Page images

those demands were urged with lenity and moderation. From disorderly occurrences of this nature, originated those nightly outrages, not much attended to in the beginning, which at length arrived at an alarming height, and assumed the character of a dan gerous and rebellious confederation. It is very difficult to form an accurate estimate of the extent of popular conspiracy in Ireland, at least in the beginning of its career, because they who refuse to enlist in its ranks never offer the least obstruction to its progress; the duty of giving information of any criminal proceeding whatsoever, which does not personally affect themselves, not being among the duties which they have been accustomed to consider obligatory on them by the laws either of God or man. The obstinacy with which the combination is still supported, shews, however, that the insurrectionary spirit had taken deep root, and spread to a very wide extent, embracing, as it always does, additional views, and objects not contemplated at its commencement, and fomented as it goes on by brawling patriots, disappointed place-hunters, insidious reformists, and unprincipled democrats.

very narrow horizon, were ignorant of the operating principle, of real causes, and of necessary consequences. It was even the opinion of many persons claiming more title to wisdom, that ministers should have put off the evil hour by protracting the return to cash payments. But sound policy seems fully to justify the conduct which they thought proper to pursue. It was, I think, far more advisable to know the worst at once, than to uphold a state of anxiety and suspense. It was better to suffer one smart shock, than to prolong a state of unhealthful existence by a fictitious shew of wealth, by keeping up a paper system injurious to sound credit, deceptious in operation, and liable to so many abuses.

No prudence, on the part of the people, could have prevented individual suffering, or general complaint. In a country almost dependent upon agriculture, nothing could materially affect the prices of land's produce, without making a correspondent impression on its inhabitants. In Ireland, which unfortunately does not include frugality among its national virtues, the severity of the shock was greatly aggravated by lavishness of expenditure, which, in almost all classes of life, more than kept pace with increase of income, and redundancy of profit. For many years, at least, preceding the return of peace, the difficulty was not in making money, but in keeping it. They who for twenty years and upwards had enjoyed incomes raised to two, three, or four times their preceding amount, have surely none to blame but themselves, if, at their return to the old income, they are in no better, and very frequently in a much worse condition, than when they set out. When bankers and merchants built palaces, and lived like princes; when dealers of inferior order regarded the acquisition of a rapid profit, not as a foundation for the increase of capital, but as the means of indulging pleasurable pursuits; when country gentlemen increased their expenditures in a double ratio of their new raised incomes; when there were no Misters, but all Esquires; and when few of any description made provision for an evil hour to come, I do not see with what justice the calamitous result of such imprudence can be charged on the effects of the Union, the partial policy of the

However unwillingly either little men or great men relinquished their claims to what hope had encouraged them to regard as a secure and permanent income, the wants of each passing hour demonstrated the necessity of submitting to circumstances, and conceding an abatement of rents. It was begun by the greater proprietors, most of whom evinced a disposition to deal liberally with their tenants, and to contribute, as might have been expected, their endeavours to diminish the pressure of public distress. If their reductions were at first insufficient, it is less chargeable on their want of inclination to relieve, than on the unsettled state of things, and their ignorance of the quantum of reduction the case required. Abatement, on the part of the petty proprietor, and middle landlord, was much more reluctant, and much less considerable. Hopes were still entertained that the depression was but temporary, and that lands would again recover their value. They either wilfully turned their eyes from a mortifying and melancholy picture, or, what is more probable, as the views of such persons are usually bounded by a

sister country, or the negligence and incapacity of the King's ministers.

To those who seriously despair of any solid advantages from the Union, it may be sufficient to cite the example of Scotland, to whose inhabitants the incorporation of their interests with England appeared still more obnoxious and exceptionable. Many years elapsed before any great national benefits accrued to Scotland from the measure, notwithstanding her closer affinity to England and her more thrifty population. It is only within the last 40 or 50 years that her trade has been so prosperously extended, that her manufactures have been so flourishing, that her lands have been so highly cultivated, and that her two great and beautiful cities have risen to such commercial and literary eminence. Let those who are in the habit of imputing Irish backwardness, Irish poverty, and Irish failures, to the corruption or incapacity of government, ask themselves this plain question, To what is the great and advancing prosperity of Scotland, a country much inferior to Ireland in advantages of situation, in extent, and in natural fertility, to be ascribed? Has it flowed from any peculiar fosterage of government, or superior enjoyment of representative privileges? Certainly not. It is attributable to HERSELF; to the improved character of her people; to their general exemption from the debasing influence of antiquated dogmas; to an awakened and emulous spirit of industrious exertion pervading all classes; to an ardent desire of knowledge, unimpeded by the clogs of religious domination; to a liberty which government cannot give here, LIBERTY OF MIND; to the intelligence of her gentry, the enterprize of her merchants, and the kindly co-operation of all. Such a people as they are, in such a country as this is, would, in a very few years, present a picture of national prosperity, not only by means, and with the aid of government favour and patronage, but in the very teeth of its hostility. In an Island so favoured by nature, government must be ingeniously oppressive indeed, to prevent the inhabitants from improving their minds, and bettering their condition, when they themselves are sedulously and seriously bent upon both. Injudicious restrictions upon trade, and favour partially bestowed, may impede or retard the accumulation of

national wealth, but cannot altogether suppress it among a frugal, intelligent, and industrious people. Under any system of laws, providing for the reasonable security of person and property, though such a people may not arrive at great riches, at least it must be their own faults if they become very poor. Whatever the conduct of government might have been previous to 1782, and it was usually bad enough, I do not hesitate to say, that since that period Ireland has enjoyed her full share of national consideration. That she has not better availed herself of it, is ascribable to herself alone.

Among the advantages which were to result from the Union, some, it seems, contemplated the immediate arrival of English capitalists, to employ their superabundant wealth with higher advantage in the auspicious security of a new and cheaper country. I cannot see the justice of that expectation, or why a man, who in England was as rich as he need wish to be, should come to Ireland to become richer. An Englishman, versed in the arts of procuring riches, but unpossessed of them himself, might be induced to try his fortune in a country where his skill would stand him in the place of capital, and by degrees enable him to create one. This, I believe, has been frequently done, with more or less success. Scotland was still more liberal of emissaries, sometimes with a little capital of their own, and sometimes without, and among them we have to reckon very valuable men, as well as fortunate adventurers. To one in particular, the county of Cork, and, I may add, the South of Ireland, through which he established mail coaches, has been highly indebted. He shewed what might be done even in this depressed and ill represented country, by address, intelligence, and activity. The conclusion of his career was, indeed, like that of Buonaparte, unprosperous to himself, and for a similar reason; his views expanded with his success, and induced him to undertake projects too mighty for performance. Mr Anderson's fortunes were wrecked on the same rock which so many vessels split upon. He made large purchases of landed property on the inconsiderate notion of its permanent value, and the fruits of his more successful industry were unable to sustain the overwhelming weight of its depreciation.

In enumerating the leading causes of Ireland's inquietude, distress, and depression, consequent on the termination of the last war, I have omitted one, not from its insignificance, for it was most severely operative, but from the temporary nature of its character; I mean, the late failure of the crop of popular subsistence. Visitations of this kind are not peculiar to any country or nation, though most distressing in those which are poor. At another time it would have been much less severely felt. In the dry summer of 1800, or 1801, as remarkable for the peculiar excellence of wheat, as for the almost total failure of potatoes, the staple food of the people was still more scanty, and the distress would have been greater, had the internal state of the country then been similar to what it is now. But it was full of money. The extravagant prices of grain and export provisions, had filled the pockets of all except the very lowest classes, and from that abundance the poor were relieved and fed. In the last case of similar infliction, the generous contributions of the sister country nobly supplied that aid which the altered state of things here was unable to administer, and established a title to the eternal gratitude and affection of Ireland. Everything is valuable which tends to strengthen the bonds of connection between the sister islands, and one almost ceases to regret the calamity, on account of the munificence to which it gave rise, and the cheering consciousness of possessing so excellent a friend in so near a neighbour.

Of Ireland's general and striking inferiority to the sister island, there are indeed other causes which shall be noticed hereafter; but enough has been said to account for the peculiar wretchedness of her condition within the last five or six years; a wretchedness which disappointed ambition, and factious clamour, under the mask of patriotism, have very materially contributed to aggravate and increase. I challenge any intelligent person, acquainted with this country, to disprove the statement I have made, and, admitting it to be true, can any man in his senses be at a loss to ascertain the prevailing causes of present depression, or so sottish as to believe that they have the smallest connection with political squabbles, any farther than as the said political squabbles, by irritating the popular

mind, have added fuel to the flame of discontent, and promoted insurrectionary phrenzy. If ministerial negligence and imbecility, so loudly trumpeted by statesmen out of place, or the rejection of the Roman Catholics' last claim, so vehemently dinned into our ears by demagogues wanting power, be the true cause, how did it come to pass, that neither one nor the other offered any obstruction to the rapid growth of Irish prosperity during the continental war? Simply, because her prosperity hinged upon circumstances different from either. I have already observed, that it was not fair to make Ireland sit for her picture in the hour of a temporary depression. For the elucidation of the present subject, it will not be amiss to take a view of her situation, as it presented itself during the last 20 years of the Buonapartean dynasty, which, though the selfish memories of those who recollect no bright days, save when the light serves to illuminate themselves, have thought fit to erase from their calendar, are in the perfect remembrance of others. He must be a young Hibernian indeed, who does not remember when the rapid growth of Irish prosperity was the theme of universal gratulation. Mr O'Connell, and Mr O'Clabber, and Mr MacJabber, et hoc genus omne, might have pined and fretted at a national advancement which they had no hand in promoting; but prosper she did, and that with a pace of almost unparalleled celerity. New and handsome mansion-houses were erected, demesnes were extended and dressed; planting and farming became favourite pursuits; new towns were built; old towns were enlarged and beautified; mailcoach roads, and post carriages, established; banks multiplied, credit abounded, mercantile speculations flourished; dealers of all kinds made fortunes, if they did not keep them; petty landlords grew into Esquires, Esquires became men of fashion and pleasure; agriculture increased everywhere, and improved in many places; farmers wore good cloaks, rode good horses, and indulged to the utmost all their propensities to rustic gratification; all was bustle, business, profit, and pleasure; and the enjoyments of the day were unembittered with anxiety, or apprehension for the morrow. Even tithes and taxes were unable to make much deduction from the gene

ral fund of happiness and hilarity, the former being easily paid while the farmers were rich, and the latter only felt with severity by the poorer inhabitants of towns and cities. Is it not obvious, that an intelligent Irish gentleman, warped by no sinister or selfish views, and sitting down to take a fair view of his country's situation during the greater part of the period alluded to, would have drawn a very favourable and flattering picture of her internal state and condition? Sober judgment might incline him to entertain apprehensions for the permanence of a prosperity that was so much indebted to causes of a temporary nature, but the fact of its actual existence was undeniable. Even Sir John Newport himself, exceeded by few in occasional obliquity of political vision, must have seen, and, unless out of place, would not have hesitated to admit, the extraordinary_rapidity of national improvement. Even now, amidst all the just complaints of actual suffering, the angry clamours of brawling demagogues, the hypocritical lamentations of ex of ficio statesmen, and the multifarious effusions of factious discontent, let any man who has known this country for the last forty years, compare the state of Ireland as it was when he first knew it, with what it is at the present moment, and I ask no more than the testimony of his senses to justify my statement. Let him consider also, that within the limits of this period, she has had to struggle with difficulties, dangers, and calamities, of the most appalling nature; with democratic sedition, religious rancour, political animosity, and desolating rebellion. Any of these seem sufficient to check the calm progress of national prosperity, and in this unfortunate country, each of them was carried to an excess that threatened not merely the peace and wellbeing of the state, but its very existence. Yet such is the power of revivification in a country where person and property are under the protection of laws decently administered, and where industry is even imperfectly operative, that the moment of danger's disappearance seldom fails to mark the commencement of a new course, rather invigorated than depressed by the recollection of past disasters. This observation was here very strikingly exemplified. For some years previous to the termination of the rebellion of 1798, VOL. XV.

the general mind, was in a state of most anxious uncertainty respecting the result of those revolutionary principles, which France, not content with her single blessedness, had so good-naturedly laboured to diffuse among her neighbours. I do perfectly well remember when it was the opinion of many (perhaps I might say most) persons highly respectable and intelligent, that the tide of democracy was irresistible, and that, ere a very few years elapsed, there would not be a king, peer, or priest in the world. The mania, however, was shortlived, repressed by the steadiness of British policy under the auspices of the greatest statesman of his own, or perhaps any other age, and, finally, dissipated by the spreaders of the contagion; to whom, however little we may thank them for administering the poison, we are under great obligations for supplying us with the antidote. Full dearly did they pay for both, and have perhaps to pay still; but as to what the future may produce, our only concern is to make the best preparation for it by acting well at the present. No sooner was the rapturous dream of French beatitude vanished, and the hydra heads of rebellion cut off, than a new and different spirit seemed to animate all bosons. The friends of establishment exulted in the defeat of those schemes which threatened its overthrow; the revolutionist abandoned his projects, the wavering became fixed, the timid re-assured, and all appeared disposed to return with fresh alacrity to the cultivation of their true interests in the pursuits of industry. I have already related how unfortunately the contingent advantages of this general disposition to active and profitable exertion were counteracted by that wasteful and uncalculating improvidence, for which Ireland has so long been distinguished, and to which an unexpected facility of acquiring wealth seems to have imparted an additional spirit of extravagance. Adversity, though a rough, is often a sage instructor, and it may at least be hoped that the salutary lesson so lately and so feelingly impressed, will not be soon or easily forgotten.

Of the various late manoeuvrings of Opposition policy, the most surprising (if any of its manoeuvres can surprise) seems to be the motion for a Parliamentary inquiry into the state of Ire


[ocr errors]

land, brought forward in the Lower House, consistently enough, by some hungry or discontented Whig; but in the Upper House, proh pudor! bythe DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE!!! by the head of the noble House of Cavendish! by the man whose name for centuries has been eminently distinguished among the powerful and intrepid assertors of liberty, civil and religious; by the princely Peer, who should scorn to lend his illustrious name to the purposes of any party; by the exalted nobleman, whose hereditary property embraces a large portion of two great counties in the South of Ireland, with the circumstances of which immense estates it behoved him to be acquainted; and with which, if he was, he ought to have been the unfettered and enlightened communicator, not the party-led and pitiful seeker of information concerning the state and concerns of Ireland! We can make allowance for the stings of envy, and the rage of disappointment in little minds; we can forgive pert and puny agitators for annoying where they cannot injure; for hiding vexation under the veil of public good, and for endeavouring to embarrass government with questions of ostensible utility and impossible embracement; but a Duke of Devonshire ought to stand on higher ground. Respectable, indeed, ought that party to be, of which a Duke of Devonshire would even condescend to be the head; of none should he demean himself by holding up the tail. I speak this with unfeigned respect for his Grace's exalted rank, and still more for his private virtues. I speak it as one of his Grace's sincere well-wishers; as one of those who lament his Grace's late conduct in the House of Lords, as a degradation of his character, as a stain on that more than ducal spirit of munificence so extensively displayed, and hitherto so proverbially untarnished.

The introduction of such a question would create less surprise had it preceded some late parliamentary inquiries, though even then it would, Heaven knows, have been sufficiently preposterous. With them in view, I cannot easily conceive anything more ridiculous, more extravagantly absurd, than an inquiry, viva voce, into the state of seven millions of people, inhabiting this terra occidentalis incognita, before a House of Commons, consisting of 600 members, empowered to

summon and examine all or any of the aforesaid seven millions, though unable to administer an oath to one of them. The points of a measure so replete with sapience, the information to be collected by such boundless powers of inves tigation, the satisfactory result of so multitudinous a scrutiny, and the probable duration of so pleasant, so temperate, and so constitutional an examination, may be demonstratively proved from the felicitous events of remote as well as recent examples. The scrutiny of a contested election, even before a select committee, has, I believe, outlived a year's session of Parliament. The investigation of the Lord Chief Baron's (of Ireland) conduct respecting some petty charges, before the House of Commons, continued for two sessions, began in fire, and ended in smoke. Need I remind my readers of the second edition of a bottle conjuror, of the renowned conspiracy of the broken rattle, of the noble zeal displayed in the ex officio prosecution, and of the subsequent appeals to the representatives of the United Empire, who, after several months, employed in a manner highly illustrative of their wisdom, and honourable to their character, most sagely terminated the question by leaving the appellants and the appellees-just where they found them.

Exclusive of those noble senators, who possess titles and estates in both islands, and therefore may be presumed to know something of each, Ireland sends one hundred representatives to the Lower, and thirty to the Upper House of Parliament. These may not unreasonably be thought sufficient, in point of number at least, to display her wants, enforce her claims, and watch over her interests. When to this advantage we add a resident chief governor, generally a man of talents as well as rank, and a chief and under secretaries, always men of intelligence and political sagacity, I am at some loss to conceive how parliamentary knowledge of her real situation should happen to be numbered among the wants of Ireland. Her peculiar peers and representatives are not, I think, justly accusable of silence or remissness in the exercise of their senatorial functions, some being always ready to communicate, not only as much as they know, but sometimes a little more. As little do they seem

« PreviousContinue »