Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter II.: IRISH LIABILITIES. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter II.: IRISH LIABILITIES. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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Dan Mahony being fairly out of the way, Dora's parents agreed to her earnest request, countenanced by Father Glenny, that she might leave school, and try to earn somewhat wherewith to help the rent. Dora now sat at her spinning-wheel almost the whole day; and her mother doing the same, a respectable addition was made by them to the few shillings Sullivan had been able to muster. The next was a fine potato season moreover, and Sullivan reasonably reckoned on being able to sell a considerable portion of the produce of his land, and thus preventing any addition to the arrears already due, even if he could not discharge some part of them. The gentle Dora now smiled, instead of sighing, when her father asked where was the good of “troubling the brain at all at all about what was to come, when the good and the bad was hid entirely;” and answered only by a kiss, when he inquired for any good that had come out of the hitherto grave looks of his “darlin ‘o’ the world.”
The rent for the year was made up just in time by the sale of only one pig; and Mr. Teale was surprised, and looked as if he did not know whether or not to be pleased, when the sum was forthcoming. He congratulated Sullivan on having got a solvent partner in Blayney's place, and on Dan Mahony having sent his father the means of paying his share; so that Sullivan was free from all encumbrance but that for which he had given his note of hand. Dora's heart leaped within her, while she listened to the facts, and to her father's fervent blessing on her lover, whose heart was evidently still at home, wherever his feet might be wandering. She did not know,– for her father had actually forgotten to tell her, —that the tithe was not yet paid, nor had been for two years; the tithe-proctor having accommodated him by taking his note-of-hand for the amount, and for various incidental charges. Bitterly did Dora afterwards grieve that she had been for a while spared this additional anxiety.
The next time she returned from confession, it was with a light heart and a tripping step approaching to a dance. Father Glenny had readily absolved her from the sins of mistrusting heaven in regard of her father's rent, and mistrusting a holy and solemn oath in regard of Dan Mahony, having, in dark hours, been tempted to doubt his remembering the Glen of the Echoes, and all that was in it; which was a great sin, inasmuch as Dan bad vowed a solemn vow, which heaven would guard, to look upon himself as a banished wanderer, till she should, face to face, release him from the oath. Father Glenny not only gave her absolution, and taught her how to keep the tempter at a distance next time, by repeating the oath, and recalling the circumstances under which it was made, but spoke well of Dan, and seemed to think the sooner all doubts were laid, by their being made man and wife, the better.
Dora immediately began to obey his directions by recalling, during her walk home, the minutest circumstances connected with the vow. She could just discern, at the highest point of the rugged mountain-road, the big stone under which they knelt when she was obliged to leave him to pursue his way alone: she could mark the very spot where she had given him the “Poesy of prayers,” and where they had exchanged their crucifixes, and called six very choice saints to witness the vow. While gazing in this direction, shading her eyes from the setting sun, she perceived men driving two cows up this very road, sometimes pulling the poor creatures by a noose over the obstructions in their way, and sometimes lifting them up as fast as they fell. Dora's lightness of heart was gone in a moment. From the circumstance of there being several men to take charge of two cows, she was convinced that the cattle had been distrained from some tenant in the Glen; and she had a misgiving that they might be her own father's.
When she came within sight of home, she did not know what to make of the appearance of things. The cows were not visible; but they were apt to disappear among the ditches, or behind the cabin. Her father gave tokens of merriment; but with rather more activity than was natural to him. He was throwing stones and bits of turf at the pigs in the ditches, so as to make them run hither and thither, and singing, to drown their squeaking, in the following strain:—
This song, as soon as the words were distinguishable, told a pretty plain story, and the occupation of Dora's mother told a yet plainer. She was breaking up the milk-pails to feed the fire; and, in answer to the girl's remonstrance, demanded what was the use of vexing their sight with what would be tempting them to thirst, and putting them in mind to curse the “scruff of the earth” that had robbed them of their kine? But could not the cattle be got back again?—Lord save her! when did she ever know Mr. Teale give up anything he had clutched? Mr. Teale! he who had just been paid? Even so. He was behind-hand with his dues, like the people he scorned beneath his feet; and instead of seizing his ear, horses, or the luxuries of his house, the man who was over him distrained upon the poor tenants, who had already paid their rents; while Teale looked on, amused to see the Sullivans and others compelled to pay rent twice over, while he escaped. The people having, in former cases, discovered that this monstrous grievance is not known in England, had, for some time, come to the conclusion that England is favoured by Government, while there is no justice to be had in Ireland; not being aware that the law is the same in both countries, and that the exemption from this fatal liability which English cultivators enjoy, is owing to the rarity of the practice of subletting in their island.
It soon appeared that Teale was disappointed in the amount of the levy upon his tenants, since the same men returned early in the morning to take what else they could get, by virtue of the note-of-hand. The crop, just ready for gathering in, was dug up and carted away, a small provision only being left for the immediate wants of the family. The fowls and pigs disappeared at the same time; and to all the hubbub which disturbed the morning hours, the deep curses of Sullivan, the angry screams of his wife, the cackling of the alarmed poultry, the squealing of the pigs, and the creaking of the crazy cars, there succeeded a hush, which was only interrupted by the whirring of Dora's wheel. She had taken to her spinning, partly to conceal her tears, partly to drown thoughts which would otherwise have almost distracted her.
The ominous quiet of the cabin did not last long. Sullivan was sitting, so as to block up the doorway, with his back against the mudwall; he was chewing a straw, and looking out vacantly upon his trampled field, when his wife started up from her seat beside the fire-place, where the pot of cold potatoes was hanging over an extinguished fire. She greeted him with a tremendous kick.
“Get out o' that, you cratur!” cried she. “I'm thinking there's room and a plenty beyond there, let alone the styes with not a soul of a pig in them. Get out with ye!”
“Give over, honey, or it will be the worse for ye,” said Sullivan. “It's my own place where I'm lying entirely, and the prospect beyond is not so pleasing to the eye as it was, honey: that's all.”
“The more's the reason you should be bestirring yourself, like me, to hide what's left us in the bog.”
“What do you mean, if your soul is not gone astray?” inquired the husband.
“Work, work! if you'd save a gun, or a bed, or a bottle of spirits from the proctor. Into the bog with 'em, if you wouldn't have him down upon you, hearing, as he will, how little is left to pay the tithe. Leave off, I tell you,” she shouted to poor Dora; “whisht, and give over with your whirring and whirring, that wearies the ears of me. Leave off, or by this and that, l'll make you sorry.”
Dora did her best to understand the evil to be apprehended, and to guard against it. She roused her father from his posture of affected case, sought out a hiding-place among the rushes in a waste tract, where they might stow their household goods, and helped to strip the dwelling as actively as if they had been about to remove to a better abode. While her father and she were laden with the chest which contained her mother's bridal provision of bed-linen, which had thus far been preserved from forfeiture, a clapping of hands behind them made them turn and observe a sign that enemies were at hand.
“By the powers, here, they come,” cried her father. “Work, work, for the bare life, my jewel. In with it, and its back we'd be going with as innocent faces as if we'd been gathering rushes. Here, pull your lap full.”
Dora could not at first tell whether their movements had been observed.
“God save you, kindly, Mr. Shehan,” said Sullivan to the proctor. “Its just in time you'd be come to see the new way of thatching we have got, and these gentlemen to take a lesson, may be. Dora, my jewel, throw down the rushes and get some more out of hand.”
“One of my gentlemen shall go with her,” said Shehan. “There are things among the rushes sometimes, Sullivan, that fill a house as well as thatch it.”
Dora invited any of the gentlemen to help her, and led the way to a rush bank, in an opposite direction; but, declining to follow her lead, they entered the house, and laughed, when they found it completely empty.
“You're grown mightily afraid of the sky, Sullivan,” observed Shehan, “since you'd be after mending your thatch, sooner than getting a bed to lie on, to say nothing of a bit and sup, which I don't see you have to be boasting of.”
All Sullivan's good reasons why he should suddenly mend his thatch with rushes that lay “convaynient” went for nothing with the proctor, who had caught a glimpse of the stratagem. The claim for tithes, arrears, and fees was urged, certain ominous-looking papers produced, and no money being forthcoming, the goods were found and carried off, even down to Dora's wheel, with the flax upon it. The proctor gave no heed to the despair of the destitute tenants, but rather congratulated himself on having heard of the former seizures in time to appropriate what remained.
Of those whom he had left behind, the father lay down once more in the doorway, declaring himself nigh hand brokenhearted, and melancholy entirely; his wife went about to interest the neighbours in their wrongs; and Dora kneeled at her prayers in the darkest comer of the cabin. After a time, when the twilight began to thicken, her father, started up in great agitation, and dared somebody outside to come in and see what he could find for rent, or tithes, or tolls, or tax of any kind. His creditors might come swarming as thick as boys going to a fair, but they would find nothing, thanks to the proctor: unless they carried him off bodily, they might go as they came, and he would try whose head was the hardest before it came to that. Dora perceived that her father was in too great a passion to listen to one who seemed not to be a creditor; and she went to the door to interpose. More quick-sighted than her father, she .instantly saw, through the dim light, that it was Dan; and not even waiting for the assurance of his voice, threw herself on his neck, while he almost stifled her with caresses.
“Dan, are you come back true? Just speak that word.”
“True as the saints to the blessed, darling of my heart.”
“Then God is merciful to send you now, for we want true friends to raise us up, stricken as we are to the bare ground.”
“Bare ground, indeed,” cried Dan, entering and looking for a resting-place, on which to deposit the sobbing and clinging Dora. “They have used you basely, my heart's life, but trust to me to make it up in your own way to each of you. You trust me, Dora, don't you, as the priest gave leave?”
Dora silently intimated her trust in her lover's faith, which it had never entered her head to doubt—love having thus far been entirely unconnected in her mind with thoughts of the world's gear. She wept on his shoulder, leaving it to her father to tell the story of their troubles, and only looked up when she heard her mother's voice approaching, to ask, with great simplicity. what they were to do next?
“To be married in the morning, if father Glenny was at hand, and consenting,” her lover replied. He had two guineas in his pocket for the fees; and then they would be all on a footing, (as he had no more money,) and must help one another to justice and prosperity as well as they could. Sullivan interposed a few prudent objections, but soon gave up when he found his little Dora was against him. The fact was, that her filial duty, religion, and love, all plied her at once in favour of an immediate marriage. She had always had a firm faith that Dan could achieve anything he pleased; a faith which was much confirmed by his having paid his father's rent, and saved, moreover, enough for his marriage fees. It appeared to her that Providence had sent this able helper in the time of her parents' need, aud that it was not for her to prevent his lifting them out of poverty as speedily as might be.
Dan told them that there was to be a letting of land in the neighbourhood, the next day; and that if he made sure in time of having Dora for his cabin-keeper, he would bid for an acre or two, and did not doubt to do as well in the world as his father before him. Of all this, Dora's mother, on her return, seemed to have no more doubt than the rest of the party; and she immediately dismissed all her cares, except the regret that she could not walk so far as to see her daughter married. Dan was now requested to name his hour for departure in the morning, and to go home to his father, who had had but a hasty glimpse of him on his return. He busied himself in obtaining some clean dry straw and a rush candle for his poverty-stricken friends, overwhelmed Dora with caresses, and ran home.
Dora had little imagined, two hours before, with what a light heart she should lie, this night, on the cold floor of their bare cabin. To have Dan to lean upon was everything. She could not admit any further fear for the future. They had only to begin the world again, that was all; and with the advantage, too, of Dan's experience and skill in getting money; which it did not occur to her, might be of no avail, where no money could be got, or where it passed immediately into the hands of one tyrannical claimant or another. This ease from apprehension formed the substratum of her happy thoughts of this night; and it was her filial piety, only, which made the matter of so much importance to her. For herself, it was enough that Dan was her own. She had not a wish beyond what would be bestowed by the priest's office and blessing, which she hoped so soon to have obtained.
Father Glenny, though at first surprised at being called on to perform the marriage ceremony so early in the morning, and before so few witnesses, and mortified on behalf of the young folks, that the customary revelry and sanction of numbers must be dispensed with in their case, had nothing to say against the proceeding. Having ascertained that the friends of both parties approved he went on to exhort the young couple to remember that they were now in the act of fulfilling a divine command, and to trust for the blessing of God on their union accordingly. He then performed the ceremony and dismissed them: the bridegroom having taken care, as a point of honour, that the priest should not lose much in respect of fees, the amount being tendered by the parties instead of collected from an assemblage of guests. Father Glenny did not refuse the offering. He was unwilling to wound the feelings of the offerers: he was not aware of the extent of their poverty; and, moreover, considered the fees his due, even more than a Protestant clergyman would have done in a similar instance,—the remuneration of the Catholic clergy in Ireland being principally derived from marriage fees.
The pressure of the times obliged the proceedings of the whole party to be more businesslike than is at all usual on the day of an Irish wedding. The bridegroom stayed but to give his Dora into her mother's arms, and then set off, accompanied by Sullivan, for the place where two or three lots of ground were to be let by auction, or, as the phrase goes, by cant.
They were just in time to take a survey of the lots before bidding. There was small choice of advantages; for the preceding tenants, knowing that they need not hope for a renewal, and that the mode of letting by cant would, in all probability, turn them out of the place, had exhausted the land to the utmost for the last two or three years. This measure not only gave them as much as they could obtain for the time, but afforded a chance of getting the lot back again on cheaper terms. The excessive competition which is usual on such occasions, however, made this last hope a very doubtful one. The only thing that was certain beforehand was, that the affair would prove a very bad bargain to all parties:—to the landlord, because his land was nearly ruined, and little rent would, therefore, be paid, however much was promised; to the successful bidder, because he would be unable to fulfil his absurd promises about the rent, and be therefore liable to driving, distraint, or ejectment; and to the unsuccessful bidders, because they had come a great way, full of hopes and visions of being able to settle on the land, and must return destitute as they came, and disappointed.
A crowd surrounded the man of power, as soon as he appeared on the ground. Many an offering had he had that morning of dutiful service, of overstrained civility, or of something more substantial, from those who could afford it, with the hope of inclining him to favour their particular bid. The most diversified claims to a preference were whispered into his ear, or exhibited before his eyes, wherever he went. One had picked up the landlord's heir, when thrown by his pony into a bog in childhood; another had had the honour of lodging the agent, one stormy night, among the mountains. One limped ostentatiously before Mr. Flanagan, to remind him that the lameness happened from one of the landlord's fences having fallen upon him, while dozing beneath its shelter; another, a feeble old man, pleaded a yet unfulfilled promise of a Mr. Tracey who had been in his grave nearly thirty years.
Mr. Flanagan took no further notice of all this than to bid the people get out of his way. From many a clutch did he disengage his skirts; on many a petition, savoured with a scent of potheen, did he turn his back; many a venerable blue topcoat, and gray cloak, did he elbow from his side, before he could proceed to business. When once begun, it required an eye as practised, and an ear as inured, as his, to distinguish that any business was proceeding, amidst the hubbub of voices, the shoving, jostling, and scrambling, which took place while the bidding went on. The confusion fairly baffled some lookers on, who stopped their horses on the outskirts of the crowd to observe the scene. Mr. Alexander Rosso, just from college, his brother Henry, and a foreign gentleman, a college friend of the former, were taking their morning ride, surrounded by their dogs, when it occurred to Alexander, that this was the occasion on which to exhibit to his friend the resemblance between the Irish and his countrymen. He was scarcely aware that the occasion on which the people were assembled was similar to that which often collects the Italian peasantry in groups, to contend with equal vehemence for slips of land, which they hold on the same terms. The Irish cottier is of the same class with the metayer of Italy; and middlemen are, with few exceptions, alike all the world over: they are what it is natural to expect men to be under circumstances of strong temptation to oppression and of absolute impunity.
The Italian gentleman, after gazing with fixed attention, and an amused expression of countenance, for some minutes, used an expressive gesture, to intimate that he could make nothing of it.
“The first lot is disposed of, Henry, is it not?” asked Alexander. “That half-naked, capering fellow bid highest, I think.”
“Yes,” replied Henry; “and he looks as if he had just had the mines of Peru given him.”
“He!” exclaimed the foreigner, in astonishment. “And how will he pay?”
“No one will pay all,” replied Henry, laughing. “The agent can only weigh probabilities; and if he happens to know that that poor fellow has a little coin hidden somewhere, to help him on for a year or two, he will stop at his bidding as the highest.”
“But why stop? Is it not the people's part to stop?”
“We might wait long enough for that,” replied Alexander. “They will bid against each other till midnight. They will offer a hundred per annum per acre rather than lose their chance of getting the land. Our people are very rich in promises.”
“And how much has the ragged man promised?”
“Flanagan!” shouted Henry, above the din, which sank to silence in a moment, “how much has your first lot brought you?”
“Nine pounds per acre, Sir, and yonder stands the tenant.”
The successful bidder, came forward, smiling and scraping, not a whit ashamed of the bare knees which had burst through what had once been breeches, or of the tatters which were bound about his person, in various directions, by hayropes, there being no other way of keeping them together.
“Ask him,” urged the eager foreigner, “ask him where his pounds are to come from, and why he wishes to be a farmer.”
“There is most likely a lady in the case,” observed Henry; and then turning to the man, he inquired whether he had not done a very daring thing in engaging to pay so high a yearly sum?
“God save your honour kindly, the mother is turned out of her own, beyond there; and its a cabin I'm wishing to give her, old creature as she is, and a bite and sup with me.”
“And is there nobody else, friend, likely to be your cabin-keeper?”
The man's countenance fell, and he replied that there was to have been one last Shrovetide, but that she was forcibly carried off, and married to another man, before he could overtake her. Henry turned the subject hastily, shocked at his own curiosity, which had led to such a disclosure. He asked the man whether he could honestly say that he had a week's provision beforehand for his mother and himself? The tenant laughed and pointed to his new ground, saying that they might glean potatoes enough among the ridges, after the digging, to keep them for a few days till they could look about them a bit. His mother moreover had a cow, and a slip of a pig. He ended by bewitchingly asking for the “blissen” on his enterprise. The foreigner was amused to observe that in Ireland a blessing comes out of the pocket instead of the mouth; not that the verbal blessing is absolutely worthless; but it is considered merely as an accessory to something more substantial.
The process of giving the blessing quickened the bidding, as it was feared the gentlemen might leave the ground before the next successful candidate was ready to pay his smiling service. The lot was awarded to Dan, who, after tossing up his hat, advanced towards the horsemen, followed by his father-in-law. They observed to one another that he looked better qualified than his predecessor to pay rent, his dress being decent, and his manner betokening more forethought and experience.
“Have you an old mother to find a shelter for, too?” inquired Alexander.
“There's the mother and the father too that's to the fore,” replied Dan, turning to introduce Sullivan.
“And the darling too that's been his wife almost since the sun rose,” added Sullivan. “Dan has had the priest's blessing this morn, and sure your honours' won't be long in following?”
“I would have married in the evening, Dan, if I had been you,” said Henry. “The land first, and then the girl, is the prudent way, you know. How would you have managed, if you had had the girl without the land?”
Dan could not pretend to guess what Providence's other way of providing for him and Dora would have been; the actual case was as much as any man had to do with. This reasoning put him in the actual case of receiving a large blessing from the foreigner, who then rode off with his companions, notwithstanding the vehement prayers of the crowd that they would stay till the third and last lot was disposed of. They had neither time nor further blessing to spare this day. They did not, however, escape by turning their backs. The third new tenant was posted in the middle of their road homewards, and on their approach, extended his arms, as if to embrace the three horses with their riders, praying for an infinity of blessings on their merciful an tender and bountiful hearts, and expressing his expectation that he should begin the world with a trifle from their honours, like Pat and Dan.
“See what you have done, Henry.,” said his brother. “We shall be expected to pay tribute, henceforward, to every new tenant, as often as a cant takes place within twenty miles.”
Henry set himself seriously to explain that their bounty of this day was purely accidental, and that none of the party meant to give again on a similar occasion. He would not dismiss the present applicant without a gift, since his companions had had one; but he gave him less than the others, in order to enforce what he had said. The man followed for some way, keeping close in their rear in hope of their relenting, and then retired to the road side, grumbling as if defrauded of a right.
“It is the most difficult thing in the world,” observed Henry, “to deal with these people; they have such strange notions of right. Every favour is immediately considered as a precedent to be for ever acted upon: every change in our methods of doing kindness is looked upon as caprice, and every suspension of a gratuity as an injury.”
“The same is the case in all regions,” observed the foreigner, “where the people have other dependence than on themselves. If it is remarkable in Ireland and in Italy, it is because the people of these unhappy countries have been long educated by political injury to servile dependence. It is for you to rectify their notions of right.”
“How must we do so?”
“You must make their little possessions secure, and also fortify their labours with the moral certainty of a due reward. While this is being done,—and it will be long in the doing,—you must vary your modes of charity perpetually, in testimony of its being optional: and O, above all things, save your poor from the blight of a legal charity! Save them from the delusion that they have a right, which, among a reckless people, would presently absorb all other rights, making cottiers of your middlemen, and beggars of your landlords, and converting this fertile region into a wilderness, which shall but echo the wild cry of famine.”