ifty-six years ago a British general stood encamped on a neck of' land in Portugal confronting, with a few thousand men, the gigantic military power of Napoleon. Behind him spread the Tagus and the sea; and before, separated only by the lines which have made Torres Vedras a memorable name, the legions of France extended for miles, led by the champion of Rivoli and Essling, and themselves but the van of the hosts of the empire. The situation appeared desperate, yet Wellington clung tenaciously to his post, and, in the menacing pauses of the war, he wrote repeatedly to the Cabinet at home with reference to the state of Ireland, a subject with which he was-well acquainted. With characteristic sagacity and precision he pointed out the weak moral influence of the British Government in that country, the misery, and discontent of the poor, the want of loyalty among the middle classes, the dissatisfaction even of the rich, and the disastrous results of religious dissension pervading deeply the frame of society. Ireland, in his judgment, was ruled by the sword, and could be ruled by no other means; and it would not be safe to detach to his aid, though the fate of Europe were staked on the issue, even one regiment of the forty thousand men who formed the necessary garrison of the island. He described the mass of the people as serfs, in extreme poverty and continual distress, who abhorred England and the gentry above them, and found in the Roman Catholic priesthood their only natural guardians and protectors; declared that no reliance could be placed on the majority of the farmers and traders in the Roman Catholic provinces of the country; and intimated that many, even of the aristocracy, were not pleased with their actual position. Nor was he blind to the obvious consequences of sectarian domination and discord, of the fatal system by which a caste of Protestants had secured an ascendant church and a monopoly of the privileges of the state, while a Roman Catholic nation and their clergy were kept down in degrading inferiority — although he rather appreciated the mischief than conceived that any remedy was possible. More than once he remarked that, in this state of things, the hold of England on Ireland might prove less iirm than his own on the Peninsula, even though Massena was in his front, and the Cabinet were constantly urging him to embark. 'The Ministers,' he exclaimed in one of his letters,'forget the political situation [1/2] of Ireland, the detestation of the whole people of the connection with England, and the indifference even of friends which has grown out of it. ... In Ireland I think matters are in a much more dangerous state than they are even here.'
The Ireland of the present day is certainly a very different country from that described by our soldier statesman. Yet can we deny that a true picture of Ireland in 1866 resembles in some essential features the ominous sketch of 1810; that the dark lines which appear in the one must, though softened in several particulars, be necessarily seen again in the other? Three times, in the course of twenty years, there have been rebellious movements in Ireland, with which the mass of the population, in the Roman Catholic provinces at least, felt more or less undoubted sympathy; and twice in that time it became inevitable to suspend the constitution of the country and to govern it undisguisedly by force. In 1848 the conspiracy of Smith O'Brien exploded, and though it came to a ridiculous end, it had thousands of open and secret adherents, it caused no little alarm in England, it was put down only by coercive measures, and, had it received assistance from France, it might have become extremely formidable. Eleven years afterwards, at a period remarkable for material progress, the spirit of insurrection in Ireland assumed again a tangible shape; in the southern, and part of the western counties, considerable numbers of the people were organised and drilled, usually by emissaries from America, for the avowed purpose of a treasonable outbreak; and though, in this instance, the ordinary powers of the Government seem to have crushed the plot, its ramifications spread wide and deep, and were hardly touched, still less extirpated. Since 1859, a confederacy, taking its rise in America among the millions of emigrant Irish, but finding ample support at home, has been formed to revolutionise Ireland; and, after a series of faint demonstrations, so faint as to have escaped much notice, it culminated in the Fenian League, detected during last autumn only, and happily for the moment dissipated.
If the facts connected with this movement are reassuring in some respects, if they show, to judge from the state trials, and other manifestations of opinion, that the middle classes of Ireland generally are hostile to communistic designs, and that the Roman Catholic priesthood are, as usual, opposed to attacks on society, they unhappily have a dark side, which must not escape a thoughtful observer. From the proportions Fenianism actually assumed, from its extensive and elaborate organisation, from the confidence expressed by its leaders, we apprehend that it certainly had considerable hold on the Irish people, at least as an embodiment of discontent; and it is idle to infer that because it is disliked by the middle classes and the Roman Catholic clergy, these orders are attached to the law, or satisfied with society as it is. The opinion of Parliament and the executive on this subject is shown by their acts: Great Britain has no reliance on Ireland; her liberties have been once more suspended; her people have been deprived of their arms; her militia are not permitted to assemble; and now, as half a century ago, a small but formidable British army is the real engine of government in Ireland.
If we look, too, at the frame of society, and the correlation and feelings of its orders, we shall see that, though much good has been done, the Ireland of 1866 bears still far too close a resemblance to the Ireland described by the pen of [2/3] Wellington. The organic structure of the nation, no doubt, has undergone considerable improvement; the relations between the landed classes, though still in an unsatisfactory state, are on a safer basis than of old. There has been an immense decrease in pauperism; agriculture has made very great progress; and the wealth of the island has largely augmented. The political reforms of the last forty years have also borne a happy fruit; all Irishmen, without distinction of creed, have been admitted to the rights of citizens; the domination of a Protestant oligarchy is no longer encouraged by the State; and many of the Roman Catholics of Ireland have adorned the legislation and the public service. It would be idle to say that this policy has been unattended by success, in effacing the odious lines of demarcation that once divided society in Ireland; in producing a natural and just equality among classes that should be equal; in binding many persons to the State by the ties of gratitude and self-interest; and in softening and enlightening Irish opinion. Yet underneath this happier appearance, some evil features of the Ireland of the past remain, without essential change, although in their outline somewhat modified. Ireland is still an exceedingly poor country, and in her three Roman Catholic provinces and to a certain extent in Ulster the peasantry are usually small agriculturists, divided for the most part from the gentry by ancient differences of race and sect, with no real hold on the land, the villains of a commercial feudalism in the civilisation of the nineteenth century. The middle classes differ but little in thought and fueling from that below them; and both, when of the national faith, have little sympathy with a Protestant aristocracy, and what is called a Protestant constitution, while they are deeply attached to the Roman Catholic priesthood. This powerful body, admirably organised, the spiritual rulers of three fourths of Ireland, stands openly aloof from the State, condemns several of its chief institutions, denounces the Protestant State Church as a monument of iniquitous wrong, and proclaims itself the moral champion of a Church, outraged and yet national, and of a people still exposed to injustice. We need not suppose that real loyalty and real affection to British law exists among such elements as these; and the fact is that the Irish priesthood, and the great mass of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, below the wealthier and higher class, although quiescent and even orderly, are more or less dissatisfied with the state of the society in which their lot is cast, and do not form a contented people. The aristocracy of Ireland, too, is not without occasional complaints, and, since its ascendancy has been overthrown, it has viewed the executive with some jealousy. In short now, as in 1810, though certainly in a far less degree, the state of Ireland must suggest grave thoughts to every one interested in the greatness of England.
It is not our purpose to inquire at length into the causes of these complex phenomena. The more remote, yet the more powerful, go far back into the history of Ireland, and are seen in its course during many centuries. If we reflect that Ireland was annexed to England by a slow process of reiterated conquests, extending over five hundred years; that during this period the mutual hatred of the two nations was fierce and constant, and was aggravated by inhuman laws; and that evil memories of this kind only vanish slowly from the minds of men, we may understand why many of those who are the representatives of the vanquished race, are not particularly attached to the constitution. If we recollect that the [3/4] effects of the Reformation, and of the events which terminated at the Revolution, were to despoil the Church of the Irish nation, to distribute its spoils among its foes, and to make a conquering aristocracy of sect the lords and masters of a conquered people; that this settlement was prolonged for ages by the repeated efforts of barbarous legislation; that, under it, the aristocracy of Ireland became a stern and exclusive caste, and the Irish Roman Catholics a mass of Helots with no protectorsbuttheir oppressed priesthood; and, finally, that this odious ascendancy has been abolished only within a generation, its traces having not yet disappeared, we may comprehend why, even at this day, so many of the Roman Catholic Irish, and their Roman Catholic clergy as a body, are traditionally prone to jealousy and discontent, find fault with any existing institutions, and even any surviving usages that remind them of the lot of their ancestors, and, united still by the memory of oppression, cling closely to their Church and to each other. And when we bear in mind that, in three fourths of Ireland, the Protestant aristocracy created by conquest, and a conquered Catholic nation and its leaders, were, speaking broadly, set in the relation of owners and occupiers of the soil; that this state of things was artificially protracted, has only been effaced by degrees, and even yet has left its results; and that evil political arrangements invariably have economic consequences, — we need not wonder that, down to our time, a want of sympathy between landlords and tenants, a backward agriculture, a serf-like peasantry with only a precarious tenure in the land, the pressure of the wealthier on the poorer classes, and generally poverty and discontent among the humbler tillers of the soil, have been, in a greater or less degree, observed in many districts in Ireland. In a word, history can fully account for the origin of all the varied evils which, even to this hour, in their distant effects, disturb the state of society in Ireland.
Nor is it difficult to point out the more proximate causes of the symptoms in the state of Ireland we have referred to. They are connected intimately with the more remote, and really may be traced to them, though the relation may be apparently distant. The conspiracies which have- disturbed Ireland m different degrees of late years, are the result of a strong sympathy between the disaffected Irish at home and the mass of Irishmen settled in America, this condition of things being directly produced by the great famine and its terrible consequences, and ultimately by the series of circumstances which made Ireland poor and backward. The peculiar form which the landed system of Ireland still in part retains — the small holdings, the precarious tenures, and the absence of kindly relations between the owners and occupiers of the soil, still too apparent in many districts — is caused immediately by the poverty of the country, by the intense competition for the possession of land, and by the want of the special customs which in England determine landed contracts — thus leading to rack-rents, the withholding of leases, and the general depression of many of the tenantry in three of the provinces of the country- — these phenomena being again attributable to the events that in former ages gave its character to the landed system of Ireland. Again, that in a large part of Ireland the peasantry are vaguely discontented, and that many of the middle class sympathise with them, is to be ascribed at present in part to their poverty, and in part to the traditions of the past; but this again leads us back to the times in which the destiny of the Irish people was made [4/5] what it was by various circumstances. As regards the intimate and close union which binds together the Roman Catholic clergy and the nation committed to their charge, and the hostility which the former avow to several of our institutions and laws, we need not say that one is the effect of the intense personal devotion of the Irish to a priesthood which have deserved their affection, and that the other is directly due to the singular settlement by which the Church and clergy of the mass of a nation remain ignored and contemned by the State, while the Church and clergy of a sectarian minority form the only ecclesiastical estate in the country. But here again we recur to the past to account for this position of affairs, though, indeed, in reference to this subject the past is hardly separated from the present. With respect to the relation in which the aristocracy of Ireland stand to the State, this is the result of the breaking down of the system of illegitimate ascendancy by which England in former years ruled Ireland through an oligarchy of colonists — the protected but not the respected instruments of the dominion of the mother country.
The practical question, however, is, can statesmanship accomplish anything to remove or palliate the evil symptoms which reveal themselves in the state of Ireland? Can anything be done to lessen the poverty which is still the lot of too many of the nation, to convert into loyal and happy obedience the spirit of blind but perilous disaffection still in the breasts of too many Irishmen, to attach to the law and the constitution and bring into sympathy with the state that powerful body the Roman Catholic priesthood, to set these jarring and unkindly elements in harmony with the scheme of our polity? Can anything be done to improve the condition of the agricultural classes of Ireland, to make the relations which exist between the owners and occupiers of the soil more kindly and in accordance with right, to render the system of small holdings, of precarious tenures, of competition for land less oppressive upon the tenant class, and .thereby to lay the foundations of real progress and general prosperity? We shall not deny that much has been done by legislation to promote these objects, nor yet pretend that any reforms whatever can obliterate the effects of long standing evils. Yet we believe that much may be yet achieved, and that several of the ills of Ireland may be removed either wholly or in part by a sound policy within a reasonable period, more especially when we turn to France and see how the animosities and inequalities of sects have been gradually reduced in that country, and if we remember how in Prussia legislation has improved a landed system, with the happiest and most fortunate results, not only, to all the agricultural class, but to the aristocracy and the whole of the kingdom.
The fairest way to approach the subject is to consider what legislation has accomplished, and what matters it has not touched, and from this to infer what reforms are possible and what would be the probable consequences. The policy applied to Ireland of late years may be said broadly to have had three objects — the removal of sectarian ascendancy in the relations of the people with the State, the improving the landed system of Ireland by getting rid of embarrassed proprietors and relieving the soil from swarms of pauperism, and the promotion of material prosperity by encouraging a race of capitalist farmers and developing the agriculture of the country. Catholic Emancipation and Municipal Reform are the results of the first class of measures; the Incumbered Estates Act and the Poor Law [5/6] system are remarkable instances of the second; and the third are evidenced not only by these, but by the efforts of all the Governments which have ruled Ireland in this generation. Viewed as a whole, as we have remarked, this policy has had good effects; the ruinous distinctions between Catholic and Protestant have nearly disappeared in civil affairs, and to a great extent in social life; the upper and middle classes of the nation are better citizens than they were of old; the general landed system of the country, in consequence partly of the crisis of 1846 — partly, too, of judicious laws, — is more sound than in former years; and there has been a remarkable increase in the wealth and general resources of the island. But legislation has done nothing to remove the ascendancy of sect in the Church, and in the relations of Irishmen to it, except the shift of commuting the tithes; and while it has encouraged the consolidation of land into the hands of considerable agriculturists, it has hardly made a single attempt to protect the interests of the small occupiers, or to secure them against the severe effects of precarious tenures, dependence on landlords, rack-rents, and still fierce competition for the soil. Now, as in the days of Liverpool and Eldon, the State Church of Ireland continues; the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland remain unrecognised and unendowed; and in Leinster, Munster, and Connaught at least, and to a certain extent in Ulster, by far the greater part of the soil is in the tenure of small farmers, with no certain interest in it, still almost at the mercy of their landlords, and unprotected by law or custom. We may add that much as legislation has achieved to improve Ireland in many respects, the mode in which her government has been conducted has not always, even of late years, been such as to conciliate the nation. When we thus contrast what has and has not been done for Ireland of late years, can we doubt what should be our future policy? Where the hand of Reform has been applied, what was most evil has almost vanished, where it has stopped short the old mischiefs remain, lessened perhaps, but formidable. When we set those mischiefs distinctly before us, and vicw them in their bearing and tendencies, the course of statesmanship is self-evident. We see in Ireland a State Church, established by despotism and confiscation on the ruins of the Church of the people, surrounded by every fatal memory of conquest, cruelty, and savage laws, monopolising the ecclesiastical property of the country, and possessed by a small sect and its clergy, both hostile to the faith of the nation. This Church is really unhallowed by prescription, because its title has been continually impeached by the indignant protest of the national conscience; yet it is associated with the State by positive law; it is one of our cardinal institutions; the settlement by which its property is secured is that of most of the land of Ireland, and its influence, penetrating in a thousand ways, is almost always used offensively to the feelings of the great mass of the people. Sectarian ascendancy of the harshest kind, in all that relates to religions interests, continues thus in Ireland undisturbed, and most unhappily it seems identified by legal right with the constitution itself and the existing arrangements of society. To the eyes of thousands of Irish Roman Catholics this ascendancy seems to extend itself beyond the State Church and what belongs to it, to many purely secular objects, and more or less it affects their notions of their relations with the entire of our polity. And, side by side with the State Church and tho 6/7] the real Church of the nation flourishes, ignored by law but triumphant in fact, trodden down in vain, and in vain despoiled, associated in the minds of the people with memories of former suffering and wrong, but ever claiming their warmest allegiance, a monument at once of past misrule and a protest against existing injustice, and governed by a powerful priesthood, the moral rulers of three fourths of the island, who would be more or less than men if they did not resent their present position and use their influence to elevate their Church to a place more worthy of her ancient dignity. One institution is an untenable outpost that challenges attack and endangers tie position: the other is an impregnable citadel which gathers within its sacred precincts the strength and the patriotism of a nation, and concentrates them under a long loved standard.
Do not these facts give a clue to the secret of the discontent of many Irish Roman Catholics, and of the antipathies avowed by the Roman Catholic priesthood? And can we doubt that the disendowment of the State Church which produces these sentiments, to which as has been accurately said the existing ills of Ireland converge as all the nerves run into the hand, would have a real tendency to remove them? And what in the shape of sound reason stands in the way of this consummation? It is urged that the Establishment of the Tudors is essentially identical with the ancient Church of Ireland before the Norman conquest, and that the conformity of the Irish bishops, or rather of a majority of them, to the Reformation in the reign of Elizabeth, makes the modern State Church a national institution. But the one plea is historically untrue, and the other is a mere silly sophism. It is urged that the Irish Establishment was founded to proselytise and should be maintained — an extensive although a deserted fold — as if the experience of three centuries, and the contrast of the unendowed Church of Ireland did not make this a mockery, even supposing that a theory of this kind is in accordance with modern ideas. Then it is said that the revenues of the Irish Establishment were guaranteed by the Act of Union, and that the establishments in Ireland and England are so indissolubly connected together, that any attack upon the one involves, perhaps, the ruin of the other. But the Act of Union, as a matter of fact, is silent as to the revenues of the Church; the settlement of the Union, like any other settlement, however solemn, may be modified, and has been so actually in several respects; and we appeal with confidence to English Churchmen whether it is not a cruel wrong to compare, as regards their real weight in the state, the Church imposed on the Irish people and the Church sustained by the English nation, and whether they do not secretly fear the possible results of the Mezentian connection? As regards the arguments that the Protestant aristocracy of Ireland pay for the Irish Establishment, and that, therefore, it does not burden the Roman Catholics; and that, in any case, it would be very hazardous to touch the property of an institution, the title to which is in law connected with that of much other property in Ireland, the answer is sufficiently obvious. Even were it true that the Protestants of Ireland discharged all the claims of the Church — an assumption very remote from the truth — this gives them no right to appropriate as they please the ecclesiastical funds of the Irish people; the mere exemption of the majority of the Catholics from contributing to the State Church directly does not [7/8] reconcile them to its injustice; and it is idle, and, as we think, unsafe, to place in the same category of title, and to claim an equal degree of sanctity for corporate property -condemned by a nation, and individual property respected by it.
The truth is that reasons of this kind have long ago ceased to possess influence. No living thinker or living statesman asserts that the Irish State Church is what any State Church should be, or denies that it is a cause of complaint and of hostility to our constitution and Government. Moral power has left the Irish Establishment; and, therefore, although it exists, sustained in part by a parliamentary majority, in part by the lazy conservatism which is characteristic of this generation, and in part because constitutional statesmen cannot move far in advance of the times, its dissolution, we think, is impending. When the moment arises, two schemes of policy are obviously possible as to its revenues. The State might disendow the State Church and apply its property to secular ends, thus asserting the voluntary principle in religion and leaving the different communions in Ireland to support as they please their own ministers; — or it might take the different sects into which Ireland is separated, and distribute the funds of the Church among them, according to a reasonable estimate, bearing in mind their distinctions, the number of their members, and other circumstances which in justice might vary the ratio of allotment, such as the celibacy of the Roman Catholic priesthood, and the opposite rule among the Protestant clergy. Of these two schemes we do not hesitate to declare our preference for the latter. The ecclesiastical property of Ireland is small compared with the wants of the nation; and we hold it to be unjust and impolitic to divert from its original object what only suffices for pious uses. Besides, in a country like Ireland, divided into contending sects, exasperated by religions excitement, and in which Government is morally weak, we think it would be unwise in the extreme to encourage the tendency to fanaticism, and the extravagance of sectarian fervour, ever associated with the voluntary principle, and, at the same time, to deprive the State of all ecclesiastical authority whatever. We are, therefore, decidedly for the distribution of the property of the Church in Ireland among its different religious communions, according to an equitable standard; and this, probably, would be found to be about two thirds to the Roman Catholic priesthood, and one third to the clergy of the Anglican and other Protestantpersuasious. Under this arrangement it would be probably necessary to recast completely the parochial organisation of the Established Church as it now exists and to extinguish several bishoprics and deaneries; and we hope that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church would obtain a legal recognition of the rank to which they really are entitled. In exchange this powerful body, we believe, would submit to some supervision by the State more readily than is commonly thought; though we trust the settlement would be made without any such indirect aim, and would be unfettered by obligations that might provoke distrust or jealousy.
From what we have said it will be seen that we object to a compromise on this subject suggested by more than one thinker. Admitting the moral and political mischief of the present settlement of the Church in Ireland, it is said that the Parliament of Great Britain will not disendow the Irish Establishment or consent to endow the Roman Catholic priesthood; but that, leaving the Irish Establishment [8/9] intact, it would be expedient, and quite feasible, to provide for the Roman Catholic clergy a stipend from the public revenue, and subject to the control of Parliament to divide it in a reasonable proportion. By these means the great inequality of things as they are would be removed; the anomaly of the Irish Establishment would, to a certain extent, disappear; the Roman Catholic priesthood, tolerably well paid, would lose a principal cause of complaint; and the Irish Catholics would not have to endure what now is a palpable grievance. This scheme, substantially that of Mr. Pitt, was advocated strongly by Sydney Smith, and has been lately put forth in the Times in two letters of singnlar beauty, which bear the name of Mr. Aubrey De Vere. But it rests on assumptions we do not admit, nor do we think, if it were carried out, that it would accomplish the desired object. We have faith in the powers of reason and justice, and believe that, however Protestant it may be, or however beset by deeprooted prejudice, the Parliament which thirty years ago disendowed the Irish Establishment in part will ere long completely disendow it. Nor do we see why the Legislature which assented to the grant to Maynooth should not agree to make a provision for the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland out of the legitimate fund for the purpose, the ecclesiastical property of the country. We deny that the scheme we propose is hopeless, and think that the alternative urged would prove an unsatisfactory halfmeasure. To leave the Irish Establishment as it is would be to continue in Ireland still a monument of the ascendancy of a sect, and an institution essentially unjust, which the Irish Roman Catholic Church and people feel properly to be a wrong and a grievance. To pension the Irish priesthood on the Funds would place them, perhaps, in comparative affluence, and relieve their flocks from a considerable burden; but it would not give them their ecclesiastical rank. It would subject them to coarse criticism repeatedly, and it would make them suspicious of State interference, and perhaps as irritable and jealous as ever. This policy, in Lord Russell's words, 'might have once succeeded, but it is now too late;' and we must not forget that it has been repudiated by the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
The ecclesiastical settlement that we propose is, we think, therefore, the best for Ireland. It would gradually lessen her moral disorder; the natural supplement of Catholic emancipation, it would efface, in Church as well as in State, the miserable effects of sectarian ascendancy; it would go far to produce a concordat between the Irish Catholics and their priesthood and the constitution and laws of England. But the ills of Ireland are partly material, and, looking at them, we can collect the policy to be adopted on this subject. In three of the provinces of Ireland, and even in Ulster, in some degree, notwithstanding the economic change which has taken place during the last twenty years, by far the greater part of the soil is still occupied by small agriculturists. In consequence of the extreme competition for land which still exists in a country devoid of commerce and manufactures, especially in Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, the rents of this class are exceedingly high, not, indeed, absolutely, but in relation to the state of the soil, the capital it attracts, and the general condition of Irish husbandry. For the same reason the tenure of this class, except in tho province of Ulster, is almost always at the landlord's will; leases giving a lasting interest in 9/10] land, and preventing for years any change in the rent, being of rare occurrence anywhere else; while, at the same time, the peculiar relations between the owners and the occupiers of the soil, impose usually upon the tenant the necessity of making improvements on the land, and may deprive him of repayment for the outlay, the English customs in this respect being almost unknown in three fourths of the country. Thus rack-rents, precarious tenures, and the obligation of bestowing industry on the land, and of spending permanently capital upon it, are even still, in a great degree, characteristic of the landed system of Ireland in three out of its four provinces, and even to some extent in Ulster. A state of things more grievous in theory, and more opposed to the development of the country, it really would be difficult to imagine. In far the greater part of the island, those who occupy the soil and produce its wealth are kept in poverty by the burdens upon them, are literally at the mercy of the proprietary class, and are compelled to invest their all in a fund which is liable to be at once confiscated. Were the Irish landlords generally to make use of the chances which this condition of things might offer to cupidity and selfishness, it obviously would become intolerable; but we are happy to believe that, in most cases, they are now guided by better considerations. But the inevitable tendency of this state of affairs is to depress the order of Small agriculturists, to reduce them to a dependent peasantry, and to subject them to an unjust law by which they may be cruelly despoiled; and it would be absurd - to suppose that, in many instances, their helplessness has not been shamefully abused. Not to speak of the severe discouragement to the progress of Ireland which is the result, is it not evident that the system must be the cause of much of the discontent existing in Leinster, Munster, and Connaught?
For several years this important question has attracted more or less attention, and many expedients have been suggested for bringing it to a fair settlement. We cannot agree with the mere economists who insist upon leaving matters alone, upon allowing the laws of free trade and of large capitals to lead gradually to the extinction of the small farmers of Ireland, and in seeking the development of the country in the expatriation of a great part of the people. For, in the first place, at the present rate the process would take a great number of years; notwithstanding the change produced by the famine, the small agriculturists of Ireland continue in numbers not very much reduced, though the pauper cottiers have nearly disappeared; and, in the second place, the severe application of economic laws to the facts of the case is precisely what the Irish complain of, and, situated as they are, not without justice. Two general plans have been proposed, on which we shall dwell for an instant. That advocated by the Irish nationalists and the great authority of John Stuart Mill consists in the compulsory conversion of the precarious tenures of the small farmers of Ireland into an absolute interest in the land, giving the landlord merely a permanent quit-rent, and thus creating by a sweeping reform almost a nation of peasant proprietors. By these means, it is boldly argued, a large part of the Irish people would for the first time be attached to the soil by a grateful and indissoluble tie; their sufferings and discontent would vanish in assured industry and increased prosperity; and, bound to the State through its protection, they would become loyal and peaceable subjects. Without noticing this plan in detail — though, in passing, we [10/11] must be allowed to observe that it appears to us essentially unjust, and opposed to the true conception of property, and that we are convinced that were it carried out it would not produce the benefit supposed — -one fatal objection occurs to it. Until the constitution of Great Britain shall have undergone a complete revolution, no parliament will ever countenance a measure at variance with all our existing notions respecting the system of landed property. At present it is idle to discuss a policy which is only a dream of the future.
The other plan is based on the principle of not directly interfering with the dealings of the landed classes of Ireland — of allowing, for instance, the rent of land to be always regulated by competition, but, at the same time, of discouraging by law the whole system of precarious tenures, and of endeavouring to assure to the occupier the value of his contributions to the land, in the absence of custom, by legislation. We do not hesitate to say that this principle appears to us both just and practicable, and that, if carried out, it would go a long way to reduce the evils of the landed systemof Ireland, where they principally exist,andthe mischievous consequences flowing from them. It would, no doubt, not mitigate directly, though it would in an indirect manner, the pressure of the exorbitant rents extracted sometimes from the Irish tenant; but this mischief, in our judgment, is beyond the reach of positive law; and, except under the tyranny of a Maximum, rent in Ireland must be regulated by competition, that competition being, however, liable to become a sound and useful competition, with the general improvement of the country. But it would remedy, to a great extent, the dependence of many of the Irish tenantry and the injustice to which they are commonly exposed from the uncertainty of their interests in the soil, and the forcible confiscation to their landlords of the fruits of their capital and industry. The means of giving this principle effect, consistently with the fair claims of property, and considering the tone of opinion in Parliament, appear to us to be tolerably evident. We would, in the first place, directly discountenance the whole system of precarious tenures by depriving landlords in those instances of the modern means of recovering rent which have lately been conferred on them, especially the summary remedy of ejectment; and we would impose upon them a liability for all taxes charged upon the land in the case of every tenancy of this description. This change in the law would inevitably lead to the granting of leases all over Ireland; and the greatest facility should be afforded to the extension of this class of contracts, which would thus secure to the Irish farmers, for the first time almost for ages, something like the ownership of their native soil, with which, though enriched by their labour, they have never been firmly or fairly united. In the next place, we would simply provide that, in accordance with the liberal usages that have supplanted the common law in England, all improvements which have been made in land by its occupiers during the course of their tenure, and which were capable of being ascertained, should give a title to an equivalent, to be settled by a competent tribunal, and to be charged upon the estate of the landlord. A measure of this kind would reduce the most palpable and iniquitous mischiefs in the whole of the landed system of Ireland, and we rejoice to see that a bill on the subject, which appears to us very fair and simple, has been brought forward by the Irish Chief Secretary.
Such is the general policy we [11/12] advocate in reference to the 'Irish Question,' the 'difficulty' of prejudice, and timid Conservatism, — no insoluble problem to simple reason. "Were it carried out, we feel assured that the moral and material disorders of Ireland would be considerably reduced, and possibly would gradually disappear altogether. Some supplemental measures should be added, on which we can say a few words only. The downfall of sectarian ascendancy should be accompanied by a reform of the University system of Ireland, which at present practically gives Protestantism almost a monopoly of the higher education. Trinity College, now in a peculiar degree the stronghold of the Established Church, and the mirror of the opinions of a sect, should be made a really national institution; it should, we think, bo put under the State, and its fellowships, scholarships, and internal administration, be thrown open to all communions. We do not think the Queen's Colleges at all a substitute for a reform of the kind: they will never possess the prestige and renown of the alma mater of Burke and Berkeley; and probably they will continue for years the seminaries of an inferior order of students. Let us say, however, that we welcome the attempt of attracting Roman Catholics to their sphere which is now being made by the Government, and that we cordially approve of the principle of affiliating the Catholic University to them, and of changing the composition of their senate.
As regards those fiscal reforms for Ireland which some persons consider indispensable, we do not care to enter into the question whether Ireland is inequitably taxed. Great as was the fiscal injustice of England to Ireland in the last century, this has been redressed many years ago; and in any case we repudiate the claim of Ireland to remissions of taxation, since the exemption might be made an argument for denying her full political justice. This does not, however, exclude the consideration of a liberal State expenditure in Ireland on public works of different kinds, which, we think, would gratify a popular demand; and we feel assured would, if well executed, be of great financial advantage to the empire. A system of arterial drainage — one of the chief agricultural needs of a country whose water-shed is remarkably low, whose rivers are sluggish and stopped by hills, and whose rainfall is exceedingly profuse — to be accomplished under the control of the State by loans ultimately payable from the land, is a measure, we think, not undeserving of the serious attention of the legislature. Nor is positive legislation the only means of palliating and removing the discontent which pervades Ireland. Much may be done by a real effort on the part of our rulers to win the affections of a people, excitable and untamed perhaps, but singularly generous and warmhearted. We need not allude to the obvious propriety of the Sovereign or the heir-apparent repeatedly paying a visit to Ireland, and thereby attracting back to her some part of her absentee aristocracy; and above all, appealing directly to the loyalty of a sensitive race, like all Celts, with little sympathy with institutions and impalpable laws, but enthusiastic in personal allegiance. This stop has been so frequently urged, that we shall not refer any more to it: suffice it to say, that Ireland has just grounds to complain of the omission, regard being had especially to Scotland; and that the presence of one of the royal family would be, we believe, the most powerful of the indirect modes of doing good to Ireland. If the Lord Lieutenancy, and the separate administration of Ireland, is for a [12/13] time to continue — and though we think it a had system, we shall not deny that within the year the policy and conduct of Lord Kimberley has proved it to be an accidental good — we trust the government of the island may be always confided to men who know its wants and appreciate its sentiments. Lord Russell's selection is beyond censure; indeed, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland gives promise of being a successful minister — but this important office not very lately was intrusted to a quite different personage.
For the rest, real courtesy and kindliness, and a genuine sympathy with the feelings of Ireland, expressed by those who direct her destinies, will go further than is supposed in soothing Irish ill-will and passion. If the Irish gentry, who often complain that they are not trusted, and are treated with contempt, were to receive a little more attention from authority, — if the observations of those who represent the wants and wishes of many Irishmen, had obtained of late, as they now obtain, respectful consideration and notice, — perhaps government in Ireland would be an easier thing than it is at present. Let us say, at least, that an attitude of this kind is especially incumbent on the rulers of Ireland; for it is idle to deny that the tone and manner of Englishmen generally towards their Irish equals is somewhat contemptuous and offensive, and no mere social influence has done more to divide and irritate.
In conclusion, we would only remind our readers of the gravity of the subject. We may abandon our colonial empire, and give up the allegiance of the nations who are subjects of England all over the earth, without any loss of our real greatness. But Ireland is a part of ourselves, it is an essential member of Great Britain; its destiny and our own must be united, if England is to bo a great power in the world. Then is Ireland always to bo as she is, ruled by the sword, and not by the sympathy of her people with their institutions and laws — her government at once disliked and weak, the nation ever poor and discontented? Is Ireland, in this age of civilisation and of England's overwhelming prosperity, to be pointed at as the Poland of the west, the standing disgrace of British Government? We would appeal, not to the fears of Englishmen, though seventy years ago a mere accident prevented Ireland from becoming the appanage of the French Bopublic; — though fifty years ago Napoleon's legions would have been hailed in Ireland as deliverers, had Villeneuve been equal to his mission; — though at this moment, when British statesmen are involved in controversy with America, the thought of Ireland must affect their counsels. Wc appeal to their sense of their country's destiny, and ask, Is history to record hereafter that after many centuries of rule England could not win the allegiance of an island which is the necessary complement of herself, and that Ireland was always her reproach and dishonour? The policy we have endeavoured to advocate would prevent such an unhappy consummation; would gradually cause the ills of Ireland to diminish at least, if. not to disappear; would ultimately reconcile the Irish race to their natural brethren the English people. That policy, or a policy of the kind, may be opposed to prejudice and ignorance, may have to await for its accomplishment the tardy ripening of public opinion, and the tedious action of parliamentary government, but it is founded in reason, in truth, and in justice, and we do not fear for its ultimate triumph. The great party which, after many [13/14] struggles, established the constitution of England and developed her liberties and resources, which still owes to Ireland a debt, though for three generations it has tried to redeem it, and which, however the present political crisis may terminate, must substantially continue to direct the counsels of the empire, should, casting minor differences aside, unite cordially upon this subject, and make the happy settlement of Ireland not the least of its historical glories. To judge from the noble and generous language which he has always employed as regards Ireland, we do not donbt that the real leader of that party will make the attempt. If Mr. Gladstone should be successful, he will have deserved a fame even greater than that of the Liberator of Europe from the sword of France, and of the Emancipator of British commerce.
“Ireland.” Fraser’s Magazine. 74 (July 1866): 1-. Hathi Diigital Library Trust version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 27 January 2016.
Last modified 27 January 2016