« PreviousContinue »
chargeable (speaking of them collectively) with partial leaning to one side of a question, or unworthy deference to the higher powers, for every reader of parliamentary debates will find the Opposition (i. e. in their own vocabulary, the patriot) party, commanding a strong posse of Irish auxiliaries. From such sluices Hibernian information should flow in copious channels; from the edifying collision of the sentiments of so many opposing sages for more than twenty years past, sparks of knowledge ought, one would think, to have been drawn, sufficient to elucidate that subject, for which parliamentary inquiry was lately demanded. The most active, and in their own opinion certainly, not the least sapient of those senators, have been peculiarly ardent and vociferous for the proposed inquiry, a circumstance which I cannot deem very creditable to themselves, as it seems to intimate that all their past labour has been lost, all their energies exerted in vain, and all their eloquence--a waste of words. It appears tantamount to saying, "here we are, a group of senators, sent to the Imperial Parliament by the uninfluenced voices of free and independent Irish electors, for our superior virtue and intelligence for their sake we have neglected our own private interests, devoted our time to the good of the empire in general, and of our dear native island in particular-we have let no opportunity pass of displaying our distinguished talents in so noble a cause; and yet at the end of twenty years the House is never the wiser!" This modest admission of deficiency, the usual accompaniment of true merit, may possibly account for the laudable anxiety these senators have shewn to reinforce their parliamentary phalanx with recruits from the Roman Catholic population of Ireland, with what they may not improperly call a miraculous accession of strength. It is not one of the worst of their arguments, though I do not think it derives much weight from the present exhibition of senatorial ability in the self-elected parliament of Dublin. Whether from lack of matter or lack of brains I cannot tell, but that meeting which professed to exhibit a model of political wisdom, to lecture chief governors, and to direct imperial parliaments, has changed its plan, and become a sort of non-descript assem
bly, a kind of ex-clerical convocation. Weary of expending their verbal ammunition upon politics, they have turned it to theology, and undertaken a crusade against heretic unbelievers, under the happy auspices of a princely German quack, a superannuated Irish titular archbishop, four or five friars, two or three medical doctors, a hypochondriacal matron, and an hysterical miss, supported by skirmishers, and Kerry evidences, ad libitum, in the shape of editors, essayists, attestators, &c. The success of this holy campaign appears indubitable. Entrenched within the impregnable walls of a Dublin nunnery, defended by a second Joan of Arc, sanctified by the benediction of infallibility, and flanked by the riflers of the NEW CONVOCATION, whose leader speaks with "most miraculous organ," the good old cause of Popish miracles defies the puny malice of its once potent foes,-wit, learning, truth, honesty, and common sense. Much as I reverence this unlooked-for revival of exuberant Faith, which cannot only remove mountains, but make them, I have some doubts whether it will operate favourably for the advancement of Irish catholics to a British legislature. John Bull is a matter-of-fact sort of fellow, mightily given to apply that faculty called reason to all subjects that come within the range of his discussion, somewhat distrustful of sanctified appearances, afraid of wolves in sheep's clothing, and horribly alarmed by the idea of being priest-ridden, in consequence of what he once suffered from such sticking and troublesome jockeys. When he considers the number and magnitude of evils and misfortunes under which an entire nation really suffers, he will find it impossible to believe that the God of all the Earth, leaving these to the ordinary course of Providence, or regarding them as below his care, should employ the visible arm of Omnipotence in enabling a few knaves or fools to work a couple of miserable and insignificant miracles! to make a sulky miss recover the use of her tongue, and a bed-ridden nun the use of her limbs! Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus. I am afraid he will consider it less as a proof of divine condescension than of divine displeasureof intellect miserably degraded, of shameless bigotry, and of triumphant superstition! I shall be glad to know
how Mr Brougham likes this novel specimen of senatorial qualification exhibited by his new clients-whether it will anímate his zeal in the cause of such liberal, pious, and enlightened petitioners-whether he will feel much satisfaction in contemplating the powerful legislative assistance, he, the proud champion of civil and religious liberty, is, if successful, likely to obtain from the disciples and admirers of Prince Hohenlohe, from believers in all the trumpery of monkish lies and legends, from the defenders of pious frauds, from the assertors of all the spiritual rights, powers, privileges, and immunities of the Hispano-Hibernian church, and from the volunteer advocates of miracles in a Dublin nunnery! Happy qualifications for the exercise of legislative functions in a British senate of the 19th century!!!
The circumstance which most surprises, and is most apt to mislead an English traveller, in the opinion he forms of this country, is the vast difference between the first classes of inhabitants and the last, the striking and extraordinary contrast everywhere presented between the man of fortune and the peasant, the frequent contiguity of splendid opulence and miserable squalidity. Hence the tourist, who travels only for pleasure, and has means of introduction to the nobility and gentry, by whom he is received with polite as well as profuse hospitality, will give a more favourable opinion of the country than its real state fairly warrants; while the philanthropic visitor, who looks with more scrutinizing eye into the condition of the common people, will certainly represent their wretchedness to be much greater than it actually is, because he uses a false standard of judgment, and forms his opinion, not from a knowledge of the people he visits, but from a comparison of them with the people he has left. Opinions formed from transitory and superficial observation can never be depended on as just representations of real life; however faithfully they may exhibit things as they seem, it is hardly possible that they should be faithful pictures of things as they are. To acquire just and accurate knowledge of a people, it is necessary to live among them, to become acquainted with their peculiar manners, and general habits, and to see them at various times, and in different situations. Let him, who, from
a view of their ordinary modes and occupations, discovers nothing here but slovenliness and pauperism, repair to a Sunday chapel, a fair, or any holiday place of recreation, and he will hardly believe that he is beholding the same people. These are their days of public exhibition, of dress, and of cheerful assemblage; to the first of which many perhaps resort for pleasure as much as for devotion, to the second for mirth as much as for business, and to the third for merriment only. The ladies appear in all their finery; those who come from a distance frequently adopting the Caledonian method of keeping clean their shoes and stockings by wearing them-in their pockets. The men are not less ambitious of shining in outward array, though after a different manner; their pride of dress consisting, not in the quality, but quantity of apparel-a mode of costume, which, as it is not affected by change of season, subjects the summer beau to a very oppressive weight of ornament. Fashion indispensably requires the exhibition of all his new or good clothes, so that it is not uncommon to see a strapping countryman in the dog-days sweltering under two cloth waistcoats, one of them with sleeves, a body-coat of the same, and over all a large surtout of still stouter material, under which comfortable burthen he has perhaps walked half a dozen miles, actuated by precisely the same motive, however different in mode, of the dandy in high life, the vanity of appearing-a welldressed man! I must, however, except some of the younger men, who, designing to take a share in the dance, deem themselves, not unreasonably, exempt from a weight, which, how honourable soever it may be in stationary exhibition, is little suited to the graces of the dancer. I am also to except the inhabitants of towns and large villages, among whom something of modern refinement has crept, and who are much less rigidly attached to the observance of ancient forms. The parts these people act are not assumed; the exhibition is piquant and voluntary; Nature is their prompter, and her dictates may be received as the test of real feeling and actual enjoyment. That there is much misery where there are so many unemployed, and consequently so many poor, is too true; but that there are great numbers who possess what they consider to be the com
forts and conveniencies of life; and that many of those whom a stranger, without being very fastidious, would number among the wretched, do by no means enroll themselves in the catalogue of the unhappy, is a fact no less certain and undisputable. Most things in this world are to be estimated by comparison, and though it must be the first wish of every friend to Ireland to improve both the mental and corporal condition of the people, and though before this is done, they cannot attain their due weight in the scale of nations; yet it is consolatory to know that their wretchedness is neither so great nor so general as it has been represented; that much of it has been owing to temporary causes; that the work of improvement has begun, and is now in progress; and that under the persevering aid of a paternal government, and, above all, of vigilant magistrates, and kind, enlightened, spiritual pastors, encouraging, beneficent, (and would I could add, generally resident,) landlords, nothing but the schemes of rash, selfish, and insidious ambition, will be able to obstruct or retard the growing prospects of Ireland. Much as there exists of evil spirit still to be reclaimed and subdued, and extensive as discontent and distress appear to be, there are nevertheless many unequivocal symptoms of general amelioration,-well founded cause to hope that, of the shock so deeply and universally felt, though the tremor in some degree continues, the perils are nearly at an end. The hand of improvement is distinctly visible. The linen manufacture of the South is rapidly emerging from depression; the bustle of trade has begun to reanimate our towns; houses of a better description are daily adding ornament to utility; the fisheries are at length receiving that attention and encouragement they so eminently deserve, and the happy result is already discernible; the prices of corn and provisions begin to advance, and the drooping spirits of the farmer to revive; rents, on the due regulation of which the interests of the peasantry so mainly depend, and which, though not the sole, have been the principal cause of contention between high and low, are in a course of attaining their just level, prior to which, the peace of the country will not be established on a secure and permanent foundation. There exists, indeed, one evil, or,
as I would rather call it, obstruction to national prosperity, for which, during the present general debasement of popular mind, it seems altogether hopeless, and for which, under any condition of the people, it will be very difficult to find an adequate remedy. No person acquainted with this country will be at a loss to know that I allude to its great and overgrowing population. Mr Malthus appears to have been the first who called the public attention to a doctrine so obvious, when once pointed out, that the only thing which now surprises us is how it came to elude prior consideration. The reason seems to be, that prejudice had always run in favour of population, infusing a general belief, that increase of inhabitants exhibited the most indubitable proof of national strength and prosperity. It was not until the evil began to be felt that the validity of the old opinion came to be suspected. The ingenious gentleman to whom we owe this salutary warning was accordingly treated at first as a sporter of paradoxes; but the old and sure test of truth, time, has satisfactorily confirmed his judgment, and done justice to his sagacity. It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to fix the utmost point of extension to which the support of population in a given country may be carried by the vast powers of enlightened industry, and the astonishing efforts of human skill; but that there is such a point, seems capable of decisive demonstration. That which happens frequently here in a small district of five thousand acres, will as unquestionably take place in one of fifty millions, the growing inhabitants of which must at last become too numerous for their means of subsistence. The supplementary support afforded by external commerce, as in Great Britain, and the wealth arising from an extensive sale of manufactured commodities, will, no doubt, protract the period of overgrowth, so as to render its prospect less alarming; but the chance of failure in those great commercial resources must always be contemplated with some degree of anxiety and apprehension. In a highly civilized country, it is true, the danger is of far less magnitude, because the restraints of moral feeling and prudent reflection cannot fail to oppose a strong check to the evil, by forbidding young persons to marry before there appears a
reasonable prospect of being able to provide for their offspring. It is to the want of this prudential check, to the utter absence of moral reflection, that we owe that inundation of pauperism, which a rude peasantry, yielding without scruple to the first impulse of desire, pour upon the country in lament able and overwhelming abundance.
of its seven millions might be spared, not only without injury, but with manifest advantage to the remaining six, that is to say, provided the selection was to be made from the ranks of ignorance and pauperism.
I am now going to offer some remarks on what is likely to be generally uppermost in the mind of an Irishman, as affording subsistence, not only to men, women, and children only, but also to all those live appendages, pigs, dogs, horses, cattle, and poultry
the potatoe. If you should happen to be disposed to conjectural anticipation, you will perhaps think that I mean to propose, what national gratitude ought to have done long since, the erection of a statue to Sir Walter Raleigh, by whom the potatoe was first brought to this country, and presented to a nobleman, right worthy of being the dispenser of natural benefits, Richard, the first Earl of Cork. But no, I have no such intention. I question whether any important advantage was in the contemplation of the donor; and moreover, I doubt whether the culture would have been recommended by either of those great men, had they been able to predict the future and remote consequences of the gift. The great Earl of Cork, (as he is commonly called,) the munificent founder of many towns, as well as of an illustrious race, to whom the county of Cork has never ceased to owe those obligations which the rare union of virtue and ability so happily enables their possessor to bestow, certainly contemplated a different sort of subsistence than potatoe diet for his numerous tenantry. Could his lordship have foreseen that they would become almost the only food of the people; that they would supplant the use of bread, abolish the arts of culinary preparation, and by the extreme facility of providing a mere bellyful, promote idleness and vagabondism, and multiply an ever-growing propagation of paupers, he would, I will venture to affirm, have been the very last man to advise or encourage the culture of potatoes. But let me not be considered as meaning to depreciate so extraordinary and valuable a root. I only lament the excessive use, or rather abuse, of one of the most useful vegetable gifts which the bounteous hand of the Almighty Creator has conferred upon mankind. Used as they are in the sister island, as an
How deficient is human wisdom in the calculation of future events, the estimation of contingent results, and the contemplation of prospective advantages! What were the hopes and expectations of the discoverers of America? and for what purpose did Spain's Christian adventurers, endure almost incredible fatigues, and commit the most atrocious cruelties? For what were petty colonies planted, many unoffending native tribes exterminated, and others reduced to a state of the most wretched slavery, under the lash of the most unrelenting master? For gold-for the acquisition of that which, by a just retribution of Providence, has become the means of debasing, not exalting, that haughty nation, of punishing, not rewarding, the unprincipled and insatiable avarice of the discoverers. How little did it enter into any imagination to conceive that the new world was to become, what, with respect to Europe at least, seems to be one of the greatest blessings it can bestow,-a receptacle for the overgrowing population of the old, a glorious theatre for the interchange of commercial amity, for the cultivation of new interests, tending to the comfort and improvement of both! In this, as well as in many other important considerations, we seem bound to acknowledge the hand of Providence peculiarly displayed in the timely discovery of so great a resource for the growing necessities of mankind. We have often been accustomed to hear emigration lamented as a serious calamity, by those who did not consider that in all cases of excessive population, the departure of some is a relief to the rest; and that, generally speaking, too many, instead of too few, were left behind. It will, no doubt, happen, that the lot will sometimes fall on those whom it would be more desirable to retain, and in this case only can emigration be a subject of regret, but even in this case there is something gained by the increase of room to those who are left. Of this island I will venture to say, that one
auxiliary to better food, their worth is inestimable; but constituting, as they do here, almost the sole food of the lower orders, the effect is as I have stated; and though the blame be not attributable to the article itself, yet is not the consequent wretchedness of its consumers the less deplorable. They are objectionable in another respect, as being only a supply for the current year; so that the superabundance of a favourable season will constitute nothing to the relief of a deficient. Hence the superfluity of subsistence among a potatoe-fed people in any given year, is but a superfluity waste, which does not afford the smallest security against a famine on the ensuing. Every other species of staple food can be held over; and, there fore, for this, as well as other reasons, it should be one of the prime objects of all those, whose ability and wishes to promote the interests of the people go hand in hand, to ameliorate their style of living, and render them somewhat less dependent upon the fluctuating comforts of the potatoe system.
The last forty or fifty years, so fertile in great events, claim also the credit, as far as it can be so termed, of extending and generalizing the use of the potatoe. Previous to this period, that voracious article of subsistence, which in several places, like Aaron's rod, has swallowed all the rest, enjoyed but a limited share of popular preference. I can myself remember a time when numerous little country mills were at work, of which only the vestiges now remain, and when oaten bread was the general food of the people in spring and summer. On days of public work, such as sand-drawing and turf-cutting, &c., when labourers were fed by their employer, potatoes were never thought on, the large table being plentifully furnished with fresh milk, and oaten cakes. It was, I think, the casual introduction of the species called the apple potatoe, remarkable for retaining its firmness and flavour through the entire year, which first induced the people, in an evil hour, to discontinue the use of oaten bread. Laziness probably contributed not a little to the substitution of a food requiring only simple boiling, for a better and stronger diet, attended with more labour of preparation. But the abridgement of labour which laziness procures, only serves to nurse the growth of an evil habit. The time
expended in that exercise of culinary art, which gives additional nourishment as well as variety to the homely meal, is far from being lost, and may rather be considered as supplying a stimulus to useful exertion. Perhaps, indeed, the falling off may be in a great measure ascribed to the evil system of middle-landlordship, and land-jobbing, which then began extensively to prevail, and by raising the rent of land to an inordinate degree, left, I am afraid, in too many places, to the laborious occupier, little more than the bare potatoe. Of one thing there can be no doubt, that the farmers then lived much better than they do now. In-' habitants were comparatively few, and consequently farms, of which the rents were very low, comparatively large. To the extraordinarily rapid increase of population, may certainly be ascribed a large portion of that pauperism, to which other causes were also contributory.
I can never reflect on the prodigious augmentation, of the lower orders more especially, which has taken place within my own memory, without wonder and astonishment. I shall not venture to calculate the ratio of this increase, satisfying myself with observing that it far exceeds the usual standard of human multiplication, under the most favourable circumstances, short of actual importation; and that too in the very despite of wars, rebellions, scarcities, and emigrations. Poverty, in other countries, irreconcilably inimical to matrimonial connection, here promotes it, pauperism begetting pauperism as fast as Shylock's usurious ducats begot others. Another singularity observable here is that the inhabitants of the country appear to multiply more rapidly than those of the towns, (though these too are in a state of progressive increase,) one cause of which is the want of those extensive manufactories that require the local union of many hands, and thus lighten the burden of rural population. Increase of numbers always accompanies the rising prosperity of a town, and is regarded as one of its unequivocal symptoms; but after a country has once attained a sufficient number of cultivators, to the skilful execution of whose art great numbers are by no means necessary, augmentation of families becomes a serious encumbrance on the land, and a certain forerunner of idleness and pauperism. The only