plunged, it is not without considerable effort that they can pay the few shillings necessary for the support of their Catholic priest; and when this is effected, a tenth of the potatoes in the garden are to be set out for the support of a persuasion, the introduction of which into Ireland they consider as the great cause of their political inferiority, and all their manifold wretchedness. In England a labourer can procure constant employment, or he can, at the worst, obtain relief from his parish. Whether tithe operates as a tax upon him, is known only to the political economist: if he does pay it, he does not know that he pays it, and the burden of supporting the Clergy is at least kept out of his view. But in Ireland, the only method in which a poor man lives is by taking a small portion of land in which he can grow potatoes: seven or eight months out of twelve, in many parts of Ireland, there is no constant employment of the poor; and the potato farm is all that shelters them from absolute famine. If the Pope were to come in person, seize upon every tenth potato, the poor peasant would scarcely endure it. With what patience, then, can he see it tossed into the cart of the heretic rector, who has a church without a congregation, and a revenue without duties? We do not say whether these things are right or wrong, whether they want a remedy at all, or what remedy they want; but we paint them in those colours in which they appear to the eye of poverty and ignorance, without saying whether those colours are false or true. Nor is the case at all comparable to that of Dissenters paying tithe in England; which case is precisely the reverse of what happens in Ireland, for it is the contribution of a very small minority to the religion of a very large majority; and the numbers on either side make all the difference in the argument. To exasperate the poor Catholic still more, the rich graziers of the parish, or the squire in his parish, pay no tithe at all for their grass land. Agistment tithe is abolished in Ireland, and the burthen of supporting two Churches seems to devolve upon the poorer Catholics, struggling with plough and spade in small scraps of dearly-rented land. Tithes seem to be collected in a more harsh manner than they are collected in England. The minute sub-divisions of land in Ireland–the little connection which the Protestant clergyman commonly has with the Catholic population of his parish–have made the introduction of tithe proctors very general, sometimes as the agent of the clergyman, sometimes as the lessee or middleman between the clergyman and the cultivator of the land, but, in either case, practised, dexterous estimators of tithe. The English clergymen in general are far from exacting the whole of what is due to them, but sacrifice a little to the love of popularity or to the dread of odium. A system of tithe- proctors established all over England (as it is in Ireland), would produce general disgust and alienation from the Established Church.
“During the administration of Lord Halifax,” says Mr. Hardy, in quoting the opinion of Lord Charlemont upon tithes paid by Catholics, “Ireland was dangerously disturbed in its southern and northern regions. In the south principally, in the counties of Kilkenny, Limerick, Cork, and Tipperary, the White Boys now made their first appearance; those White Boys who have ever since occasionally disturbed the public tranquillity, without any rational method having been as yet pursued to eradicate this disgraceful evil. When we consider that the very same district has been for the long space of seven-and-twenty years liable to frequent returns of the same disorder into which it has continually relapsed, in spite of all the violent remedies from time to time administered by our political quacks, we cannot doubt but that some real, peculiar, and topical cause must exist, and yet neither the removal, nor even the investigation of this cause, has ever once been seriously attempted. Laws of the most sanguinary and unconstitutional nature have been enacted; the country has been disgraced and exasperated by frequent and bloody executions; and the gibbet, that perpetual resource of weak and cruel legislators, has groaned under the multitude of starving criminals; yet, while the cause is suffered to exist, the effects will ever follow. The amputation of limbs will never eradicate a prurient humour, which must be sought in its source and there remedied.”
“I wish,” continues Mr. Wakefield, “for the sake of humanity and for the honour of the Irish character, that the gentlemen of that country would take this matter into their serious consideration. Let them only for a moment place themselves in the situation of the half-famished cotter, surrounded by a wretched family clamorous for food, and judge what his feelings must be when he sees the tenth part of the produce of his potato garden exposed at harvest time to public CANT, or if he have given a promissory note for the payment of a certain sum of money to compensate for such tithe when it becomes due, to hear the heart-rending cries of his offspring clinging round him, and lamenting for the milk of which they are deprived by the cows being driven to the pound to be sold to discharge the debt. Such accounts are not the creations of fancy; the facts do exist, and are but too common in Ireland. Were one of them transferred to canvas by the hand of genius, and exhibited to English humanity, that heart must be callous indeed that could refuse its sympathy. I have seen the cow, the favourite cow, driven away, accompanied by the sighs, the tears, and the imprecations of a whole family, who were paddling after, through wet and dirt, to take their last affectionate farewell of this their only friend and benefactor at the pound gate. I have heard with emotions which I can scarcely describe, deep curses repeated from village to village as the cavalcade proceeded. I have witnessed the group pass the domain walls of the opulent grazier, whose numerous herds were cropping the most luxuriant pastures, while he was secure from any demand for the tithe of their food, looking on with the most unfeeling indifference.”–Ibid., p. 486.
In Munster, where tithe of potatoes is exacted, risings against the system have constantly occurred during the last forty years. In Ulster, where no such tithe is required, these insurrections are unknown. The double Church which Ireland supports, and that painful visible contribution towards it which the poor Irishman is compelled to make from his miserable pittance, is one great cause of those never-ending insurrections, burnings, murders, and robberies, which have laid waste that ill-fated country for so many years. The unfortunate consequence of the civil disabilities, and the Church payments under which the Catholics labour, is a rooted antipathy to this country. They hate the English Government from historical recollection, actual suffering, and disappointed hope, and till they are better treated they will continue to hate it. At this moment, in a period of the most profound peace, there are twenty-five thousand of the best disciplined and best appointed troops in the world in Ireland, with bayonets fixed, presented arms, and in the attitude of present war: nor is there a man too much–nor would Ireland be tenable without them. When it was necessary last year (or thought necessary) to put down the children of reform, we were forced to make a new levy of troops in this country; not a man could be spared from Ireland. The moment they had embarked, Peep-of-Day Boys, Heart-of-Oak Boys, Twelve-o’-clock Boys, Heart-of-Flint Boys, and all the bloody boyhood of the Bog of Allen, would have proceeded to the ancient work of riot, rapine, and disaffection. Ireland, in short, till her wrongs are redressed and a more liberal policy is adopted towards her, will always be a cause of anxiety and suspicion to this country, and in some moment of our weakness and depression, will forcibly extort what she would now receive with gratitude and exultation.
Ireland is situated close to another island of greater size, speaking the same language, very superior in civilisation, and the seat of government. The consequence of this is the emigration of the richest and most powerful part of the community–a vast drain of wealth–and the absence of all that wholesome influence which the representatives of ancient families, residing upon their estates, produce upon their tenantry and dependents. Can any man imagine that the scenes which have been acted in Ireland, within these last twenty years, would have taken place, if such vast proprietors as the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquis of Hertford, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Earl Fitzwilliam, and many other men of equal wealth, had been in the constant habit of residing upon their Irish as they are upon their English estates? Is it of no consequence to the order and the civilisation of a large district, whether the great mansion is inhabited by an insignificant, perhaps a mischievous attorney, in the shape of agent, or whether the first and greatest men of the United Kingdoms, after the business of Parliament is over, come with their friends and families, to exercise hospitality, to spend large revenues, to diffuse information, and to improve manners? This evil is a very serious one to Ireland; and, as far as we see, incurable. For if the present large estates were, by the dilapidation of families, to be broken to pieces and sold, others equally great would, in the free circulation of property, speedily accumulate; and the moment any possessor arrived at a certain pitch of fortune, he would probably choose to reside in the better country–near the Parliament, or the Court.
This absence of great proprietors in Ireland necessarily brings with it, or if not necessarily, has actually brought with it, the employment of the middlemen, which forms one other standing and regular Irish grievance. We are well aware of all that can be said in defence of middlemen; that they stand between the little farmer and the great proprietor as the shopkeeper does between the manufacturer and consumer; and, in fact, by their intervention, save time, and therefore expense. This may be true enough in the abstract; but the particular nature of land must be attended to. The object of the man who makes cloth is to sell his cloth at the present market, for as high a price as he can obtain. If that price is too high, it soon falls; but no injury is done to his machinery by the superior price he has enjoyed for a season–he is just as able to produce cloth with it, as if the profits he enjoyed had always been equally moderate; he has no fear, therefore, of the middleman, or of any species of moral machinery which may help to obtain for him the greatest present prices. The same would be the feeling of any one who let out a steam-engine, or any other machine, for the purposes of manufacture; he would naturally take the highest price he could get; for he might either let his machine for a price proportionate to the work it did, or the repairs, estimable with the greatest precision, might be thrown upon the tenant; in short, he could hardly ask any rent too high for his machine which a responsible person would give; dilapidation would be so visible, and so calculable in such instances, that any secondary lease, or subletting, would be rather an increase of security than a source of alarm. Any evil from such a practice would be improbable measurable, and remediable. In land, on the contrary, the object is not to get the highest prices absolutely, but to get the highest prices which will not injure the machine. One tenant may offer and pay double the rent of another, and in a few years leave the land in a state which will effectually bar all future offers of tenancy. It is of no use to fill a lease full of clauses and covenants; a tenant who pays more than he ought to pay, or who pays even to the last farthing which he ought to pay, will rob the land, and injure the machine, in spite of all the attorneys in England. He will rob it even if he means to remain upon it–driven on by present distress, and anxious to put off the day of defalcation and arrear. The damage is often difficult of detection–not easily calculated, not easily to be proved; such for which juries (themselves perhaps farmers) will not willingly give sufficient compensation. And if this be true in England, it is much more strikingly true in Ireland, where it is extremely difficult to obtain verdicts for breaches of covenant in leases.
The only method, then, of guarding the machine from real injury, is by giving to the actual occupier such advantage in his contract, that he is unwilling to give it up–that he has a real interest in retaining it, and is not driven by the distresses of the present moment to destroy the future productiveness of the soil. Any rent which the landlord accepts more than this, or any system by which more rent than this is obtained, is to borrow money upon the most usurious and profligate interest–to increase the revenue of the present day by the absolute ruin of the property. Such is the effect produced by a middleman; he gives high prices that he may obtain higher from the occupier; more is paid by the actual occupier than is consistent with the safety and preservation of the machine; the land is run out, and, in the end, that maximum of rent we have described is not obtained; and not only is the property injured by such a system, but in Ireland the most shocking consequences ensue from it. There is little manufacture in Ireland; the price of labour is low, the demand for labour irregular. If a poor man be driven, by distress of rent, from his potato garden, he has no other resource–all is lost: he will do the impossible (as the French say) to retain it; subscribe any bond, and promise any rent. The middleman has no character to lose; and he knew, when he took up the occupation, that it was one with which pity had nothing to do. On he drives; and backward the poor peasant recedes, loses something at every step, till he comes to the very brink of despair; and then he recoils and murders his oppressor, and is a White Boy or a Right Boy;–the soldier shoots him, and the judge hangs him.
In the debate which took place in the Irish House of Commons, upon the Bill for preventing tumultuous risings and assemblies, on the 31st of January, 1787, the Attorney-General submitted to the House the following narrative of facts.
“The commencement,” said he, “was in one or two parishes in the county of Kerry; and they proceeded thus. The people assembled in a Catholic chapel, and there took an oath to obey the laws of Captain Right, and to starve the clergy. They then proceeded to the next parishes on the following Sunday, and there swore the people in the same manner; with this addition, that they (the people last sworn) should on the ensuing Sunday proceed to the chapels of their next neighbouring parishes and swear the inhabitants of those parishes in like manner. Proceeding in this manner, they very soon went through the province of Munster. The first object was the REFORMATION OF TITHES. They swore not to give more than a certain price per acre, not to assist or allow them to be assisted in drawing the tithe, and to permit NO PROCTOR. They next took upon them to prevent the collection of parish cesses, next to nominate parish clerks, and in some cases curates, to say what church should or should not be repaired, and in one case to threaten that they would burn a NEW church if the OLD one were not given for a mass-house. At last they proceeded to regulate the price of lands, to raise the price of labour, and to oppose the collection of the hearth-money and other taxes. Bodies of 5,000 of them have been seen to march through the country unarmed, and, if met by any magistrate, THEY NEVER OFFERED THE SMALLEST RUDENESS OR OFFENCE; on the contrary, they had allowed persons charged with crimes to be taken from amongst them by the magistrate ALONE, unaided by any force.
“The Attorney-General said he was well acquainted with the province of Munster, and that it was impossible for human wretchedness to EXCEED THAT OF THE PEASANTRY OF THAT PROVINCE. The unhappy tenantry were GROUND TO POWDER by relentless landlords; that, far from being able to give the clergy their just dues, they had not food or raiment for themselves–the landlord grasped the whole; and sorry was he to add that, not satisfied with the present extortion, some landlords had been so base as to instigate the insurgents to rob the clergy of their tithes, not in order to alleviate the distresses of the tenantry, but that they might add the clergy’s share to the cruel rack-rents they already paid. The poor people of Munster lived in a MORE ABJECT STATE OF POVERTY THAN HUMAN NATURE COULD BE SUPPOSED EQUAL TO BEAR.”–“Grattan’s Speeches,” vol. i., p. 292.
We are not, of course, in such a discussion to be governed by names. A middleman might be tied up by the strongest legal restriction, as to the price he was to exact from the under-tenants, and then he would be no more pernicious to the estate than a steward. A steward might be protected in exactions as severe as the most rapacious middleman; and then, of course, it would be the same thing under another name. The practice to which we object is the too common method in Ireland of extorting the last farthing which the tenant is willing to give for land rather than quit it: and the machinery by which such practice is carried into effect is that of the middleman. It is not only that it ruins the land; it ruins the people also. They are made so poor–brought so near the ground–that they can sink no lower; and burst out at last into all the acts of desperation and revenge for which Ireland is so notorious. Men who have money in their pockets, and find that they are improving in their circumstances, don’t do these things. Opulence, or the hope of opulence or comfort, is the parent of decency, order, and submission to the laws. A landlord in Ireland understands the luxury of carriages and horses, but has no relish for the greater luxury of surrounding himself with a moral and grateful tenantry. The absent proprietor looks only to revenue, and cares nothing for the disorder and degradation of a country which he never means to visit. There are very honourable exceptions to this charge: but there are too many living instances that it is just. The rapacity of the Irish landlord induces him to allow of the extreme division of his lands. When the daughter marries, a little portion of the little farm is broken off–another corner for Patrick, and another for Dermot–till the land is broken into sections, upon one of which an English cow could not stand. Twenty mansions of misery are thus reared instead of one. A louder cry of oppression is lifted up to heaven, and fresh enemies to the English name and power are multiplied on the earth. The Irish gentleman, too, extremely desirous of political influence, multiplying freeholds, and splitting votes; and this propensity tends of course to increase the miserable redundance of living beings, under which Ireland is groaning. Among the manifold wretchedness to which the poor Irish tenant is liable, we must not pass over the practice of driving for rent. A lets land to B, who lets it to C, who lets it again to D. D pays C his rent, and C pays B. But if B fails to pay A, the cattle of B, C, D are all driven to the pound, and after the interval of a few days sold by auction. A general driving of this kind very frequently leads to a bloody insurrection. It may be ranked among the classical grievances of Ireland.
Potatoes enter for a great deal into the present condition of Ireland. They are much cheaper than wheat; and it is so easy to rear a family upon them, that there is no cheek to population from the difficulty of procuring food. The population therefore goes on with a rapidity approaching almost to that of new countries, and in a much greater ratio than the improving agriculture and manufacturers of the country can find employment for it. All degrees of all nations begin with living in pig-styes. The king or the priest first gets out of them; then the noble, then the pauper; in proportion as each class becomes more and more opulent. Better tastes arise from better circumstances; and the luxury of one period is the wretchedness and poverty of another. English peasants, in the time of Henry VII., were lodged as badly as Irish peasants now are; but the population was limited by the difficulty of procuring a corn subsistence. The improvements of this kingdom were more rapid; the price of labour rose; and with it the luxury and comfort of the peasant, who is now decently lodged and clothed, and who would think himself in the last stage of wretchedness if he had nothing but an iron pot in a turf house, and plenty of potatoes in it. The use of the potato was introduced into Ireland when the wretched accommodation of her own peasantry bore some proportion to the state of those accommodations all over Europe. But they have increased their population so fast, and, in conjunction with the oppressive government of Ireland retarding improvement, have kept the price of labour so low, that the Irish poor have never been able to emerge from their mud cabins, or to acquire any taste for cleanliness and decency of appearance. Mr. Curwen has the following description of Irish cottages:-
“These mansions of miserable existence, for so they may truly be described, conformably to our general estimation of those indispensable comforts requisite to constitute the happiness of rational beings, are most commonly composed of two rooms on the ground floor, a most appropriate term, for they are literally on the earth, the surface of which is not unfrequently reduced a foot or more to save the expense of so much outward walling. The one is a refectory, the other the dormitory. The furniture of the former, if the owner ranks in the upper part of the scale of scantiness, will consist of a kitchen dresser, well provided and highly decorated with crockery–not less apparently the pride of the husband than the result of female vanity in the wife: which, with a table, a chest, a few stools, and an iron pot, complete the catalogue of conveniences generally found as belonging to the cabin: while a spinning-wheel, furnished by the Linen Board, and a loom, ornament vacant spaces that otherwise would remain unfurnished. In fitting up the latter, which cannot on any occasion or by any display add a feather to the weight or importance expected to be excited by the appearance of the former, the inventory is limited to one, and sometimes two beds, serving for the repose of the whole family! However downy these may be to limbs impatient for rest, their coverings appear to be very slight, and the whole of the apartment created reflections of a very painful nature. Under such privations, with a wet mud floor and a roof in tatters, how idle the search for comforts!”–Curwen, i., pp. 112, 113.
To this extract we shall add one more on the same subject.
“The gigantic figure, bareheaded before me, had a beard that would not have disgraced an ancient Israelite–he was without shoes or stockings–and almost a sans-culotte–with a coat, or rather a jacket, that appeared as if the first blast of wind would tear it to tatters. Though his garb was thus tattered, he had a manly commanding countenance. I asked permission to see the inside of his cabin, to which I received his most courteous assent. On stooping to enter at the door I was stopped, and found that permission from another was necessary before I could be admitted. A pig, which was fastened to a stake driven into the floor, with length of rope sufficient to permit him the enjoyment of sun and air, demanded some courtesy, which I showed him, and was suffered to enter. The wife was engaged in boiling thread, and by her side, near the fire, a lovely infant was sleeping, without any covering, on a bare board. Whether the fire gave additional glow to the countenance of the babe, or that Nature impressed on its unconscious cheek a blush that the lot of man should be exposed to such privations, I will not decide; but if the cause be referable to the latter, it was in perfect unison with my own feelings. Two or three other children crowded round the mother: on their rosy countenances health seemed established in spite of filth and ragged garments. The dress of the poor woman was barely sufficient to satisfy decency. Her countenance bore the expression of a set melancholy, tinctured with an appearance of ill health. The hovel, which did not exceed twelve or fifteen feet in length and ten in breadth, was half obscured by smoke–chimney or window I saw none; the door served the various purposes of an inlet to light and the outlet to smoke. The furniture consisted of two stools, an iron pot, and a spinning- wheel, while a sack stuffed with straw, and a single blanket laid on planks, served as a bed for the repose of the whole family. Need I attempt to describe my sensations? The statement alone cannot fail of conveying to a mind like yours an adequate idea of them–I could not long remain a witness to this acme of human misery. As I left the deplorable habitation the mistress followed me to repeat her thanks for the trifle I had bestowed. This gave me an opportunity of observing her person more particularly. She was a tall figure, her countenance composed of interesting features, and with every appearance of having once been handsome.
“Unwilling to quit the village without first satisfying myself whether what I had seen was a solitary instance or a sample of its general state, or whether the extremity of poverty I had just beheld had arisen from peculiar improvidence and want of management in one wretched family, I went into an adjoining habitation, where I found a poor old woman of eighty, whose miserable existence was painfully continued by the maintenance of her granddaughter. Their condition, if possible, was more deplorable.”–Curwen, i., pp. 181-183.
This wretchedness, of which all strangers who visit Ireland are so sensible, proceeds certainly in great measure from their accidental use of a food so cheap, that it encourages population to an extraordinary degree, lowers the price of labour, and leaves the multitudes which it calls into existence almost destitute of everything but food. Many more live in consequence of the introduction of potatoes; but all live in greater wretchedness. In the progress of population, the potato must of course become at last as difficult to be procured as any other food; and then let the political economist calculate what the immensity and wretchedness of a people must be, where the further progress of population is checked by the difficulty of procuring potatoes.
The consequence of the long mismanagement and oppression of Ireland, and of the singular circumstances in which it is placed, is, that it is a semi-barbarous country–more shame to those who have thus ill- treated a fine country and a fine people; but it is part of the present case of Ireland. The barbarism of Ireland is evinced by the frequency and ferocity of duels–the hereditary clannish feuds of the common people and the fights to which they give birth–the atrocious cruelties practised in the insurrections of the common people–and their proneness to insurrection. The lower Irish live in a state of greater wretchedness than any other people in Europe inhabiting so fine a soil and climate. It is difficult, often impossible, to execute the processes of law. In cases where gentlemen are concerned, it is often not even attempted. The conduct of under-sheriffs is often very corrupt. We are afraid the magistracy of Ireland is very inferior to that of this country; the spirit of jobbing and bribery is very widely diffused, and upon occasions when the utmost purity prevails in the sister kingdom. Military force is necessary all over the country, and often for the most common and just operations of Government. The behaviour of the higher to the lower orders is much less gentle and decent than in England. Blows from superiors to inferiors are more frequent, and the punishment for such aggression more doubtful. The word GENTLEMAN seems, in Ireland, to put an end to most processes at law. Arrest a gentleman!!!–take out a warrant against a gentleman–are modes of operation not very common in the administration of Irish justice. If a man strike the meanest peasant in England, he is either knocked down in his turn, or immediately taken before a magistrate. It is impossible to live in Ireland without perceiving the various points in which it is inferior in civilisation. Want of unity in feeling and interest among the people–irritability, violence, and revenge–want of comfort and cleanliness in the lower orders–habitual disobedience to the law–want of confidence in magistrates–corruption, venality, the perpetual necessity of recurring to military force–all carry back the observer to that remote and early condition of mankind, which an Englishman can learn only in the pages of the antiquary or the historian. We do not draw this picture for censure but for truth. We admire the Irish–feel the most sincere pity for the state of Ireland–and think the conduct of the English to that country to have been a system of atrocious cruelty and contemptible meanness. With such a climate, such a soil, and such a people, the inferiority of Ireland to the rest of Europe is directly chargeable to the long wickedness of the English Government.
A direct consequence of the present uncivilised state of Ireland is, that very little English capital travels there. The man who deals in steam-engines, and warps and woofs, is naturally alarmed by Peep- of-Day Boys, and nocturnal Carders; his object is to buy and sell as quickly and quietly as he can, and he will naturally bear high taxes and rivalry in England, or emigrate to any part of the Continent, or to America, rather than plunge into the tumult of Irish politics and passions. There is nothing which Ireland wants more than large manufacturing towns to take off its superfluous population. But internal peace must come first, and then the arts of peace will follow. The foreign manufacturer will hardly think of embarking his capital where he cannot be sure that his existence is safe. Another check to the manufacturing greatness of Ireland is the scarcity, not of coal, but of good coal, cheaply raised–an article in which (in spite of papers in the Irish Transactions) they are lamentably inferior to the English.
Another consequence from some of the causes we have stated is the extreme idleness of the Irish labourer. There is nothing of the value of which the Irish seem to have so little notion as that of time. They scratch, pick, dawdle, stare, gape, and do anything but strive and wrestle with the task before them. The most ludicrous of all human objects is an Irishman ploughing. A gigantic figure–a seven-foot machine for turning potatoes in human nature–wrapt up in an immense great-coat, and urging on two starved ponies, with dreadful imprecations and uplifted shillala. The Irish crow discerns a coming perquisite, and is not inattentive to the proceedings of the steeds. The furrow which is to be the depository of the future crop is not unlike, either in depth or regularity, to those domestic furrows which the nails of the meek and much-injured wife plough, in some family quarrel, upon the cheeks of the deservedly punished husband. The weeds seem to fall contentedly, knowing that they have fulfilled their destiny, and left behind them, for the resurrection of the ensuing spring, an abundant and healthy progeny. The whole is a scene of idleness, laziness, and poverty, of which it is impossible, in this active and enterprising country, to form the most distant conception; but strongly indicative of habits, whether secondary or original, which will long present a powerful impediment to the improvement of Ireland.
The Irish character contributes something to retard the improvements of that country. The Irishman has many good qualities: he is brave, witty, generous, eloquent, hospitable, and open-hearted; but he is vain, ostentatious, extravagant, and fond of display, light in counsel, deficient in perseverance, without skill in private or public economy, an enjoyer, not an acquirer–one who despises the slow and patient virtues–who wants the superstructure without the foundation, the result without the previous operation, the oak without the acorn and the three hundred years of expectation. The Irish are irascible, prone to debt and to fight, and very impatient of the restraints of law. Such a people are not likely to keep their eyes steadily upon the main chance like the Scotch or the Dutch. England strove very hard at one period to compel the Scotch to pay a double Church, but Sawney took his pen and ink, and finding what a sum it amounted to became furious and drew his sword. God forbid the Irishman should do the same! The remedy now would be worse than the disease; but if the oppressions of England had been more steadily resisted a century ago, Ireland would not have been the scene of poverty, misery, and distress which it now is.
The Catholic religion, among other causes, contributes to the backwardness and barbarism of Ireland. Its debasing superstition, childish ceremonies, and the profound submission to the priesthood which it teaches, all tend to darken men’s minds, to impede the progress of knowledge and inquiry, and to prevent Ireland from becoming as free, as powerful, and as rich as the sister kingdom. Though sincere friends to Catholic emancipation, we are no advocates for the Catholic religion. We should be very glad to see a general conversion to Protestantism among the Irish, but we do not think that violence, privations, and incapacities, are the proper methods of making proselytes.
Such, then, is Ireland at this period–a land more barbarous than the rest of Europe, because it has been worse treated and more cruelly oppressed. Many of the incapacities and privations to which the Catholics were exposed have been removed by law, but in such instances they are still incapacitated and deprived by custom. Many cruel and oppressive laws are still enforced against them. A tenth part of the population engrosses all the honours of the country; the other nine pay a tenth of the product of the earth for the support of a religion in which they do not believe. There is little capital in the country. The great and rich men are called by business, or allured by pleasure, into England; their estates are given up to factors, and the utmost farthing of rent extorted from the poor, who, if they give up the land, cannot get employment in manufactures, or regular employment in husbandry. The common people use a sort of food so very cheap that they can rear families who cannot procure employment, and who have little more of the comforts of life than food. The Irish are light-minded–want of employment has made them idle; they are irritable and brave, have a keen remembrance of the past wrongs they have suffered, and the present wrongs they are suffering from England. The consequence of all this is, eternal riot and insurrection, a whole army of soldiers in time of profound peace, and general rebellion whenever England is busy with her other enemies or off her guard! And thus it will be, while the same causes continue to operate, for ages to come, and worse and worse as the rapidly increasing population of the Catholics becomes more and more numerous.
The remedies are time and justice, and that justice consists in repealing all laws which make any distinction between the two religions; in placing over the government of Ireland, not the stupid, amiable, and insignificant noblemen who have too often been sent there, but men who feel deeply the wrongs of Ireland, and who have an ardent wish to heal them; who will take care that Catholics, when eligible, shall be elected; who will share the patronage of Ireland proportionally among the two parties, and give to just and liberal laws the same vigour of execution which has hitherto been reserved only for decrees of tyranny, and the enactments of oppression. The injustice and hardship of supporting two Churches must be put out of sight, if it cannot or ought not to be cured. The political economist, the moralist, and the satirist, must combine to teach moderation and superintendence to the great Irish proprietors. Public talk and clamour may do something for the poor Irish, as it did for the slaves in the West Indies. Ireland will become more quiet under such treatment, and then more rich, more comfortable, and more civilised; and the horrid spectacle of folly and tyranny, which it at present exhibits, may in time be removed from the eyes of Europe.
There are two eminent Irishmen now in the House of Commons–Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning–who will subscribe to the justness of every syllable we have said upon this subject, and who have it in their power, by making it the condition of their remaining in office, to liberate their native country, and raise it to its just rank among the nations of the earth. Yet the Court buys them over, year after year, by the pomp and perquisites of office; and year after year they come into the House of Commons, feeling deeply, and describing powerfully, the injuries of five millions of their countrymen–and CONTINUE members of a government that inflicts those evils, under the pitiful delusion that it is not a Cabinet Question, as if the scratchings and quarrellings of Kings and Queens could alone cement politicians together in indissoluble unity, while the fate and torture of one-third of the empire might be complimented away from one minister to another, without the smallest breach in their Cabinet alliance. Politicians, at least honest politicians, should be very flexible and accommodating in little things, very rigid and inflexible in great things. And is this NOT a great thing? Who has painted it in finer and more commanding eloquence than Mr. Canning? Who has taken a more sensible and statesmanlike view of our miserable and cruel policy than Lord Castlereagh? You would think, to hear them, that the same planet could not contain them and the oppressors of their country–perhaps not the same solar system. Yet for money, claret, and patronage, they lend their countenance, assistance, and friendship to the Ministers who are the stern and inflexible enemies to the emancipation of Ireland!
Thank God that all is not profligacy and corruption in the history of that devoted people–and that the name of Irishman does not always carry with it the idea of the oppressor or the oppressed–the plunderer or the plundered–the tyrant or the slave! Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time. What Irishman does not feel proud that he has lived in the days of GRATTAN? who has not turned to him for comfort, from the false friends and open enemies of Ireland? who did not remember him in the days of its burnings and wastings and murders? No Government ever dismayed him–the world could not bribe him–he thought only of Ireland–lived for no other object–dedicated to her his beautiful fancy, his elegant wit, his manly courage, and all the splendour of his astonishing eloquence. He was so born and so gifted that poetry, forensic skill, elegant literature, and all the highest attainments of human genius were within his reach; but he thought the noblest occupation of a man was to make other men happy and free; and in that straight line he went on for fifty years, without one side-look, without one yielding thought, without one motive in his heart which he might not have laid open to the view of God and man. He is gone!–but there is not a single day of his honest life of which every good Irishman would not be more proud than of the whole political existence of his countrymen–the annual deserters and betrayers of their native land.