Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 nominale 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. 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 gentlemen, too, extremely desirous of political influence, multiply 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 check 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 manufactures 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 accommoda. tion of her own peasantry bore some proportion to the state of those accom. modations 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 appeared 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. 112, 113.

To this extract we shall add one more on the same subject. The gigantic figure, bare-headed 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 referrible 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 seenied established in spite of filth and ragged garments. The dress of the poor woman was barely sufficient to satisfy decency. Her countenance bore the impression 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 ine, 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. 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 circumstar.ces in which it is p'aced, 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 serocity 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 inserior to that of this country; the spirit of jobbing and bribery is very widely diffused, and uson 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 Eng. land, 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 civilization. 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, daudle, 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 into 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 depositary of the future crop, is not unlike, either in depth or regularity, to those domestic surrows which the nails of the meek and muchinjured 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, extrava gant, and fond of display-light in council-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 à 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

« PreviousContinue »