Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII: IRISH IMPOLICY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter VII: IRISH IMPOLICY. - 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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The friendship between these gentlemen proved of no little advantage to their neighbours when an occasion presently arose for their co-operation for the good of their parish.
_News reached Mr. Rosso's ears one day that a strange gentleman was on a visit at the house of a Protestant in the next parish, who had a field or two in the glen, just advertised for sale. It was immediately conjectured that the gentleman came as a purchaser of this land; but it was not till it had been repeatedly surveyed and measured that any gossip could ascertain what he meant to do with it. In due time, however, it transpired that the stranger was a builder, and that he was making his estimates for erecting a church.
Mr. Rosso's measures were immediately taken. He sent to the proper quarters memorials of the facts that he and his household, consisting of fifteen persons, were the only Protestants in the parish; that they stood in no need of a church, that of the neighbouring parish being nearer their dwelling than the field on which the new one was proposed to be erected; and that ecclesiastical burdens already weighed so heavily on a miserably poor population, that it would be absolute ruin to many to tax them further. Moreover, Mr. Rosso sent a pressing invitation to Mr. Orme, the incumbent, to take up his abode with him for a week. Mr. Orme had not appeared in his parish for some years; and there was hope that what he might now see would influence him to avert the dreadful infliction of a church where there were no church-goers. Mr. Tracey prepared Father Glenny for friendly intercourse with his heretic brother pastor; and all parties agreed that, if Mr. Orme should prove the reasonable and kind-hearted man he was reported to be, a further appeal should be made to him on the subject of his tithes.
Mr. Orme came, and, before he went to rest the first night, was convinced by ocular demonstration that his host's dining-room could conveniently contain the entire Protestant population of the parish. The next morning, he was seen standing with the priest on the ridge which overlooked the glen, and heard to sigh over its aspect of desolation.
“Whereabouts would you have your church erected?” quietly asked Father Glenny.
“Indeed, I know little more than you,” replied the clergyman. “I have not been consulted upon the matter in regular form, and had no idea it had gone so far. I fear it is a job, sir.”
“The architect happens to have his hands empty of contracts at present, perhaps,” observed the priest: “and the owner of the field may hope to gain a higher price for his land through the agency of your church than direct from our poor neighbours. But look round you, and find out, if you can, where the parish is to obtain means to answer such a call upon its resources.”
“It is indeed a different place from what I once remember it, though it had never much wealth to boast of. When I occasionally lodged here, it was in farmhouses where there was good food and sufficient clothing, and sometimes a pretty dower for the daughters on their marriage day. I see no such places now. These hovels are but the ruins of them.”
“Too true; and we preserve but the ruins of some of our former practices. Dowries are rare among the brides of this parish. Our old folks are less hopeful, our young ones less patient than formerly; and marriages are therefore rashly entered into without a provision of any kind.”
“I am sorry, very sorry for it, sir. There is more benefit than is at once apparent in the long preparation of the marriage provision. I have heard much ridicule of the old Scotch practice of accumulating a stock of linen for bed and board, which could scarcely be consumed in a lifetime; but there was much good in it. Besides the benefit to the parties concerned,—the industry and forethought it obliged them to exercise, and the resources it put in their power,—the custom proved an important check upon population. Young people had to wait two or three years before they married; and where this was universally the case, it was thought no hardship. Those who thus began their married life were never known to become paupers. But, sir, from the aspect of this place, I should imagine your entire flock to be paupers, except a tenant or two yonder.”
“The land is exhausted, Mr. Orme, and the people are therefore poverty-stricken and reckless. There is little encouragement to prudence while there are superiors to keep a rapacious hand in every man's pocket, and appropriate whatever he may chance to gain beyond that which will support life. We know such to be the results in Turkey, Mr. Orme, and in other seats of despotic government, and why not here?”
“Whom do you point at as these superiors?” inquired Mr. Orme. “Not either of the landlords, surely. And you are free, moreover, from the locust-like devastation of the poor-law system.”
“True: but what pauperism leaves, the middlemen consume; and what the middlemen leaves, the tithe-proctor consumes. Yonder field, sir, has been let out of tillage because the tithe devoured the profits. That row of hovels is deserted because your proctor seized all that rendered them habitable. Their inmates are gone where they may live by plunder, since the law of this district is to plunder or be plundered.”
“Plundered!” exclaimed Mr. Orme. “That is a somewhat harsh term, sir.”
“Is it an unjust one, Mr. Orme?—that is the question. What do these poor people gain in return for the portion of their earnings wrenched from them in the form of tithes? What does the Protestant church do for these Catholic tithe-payers?”
Mr. Orme could only reply that the Protestant church was established for the good of the people at large; and that it was the people's own fault if they would not take advantage of the ministrations of its clergy. He was ready, for one, to do duty as soon as his flock would listen to him; and, in the meanwhile, he conceived that he was causing no wrong to any man by receiving the means of subsistence decreed him by law. He would not defend the mode of payment by tithe in any country, or under any circumstances. He saw its evils as an impediment to improvements in agriculture, and as an unequal tax, falling the most heavily on the most industrious cultivator; but while payment by tithe was the method appointed by law, he could not allow that its exaction deserved the name of plunder.”
“With or without law,” observed Father Glenny, “it appears to me plunder to force payment for offered services, which are not only declined but regarded with dislike or contempt: in which light we know the services of the Protestant clergy are justly or unjustly regarded by our Catholic population. If you, sir, were a pastor in the Vaudois, and your flock under the dominion of some Catholic power, could you see one deprived of his only blanket, and another of his last loaf of bread, and a third of his sole portion of his field-crop, for the maintenance of a elergy whom they never saw, and not call it plunder, let the law stand as it might? And could you acknowledge your people to be justly charged with disaffection if they looked with an unfriendly eye on the priestly agent of this robbery, and muttered deep curses against his employer?”
No answer being returned, the priest invited his companion into certain of the dwellings near.
“To be looked on with an unfriendly eye?” asked Mr. Orme, smiling bitterly. “To be greeted width deep curses?”
“By no means, sir. I question whether an individual whom we shall meet will know the pastor of his parish. If you keep your own counsel, you may see things as they are. If you have courage, you may hear by what means your 400l. a year has been levied.”
“I will; on condition that you will allow me to speak as plainly to you on your relation to the people as you have spoken on mine. Will you bear with my rebukes in your turn?”
“I will,” replied the priest, “when I have finished my say. Do you conceive it just and merciful to Ireland that she should support four archbishoprics, and eighteen bishoprics, the total number of her Protestants being smaller than in certain single dioceses in England?”
“Certainly not. I have long advocated a reduction of our establishment. I would go so far as to make the four arehbishopries maintain the whole, which would strike off at once 100,000/. a-year from the revenues of the church. I would go farther, sir; and this will, I hope, prove to you that I am not one of the locusttribe to which you would assign me. I would commute the tithes for lands, in order to avoid the individual oppression of which the people complain.”
Father Glenny observed that he did not wonder the plan of commutation was rising into favour now that it was found impossible to collect tithes in the old method: but the nation might be found as impracticable respecting one mode of paying tithes as another; and he wished to know what was to be done in case of its declining the commutation proposed.
“The plan must be enforced,” replied Mr. Orme; “and, moreover, the arrears must be recovered by the strong arm of the law.”
“Whence can they be obtained?” asked Father Glenny. “How are you to compel the cottier who consumes his scanty crop, season by season, to pay the collected tithe-dues of several? I say nothing of the danger to yourselves and your families,—danger to life and property, —of enforcing your claim. I say nothing now of the violence which must attend upon such an effort. I merely ask whence the arrears are to be obtained in an impoverished country?”
“They must be converted into a government debt. By this means, the nation will learn the real disposition of the government towards its own ecclesiastical servants and those who refuse them their lawful rights. By this means, the consent of my brethren at large to a commutation of tithes will be most easily obtained. Yes; the arrears of tithe must be converted into a government debt.”
“By this means,” replied the priest, “the burden will be imposed where it is not due. Our cottiers cannot pay; and you would therefore have their richer neighbours discharge their arrears:—a vicarious obligation of a new kind!— No! this will scarcely be tolerated, believe me. You will carry neither of your points;—neither the payment of arrears nor commutation; the people having discovered a method of evading the payment entirely. Better waive your claim altogether, Mr. Orme, while there is yet time to do it with a good grace, or you will have the same trouble about tithe cattle that multitudes of your brethren have. You will pound them in vain; attempt in vain to sell them; carry them over the sea in vain; and find too late all you have gained is the name of oppressor.”
Mr. Orme muttered that it was a very hard case.
“Who can help it?” inquired the priest. “If the subsistence-fund was not, ample enough to afford tithes when due, in a poor district like this, how should it discharge an accumulation of debt? Here we have many more people, very little more capital, less industry, less forethought than when the debt was contracted. All the constituents of the subsistence-fund have become more or less debased, and yet you would tax it more heavily than ever. You must fail in your object, sir.”
“I will learn the truth for myself, instead of taking the assertion of any man whatever,” replied Mr. Orme, moving onwards towards a cluster of dwellings, into which he was introduced as a friend by the priest, and not therefore suspected of being the clergyman of the parish. All that he heard told the same tale; all that he saw confirmed it. The new church was spoken of in terms of execration, in which the parson and the proctor largely shared. One woman told how the wealthy churchman was living far away from his cure, subsisting his dogs on the food snatched from her children's mouths; and another showed where her son lay buried, having been smitten with fever in consequence of his useless over-toil to satisfy the demands of the rapacious agents of the law. Others pointed with moody mirth to their desolated dwellings, as affording a sign that the legal spoilers were not far off. Others observed that there would be few conversions to the Protestant faith in the parish, while the clergy snatched the loaves and fishes from the multitude instead of bestowing them. Yet more exhibited their uncomplaining poverty in their looks and dress rather than by words; and only gazed round their little tenements in perplexity at the mention of the dues that must be paid.
Mr. Orme had hitherto been a prejudiced man on the subject of his own rights; but he was open to conviction, and at length roused to ascertain the truth of his own case. He spent the whole of this day and the next in rendering himself acquainted with the condition of the people, and used no reserve with Father Glenny respecting the impression made upon his mind. Towards the conclusion of his investigation, he stopped short, and ended a long pause by exclaiming,
“I do not see how it is to be done! Setting aside all considerations of law and justice, I do not see the possibility of obtaining my dues from these poor people.”
“Nor I, Mr. Orme. What follows this conviction in your mind?”
“I scarcely know yet, further than that I shall give up my claim altogether, if, after a little consideration, I view the matter as I do now.”
“Then you will prove, as I expected, a faithful servant of your church; more heedful to her honour and usefulness than to your own peculiar gain.”
“Reserve your praise, I advise you, sir, till you have heard me out. By giving up my claim altogether, I mean only while the people are in their present state. When the subsistence-fund improves, when industry and forethought thrive, the people will be again in a condition to pay tithe, and will perhaps,” he added, smiling, “be my own flock, in allegiance as well as by destination, if Mr. Rosso and you continue your care of the school.”
“I will try the venture with you,” replied the priest, smiling also. “Let our respective faith be tried by the increasing light of the people. It this is also your wish, you will dispossess my flock of the prejudices they entertain against your church on account of her oppressions.”
“This reminds me,” said Mr. Orme, “of what I have to say against your relations with your flock. How do you defend your own emoluments while you complain of mine?”
Father Glenny, astonished, began to explain that he derived from his flock little more than would barely supply his wants. A hard couch, a frugal board, homely clothing, left him but a pittance with which to relieve the most pressing distress he encountered.
“Of all this I am aware,” replied Mr. Orme. “In these respects your lot resembles that of too many faithful servants of our church, who give their most strenuous exertions for a very poor worldly return. What I now complain of is not the amount of your recompense, but the mode in which it is levied. How can you in one hour lament those evils of the people's state which arise from the disproportion of their numbers to their means of subsistence, and in the next, consent to receive your emoluments in a way which exposes you to the charge of encouraging an increase of numbers?”
“The charge is false,” replied the priest. “My brethren and I do not make marriages, though we celebrate them with a view to the glory of God and the fulfilment of his holy commandment. We arc supposed to know nothing of an intended marriage till requested to solemnize it; and to refuse to discharge our office, with all the customs appertaining to it, would be to encourage sin.”
“I lay no charge to the door of any one man among you,” replied Mr. Orme. “I only observe that by receiving your emoluments chiefly in the shape of marriage fees, you expose yourselves to the suspicion of encouraging marriage; a suspicion which is much strengthened by your emphatic approbation of such connexions as often as you solemnize them, and by your known tremendous power over the minds of your flocks, obtained through the practice of confession. Hear me out, my good sir. I am not about to enter upon any controversy respecting the diversities in our discharge of the clerical office. I would only recommend to you, if you wish to place yourselves above the suspicion I have alluded to, to separate your worldly interest altogether from this particular rite. Appoint any other way you may choose of receiving your dues; but if you really believe your people to be prone to from imprudent marriages, if you are actually convinced that over-population is a principal cause of their distresses, remove from yourselves all temptation to connive at imprudent marriages and to sanction over-population: remove from the minds of your people all idea that they are gratifying and rewarding you by asking you to marry them; cancel every relation between the wedding propensities of the young and the welfare of their priest's purse,”
“I agree with you,” replied the priest, “that there is much that is objectionable in the modes in which we each receive our emoluments. You condemn tithes, and I condemn marriage fees, given as they are given now by the guests as well as the parties. The fee thus exposes us to the temptation and suspicion you speak of, without having the beneficial effect of obliging the young couple to save before they marry, like the Scotch ancient custom respecting house linen. It is for the state to remedy this evil by providing otherwise for us.”
Mr. Orme thought this was jumping to a conclusion in a terrible hurry. Why should not the same amount be given in a more judicious manner by the flock, instead of involving government at all in the matter? This point was argued till both gentlemen decided that the only method by which the permanent prosperity of the people could be secured was the general diffusion of such knowledge as would make them judges of their own condition and controllers of their own destinies. The Protestant and Catholic perfectly agreed that to further the grand object of education, it was worth while to concede certain points which elsewhere each would have strenuously insisted on; and that, should an impartial plan of general education be framed by government, it would be the duty, and would probably appear to be the disposition of all but a small minority of the factious and bigoted, to render hearty thanks for the boon, and all possible assistance towards the efficient working of the scheme.
“If this should be done speedily,” observed the Protestant, “I may live to be called hither to receive my dues in recompense of the services which I would fain render now, if the people would but receive them.”
“If this be done speedily,” observed the Catholic, “my brethren and I may live to see ourselves and our flocks no longer looked down upon by our scornful neighbours of your church as constituting a degraded caste. The law has at length emancipated us from our civil disabilities: it remains for education to lift us out of that worse and equally undeserved degradation whence the law cannot raise us up.”
The result of Mr. Orme's survey of his parish, — made known after long deliberation on his part, much consultation with Mr. Rosso, and intimate intercourse with the people,—was, that he relinquished altogether his claim for tithes for the present, on the ground that it was impossible for the people to pay them.
All the endeavours of Father Glenny and his enlightened neighbours to make the people grateful for this concession were in vain. When they heard of the changes made by Mr. Orme's family in their way of living, of the luxuries they surrendered, and the frugality they were obliged to exercise, the only remark was that these things had been fraudulently enjoyed thus long, as the nominal reward of services which had never been rendered. When reminded that the remission was an act of free grace on Mr. Orme's part, they replied “Thank him for nothing. He would never have got another pound of tithe in this parish, as he probably knows. He gives up only what he could not touch.”
When he rode away, ready to bestow kind looks on every side, he only met dubious smiles from those who gazed after him from field mid cabin, and who observed to one another that it was a great blessing to have one priest for a guide, but rather too much to have another and a strange one on their backs. To wish him well away was the utmost extent of their courtesy.
From another quarter, however, Mr. Orme had thanks. The three gentlemen whom he left behind considered themselves beholden to him for the absence of the tumultuous excitement which elsewhere attended the useless endeavour to exact tithes. This parish was saved all opposition of forces between the “loyal” and the “disaffected;” that is, between the oppressors and the oppressed. There was no need to cry out for the Insurrection Act on the one hand, or to threaten or perpetrate mischief on the other. The architect was seen no more. The field which he had surveyed bore oats instead of a church,— a happy circumstance; since the people were much in want of food for the body, while they had enough of that for the spirit, and of the kind which they preferred, in Mr. Tracey's chapel.