« PreviousContinue »
stomach in entering the room. The littlc window was adorned with tapestry, in such a condition, that it fell to pieces whenever it was touched. On a miserable cot, lay the father of the family, almost dead from excess of labour, to which he had been forced, to obtain subsistence for his family-his wife and three children were crying round the bed.
Near a fire of turf, I observed a beautiful boy, naked as when it first came from “ its living tomb." The lovely little cherub was asleep on a bare plank, and presented an object such as a painter would have taken as a model of angelic loveliness:
“Sideway his face reposed
Disparts a dew-lipp'd rose". Whether the fire crimsoned the face of the babe, or that nature mantled its unconscious cheek with a blush, that the lot of man should be so degraded, I do not pretend to decide; but there was something so striking in the latter thought, that I could not help cherishing it.
In another part of the room, stretched on an old blanket, lay the peasant's daughter, who appeared to suffer from some deep-seated disease.
Her mother told me that some months before, she had caught a cold, in exposing herself to the moist night air, and had not time, from her laborious occupations, to check the disease at its birth. Instead of the roses, which
seemed formerly 'to bloom in her cheek, a vivid red showed itself through a small part of the deadly paleness which overspread her emaciated face; and the fire of that slow fever which devoured her vitals, sparkled in her dark blue eyes.
To this description of an Irish hovel, permit me to add the ludicrous picture which | Miss Edgeworth presents of one, in the most
amusing of her Fashionable Tales, (* Ennui.”). To be sure, it does not prepossess the reader in favour of the cottages of Erin, so much as her other characteristic representations: “ It was a wretched looking, low mud-walled cabin. At one end it was propped by a buttress of loose stones, upon which stood a goat reared on its hind legs, to browse on the grass that grew on the house top! A dunghill was before the only window, at the other end of the house, and close to the door was a puddle of the dirtiest of dirty water, in which ducks were dabbling. At my approach, there came out of the cabbin a pig, a calf, a lamb, a kid and two geese, all with their legs tied: followed by cocks, hens, chickens, a dog, a cat, a kit. ten, a beggar-man, a beggar-woman with a pipe in her mouth; children innumerable, and a stout girl, with a pitchfork in her hand. I asked if Ellinor was at home; but the dog barked, the geese cackled, the turkeys gobbled, and the beggars begged with one accord, so loudly, that there was no chance of my being heard.”
So poor are many of the labourers, that they have neither table, nor chair nor stool in their wretched hovels. A pile of stones near the fire, covered with straw as a cushion, serves for a seat in the best cottages! Domestic animals, pigs, &c. form part of the family. The hog appears quite at his ease--at meals he draws near the board with the familiarity of an old acquaintance-he squats like a dog near his master and grunts his request. I have even been assured that a recumbent pig often serves as a pillow for the children!
Tacitus (de Mor. German, cap. 20.) has the following observation, which is very applicable to the Irish poor: “ In every family, children, reared up in filth, run about naked, and in time grow up to that strength and size of limbs, which we behold with wonder.” The children I have seen in the Irish cottages, bloom with the purest health, and are generally very beautiful. I have often seen on a handful of straw, or in a sort of cradle of coarse wicker work, child fed on potatoes and butter-milk, who looked better than a prince; indeed many a nabob would exchange his whole brood of puny whipsters, for one of those blooming cherubs.
Poverty does not prevent the lower orders from marrying; but the blind God of Love is neither Catholic nor Protestant, Whig nor Tory, and be lets off his arrows indiscriminately at the rich and poor, high-born and plebeian. A few potatoes and a shed of turf, are a sufficient inducement for a poor couple to begin
upon the great Irish manufacture of children! I asked a girl near Carlow, if she would not be afraid to get married, considering the privations to which she was exposed. She laughed very heartily, and archly observed, " you don't know us, we will suffer any thing to get husbands”-But you would not wish to starve with your husband and poor babes?“ Och, said she, when I can't support my children, I'll find somebody that will-I'll go beg for them!”
Do not imagine from what I have said, that all the Irish cottages
bazaars of mud and misery." I have met with some that were very clean and neat, particularly near Antrim. Miss Edgeworth makes us acquainted with groups of cottages, more beautifully painted in the simple colouring of nature, than all the Arcadians of pastoral or romance, 'The writings of this inimitable novelist, so remarkable for their sober sense and inexhaustible invention, have made me love the Irish nation, as well as the author who has painted them with such truth, pathos and simplicity. She depicts the native politeness, wit, kind-heartedness and intelligence of the lower Irish, in the most fascinating colours. In the Absentees, she gives the following exquisite description of a cottage
The old woman was sitting in her chimney-corner, behind a little screen of whitewashed wall, built out into the room for the purpose of keeping those who sate at the fire from the blast of the door; there was a loop
hole in the wall, to let the light in, just at the height of a person's head, who was sitting near the chimney. The rays of the morning sun now came through it, shining across the face of the old woman, as she sate knitting. Lord Colambre thought he had seldom seen a more agreeable countenance, intelligent eyes, benevolent smile, a natural expression of cheerfulness subdued by age and misfortune."
All writers bear strong testimony to the natural richness of the soil of Ireland. Arthur Young says that it is superior to that of England, and vies with the richest in Europe.-It is at once a proof of wonderful fertility, and of bad manag«ment, that 10 or 12 crops of oats are often taken, in succession from the same fields; and yet a large proportion of arable land is reduced to sterility by ruinous treatment, and by the oppression and poverty of the small tenantry. With a situation so perfectly favourable to commerce; with so many spacious rivers flowing through its rich and fertile bosom; with such excellent canals, capacious harbours and bays; with a most temperate climate; with such productive fisheries; with such an abundant supply of useful and indispensable minerals and fossils; with such a fertile, and inexhaustible soil; with every requisite for be. coming the great market of the commercial world-how has it happened that this island, so profusely gifted in the prodigality of nature, has dwindled into comparative insignificance and national poverty? The solution of these