Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part the First (continued):: Ireland, Social, Political, and Religious. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Part the First (continued):: Ireland, Social, Political, and Religious. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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Part the First (continued):
Ireland, Social, Political, and Religious.
We have seen, in the preceding subsection, that one of the sources of revenue in the Anglican church of Ireland is the right to tithes. This right has been recently exchanged for a rent-charge, levied on all properties without distinction, and the mode of payment has undergone important changes; but it still preserves its original character, which is also its radical vice—it is a tax levied on Catholics and Dissenters, for the exclusive advantage of the Anglican church.1
It is easy to conceive all the angry passions that must be produced among the Irish Catholics by this obligation to pay for the support of the clergy of a hostile faith: it is a tribute whose payment implies a sort of homage to the receiver, and to the superiority of the creed that he teaches; a tribute which the Catholics formerly paid to their own church, the church of the country, but which they are now obliged to offer to the ministers of a faith introduced by strangers. How could the Irish Catholics pay with any cheerfulness this debt to such creditors, which is not only an onerous tax in itself, but which wounds their dignity, and indeed can scarcely be paid without some remorse of conscience? This impost not only offends the Catholics; it also wounds those who, though Protestants, follow a different ritual from that of the Established Church, and who are indignant at honouring and supporting a form of worship which is not their own.
Finally, tithes are unpopular amongst the lay members of the Anglican church itself,2 for in their eyes their own clergy are already sufficiently rich; and the payment of this tribute is deemed a heavy burden, which can only be sustained by raising the rent on their tenants, and thus augmenting their misery, and all the perils that such misery produces.
Need we be surprised if, in the midst of these almost unanimous sentiments of hostility to tithes, the Catholics, who are naturally the most hostile of all to this revenue of the Anglican church, refuse to pay it, and choose rather to submit to the legal consequences of their refusal, that is to say, to all the processes and expense of judicial enforcement, rather than, by voluntary payment, perform an act that disgusts and degrades them?
Need we be astonished that repeated demands on one side, and perseverance in refusal on the other, should lead to collisions which first produce lawsuits, then secret hatred, and finally open violence?
When a people suffers from several forms of oppression,—when a great mass of evil is accumulated amongst this people,—when the grievances that this people sustain from the government are infinitely multiplied,—it might seem that if the people revolted, it would be in the name of all its miseries, that it would collect all its grievances as a support for its insurrection, and attack not one cause, but all the causes of its sufferings. It is not thus, however, that nations are accustomed to proceed in their efforts for deliverance; however innumerable may be the evils by which a people is oppressed, we may be assured that every explosion of popular passion terminating in a revolt, will adopt one principal grievance as the summary of all their grievances, as the representative of all the popular sufferings, and as the rallying point of all the popular animosities. Such a banner of sedition is incessantly offered, and will long be offered, to the popular passions in Ireland, by the demand for tithe, and the resistance it provokes.
When once the spirit of resistance has seized on all, behold how it proceeds; on all sides meetings are convened, speeches made, and resolutions adopted; the refusal to pay tithes is decreed by the popular voice, nearly in the same words as the resolution adopted at a meeting in the Queen’s County in 1831. “Resolved, That the tithe system is peculiarly obnoxious to the people of this county, being compelled to support in luxury and idleness a class of men from whom they receive nothing but their marked contempt and hatred.”
Still, in despite of these hostile manifestations, the ministry of the Anglican church prepares to levy the tithes; it is the right of the clergy, the right must be enforced against all the debtors, but they unanimously refuse. The Anglican minister appeals to the law, at the same time that he claims the support of the public force. A process-server is sent to serve summonses on the recusants, and in order that he should not be impeded in the execution of his duty, he is escorted by twenty or thirty policemen in his perilous enterprise. This formality being accomplished, judgment is easily obtained against the defaulters. But they still refuse; they appeal against the sentence on some real or imaginary grounds; they plead, incur expense, gain time: the superior tribunal condemns them over again; still they do not obey, but continue to refuse payment. The Anglican minister, whose rights have been most solemnly sanctioned by law, sees that these rights will perish unless he has recourse to rigorous measures, and he resolves to employ them.
Preparations are made to seize the cattle of the debtor: they cannot be found; they have disappeared the preceding evening, and are concealed. Search is made for them—they are seized—a mob assembles, and beats off the distrainers. The police force is summoned; scarcely is it on the road, when signals are made from the mountains, rallying cries raised, horns blown, to announce to the population of the neighbourhood the arrival of the constabulary force. These sounds are repeated by a thousand echoes, the distant cabins are agitated, the whole county is in commotion, everybody knows his place of rendezvous—it is that of the projected seizure. Peasants crowd to it from all parts; they consult, they encourage, they mutually stimulate each other to resistance: the signal is given, the constables approach, they arrive. Universal hisses, followed by an ominous silence, receive them. Aided by this imposing force, the officers of justice at length seize their prey. But whilst they are making out the schedule of the distrained property, the popular passion is inflamed, the sufferers are pitied; the wretched families, the wife and children, cling to their means of support about to be taken away; it is loudly proclaimed that these rigours, these miseries, and this sorrow, are the work of a minister of the Protestant church, whose opulence is to be increased by the blood of the poor Catholics: cries of horror resound; indignation and anger increase; terrible murmurs are heard, the storm rapidly advances, announcing its approach by the formidable threatenings of popular vengeance. In an instant, the public officers are insulted, menaced, and assailed with blows. Then a Protestant minister, who is also a neighbouring justice of peace, appears, reads the Riot Act, and orders the police to fire on the people. He is obeyed. From this moment the fury of the people knows no bounds. This population, that was deemed humbled and crushed because it was deprived of its arms, finds on the earth it treads terrible weapons to overwhelm its enemies. Energy and despair supply the means of combat, and, after a short struggle, half of the policemen remain on the place slaughtered by stones; the rest effect a retreat, leaving the crowd intoxicated by its unexpected success and sanguinary victory.3
It sometimes happens that the judicial sentence does not encounter such obstacles in its execution; the seizure is effected, but he for whom it is made obtains no profit.
The property of the debtor being placed in the hands of justice, it must be sold for the benefit of the creditor. Now the difficulty is to find purchasers. An auction is held, but there are no bidders; woe to him that would venture to make an offer. Frightful menaces are placarded against those who purchase any goods that have been seized for tithes. These menaces need not be written; they are in the clamour of the multitudes that surround the auctioneer and the public officers; and, written or vociferated, these menaces will not be vain; terrible examples to the contrary are within the memory of all.
An armed force may easily protect the legal functionaries in the seizure; it may resist, conquer, and exterminate the rebels, though subject itself to cruel reprisals; but what it cannot do is to make the mute crowd round the auction break silence, or make a sale to those who refuse to purchase. Often, after many efforts, the distrained cattle and unsold goods are removed to the house of the Protestant minister, who keeps them until he obtains their price.
All sorts of expedients are employed to escape from this difficult conjuncture. Hoping that a sale might more easily be effected in a large city, the seat of government, the distrained chattels are sent to Dublin; but they are stopped on the road, tumultuous mobs assemble here and there, and soon in some struggle between the populace and the drivers, the latter are beaten, and forced to abandon their prey. Without abandoning this plan, other means are sometimes adopted for its execution. Every convoy of distrained goods is escorted by an armed escort from one police station to another. But when the seizure is offered for sale in Dublin, purchasers are not to be found, any more than in the rest of Ireland. It is like some pestiferous matter, whose contact everybody avoids; and whoever bids for it, is stigmatised with infamy; the newspapers publish his name, and popular hatred retains the remembrance. What then is to be done with these goods brought to Dublin, which cannot be sold? A last effort is made, they are transported across the Irish Channel, and, after a passage of a hundred and odd miles, they reach the port of Liverpool: but here their origin is quickly known; when they are offered for sale, no Englishman will sully himself by the purchase; no one will offer a price which will go to pay Irish tithes.4
Let us acknowledge that, when public passion is exalted to this point, and is so unanimous in rejecting a legal right, this right may continue to exist, but its exercise is impossible. Rigour, violence, judicial decrees, distraints, sanguinary collisions between the army and the people,—all these means will be unprofitable and powerless. Much blood will be shed, but it will be utterly wasted; neither tithes nor their price will be paid. And what is still more remarkable is, that the power of the Irish people is not in open rebellion, but in passive resistance. The Irish insurgents of 1831 sometimes committed violent and sanguinary acts; there were riots against the police; Protestant ministers were murdered, and their properties burned; other cruel acts of vengeance were committed; but these isolated outrages, like those of the Whiteboys, produced no political effect. That which rendered the force of the revolt irresistible was its cold and calculating nature, its passive character, the universal agreement of an entire people to render the exercise of an iniquitous right impossible by the simple expedient of refusing to recognise it.
Often, in such extreme cases, the Protestant parson, daunted by these obstacles, abandoned his right. Sometimes he clung to it more closely, but then he encountered invincible difficulties; every step was impeded, everything around him hostile. As perils followed in his train, he soon found none to aid him in his suit; neither attorneys, lawyers, nor witnesses: the magistrates, at first friendly, grew lukewarm, and began to abandon him; all were repugnant to severities which did not attain their object, and were perilous to themselves. The ground was taken from under his feet. Then, inspired by his interests and the sanctity of his unacknowledged right, he turned to the government, his last and highest refuge. “During the last year,” he said, “I have not received a penny of the five hundred pounds due to me for tithes. My wife and children, like myself, have fallen into distress. I have been obliged to sell my carriage and horses.” He then bitterly accused fortune, society, justice, his friends themselves. The ordinary magistrates, if he was to be believed, were insufficient; stipendiary magistrates were wanting; the public force was too weak; the police fought faintly; the army was unwilling to interfere; it was necessary to re-organise the yeomanry, and create a militia specially designed to act against the people. That is to say, it was modestly proposed that, in order to aid ten or twelve hundred Protestant parsons in levying tithes on six millions and a half of Catholics, and six hundred thousand dissenters, the army of Ireland should be increased by forty or fifty thousand men! Such demands could not be satisfied, and they were therefore disregarded. The Anglican clergy of Ireland were then heard to declare that government betrayed the cause of the church, and that the English constitution was in danger. They proclaimed that society itself was attacked at its foundation; for what is a state in which law is disobeyed and property violated? Is not tithe as much the property of the minister as rent of the landlord? Does not the law command the payment of one as well as of the other? The church is accustomed as much as possible to mingle its cause with that of the laity, and to confound its rights with those of the community. “You refuse,” said the clerical body, “the tithes to the minister, which are his right; how then will you complain if your tenant refuses to pay his rent?”
Assuredly this open resistance to law is a sad course of instruction for any people. But who, in the presence of the legal tyranny which we have described, will venture to maintain that a legal right is always just, and that every resistance to the law is criminal resistance? Who will contend that a nation, after having endured an enormous iniquity for centuries, has not a right to cast off the burthen? What is the use of discussing principles when the facts have invincible sway, and when rebellion itself bears the manifest character of morality and justice?
Is it not a sad and solemn spectacle, that of an entire people crushed by the double burthen of a social misery that knows no bounds, and a religious oppression that exceeds belief; driven by the excess of its physical sufferings to a continuity of individual outrages; and propelled by passion into an inevitable circle of general and periodic revolts; incessantly borne down by the yoke of the aristocracy and that of the church,—by the exactions of the one, and the persecutions of the other?
When a stranger sees this emulation between the aristocracy and the church, rivals in tyranny, he asks which of the two excites most hatred in Ireland, and cannot determine whether the aristocracy is the more injurious to the church, or the church the more fatal to the aristocracy.
Sometimes disputes arise between the clergy and the rich, on which it would be difficult to come to a decision. “The church,” say the landlords, “would be less odious to the people, if all ecclesiastical sinecures, which exhaust the resources of the country, were suppressed.” “The rich should be forced to reside on their estates,” say the clergy; “there would then be at least one Protestant family in every parish, and the office of an Anglican minister would be no longer a sinecure.” . . . . “All the misery of the people,” say the aristocracy, “arises from the cupidity of the clergy.” . . . . “No,” replies the church, “it results from the selfishness of the landlords.”5
We may conceive an evil aristocracy whose vices would be corrected by a charitable and generous church. It is, moreover, possible to comprehend the existence of a church defective and full of abuses, but which, by its union with a good aristocracy, might still appear beneficial. But what must be the situation of these two bodies amongst the people, when there is a rivalry between them which shall produce the most misery, and when each of them, hated for itself, is still more hated on account of the other?6
SOME REMARKS ON THE NORTH OF IRELAND.
In the preceding chapters I have confined myself to general facts and principles, without taking any note of the exceptions; but I must now observe, that what is true of Ireland, taken as a whole, may appear inexact, if only an isolated portion of the country is considered. Let us cite an example.
In speaking of the Irish aristocracy, its nature and its vices, I have not distinguished between that of the south and that of the north. Still, if a person reflects on the elements of which each is composed, it is easy to understand that one cannot be in all points similar to the other.
I have said elsewhere that the population, which in the south is almost exclusively Catholic, is in the north pretty equally divided between Protestant and Catholic. In the north, as in the south, the landlords are Protestant; but with this difference, the Protestant landlord in the south has under him a poor Protestant population; in the north, the landlord is in contact with inferiors, half of whom are Catholics, and the other half Protestants. The result is easily seen. As there is a moiety of the population with which the landlords have a community of religion, this part of the poor population suffers less in its relations with the rich, and endures less tyranny on the part of its governors. On one side, the landlords do not attempt to impose so severe a yoke; and if they did, their inferiors would probably not endure it, for they are the more enlightened and the more powerful. The rich Protestants of the north have also a motive to be less oppressive than those of the south; that is, their division into two sects, the one Anglican, the other Presbyterian. Now the same reason that induces rival sects to display a zeal for proselytism, is the cause that the rich man belonging to the Established Church, and he who professes the Presbyterian creed, endeavours, each in his sphere, to show himself a better landlord to his tenants, a more uncorrupt magistrate, and more impartial to those who appeal to his justice; and it may be remarked, that this favourable disposition towards Protestant brethren indirectly reaches the portion of the inhabitants that are Catholic; for they could not be witnesses of the progress made in the condition of the Protestants, without labouring to effect the same advancement for themselves. And it is more difficult for a Protestant to show himself rigid and merciless towards poor Catholics, at the very moment that he treats poor Protestants with humanity. This is sufficient to explain why Ulster is more rich and prosperous than the other provinces of Ireland. It contains fewer paupers, the inhabitants are better clothed, their food is of a superior quality, and the ground is better cultivated. It is true that the north is enriched by manufacturing industry; but we shall soon see that it is to the superiority of its social state that it is indebted for its industrial prosperity.
Besides, the north of Ireland is not quite so prosperous as always to have escaped the social miseries described in the preceding pages. It was disturbed by the Oakboys in 1764, and the Steelboys in 1772, whose insurrections were occasioned by precisely the same causes as those of the peasants in the south, and fully proved that the tyranny of Irish landlords is not confined to the south and west. “All the actors in this insurrection,” says the biographer of Lord Charlemont, “were Protestants, either of the Established Church or Dissenters.” But, after these violent insurrections, the social condition of the north was modified. As the oppressed were less unfortunate, they became less cruel in their vengeance, less fierce, because they were more civilised. “A revolt of slaves,” says Lord Charlemont, “is always more sanguinary than an insurrection of freemen.” But also these men, whose revolts were less cruel than those of the southern insurgents, took up arms for weaker causes than those which impelled the others to violence; being more enlightened, and less miserable, they suffered as much from a minor evil.
Purely social insurrections have long ceased in the north of Ireland; they have become purely political; and this may be easily understood. We have seen what in Ulster constantly operates to diminish social oppression, and what in the south, on the contrary, tends to increase it; but a portion of the causes that produce these effects must, in the north, favour the growth of political passions and dissensions: in the south and west, the war is principally between the rich and the poor; in the north, it is especially between Catholics and Protestants: in the south, the Catholics are in such majority, that the Protestants can only struggle against them by legal texts; in the north, the parties are so equally divided, that each dispute may lead to an open engagement of brute force. The war is agrarian in the south, religious in the north. Thus outrages connected with the occupation of ground, or the vengeance of a tenant against his landlord, are far less frequent in the north than in the south; but in the north we more often find the assassination of a Protestant by a Catholic on account of his religion, false witnesses inspired only by religion, hatred, and the violence of parties. Before the tribunals of the north there is perhaps a greater display of passions between Catholics and Protestants than in the south; but at bottom the law is less hated, justice less odious, the judge less detested, because there are always great numbers who can love and respect both the judge and the law.
We can now understand the exceptional condition of the north of Ireland, where there is more political than social misery; whereas, in the rest of Ireland, there is more social misery than political.
GENERAL CONSEQUENCES FROM WHAT HAS PRECEDED.—CHARACTER OF THE IRISHMAN—EXPLANATION OF ITS FAULTS.
The misgovernment to which Ireland has been subjected not only gives the key to its miseries, it explains, besides, the moral character of its inhabitants.
There exists in our days a school of philosophers which seems disposed to apply to nations the phrenological system which they employ to judge of individuals. Personifying all nations, and taking their skulls in their hands, they say to one, “The shape of your cranium indicates the passions that presage grandeur;” to another, “Nature has made you religious;” to a third, “You have been created for philosophy;”—“You have the organ of liberty,”—“You, the organ of servitude.” And when they have thus felt the heads of all nations, attributed to one the genius of war, to another that of commerce, when they have proclaimed a third to aristocracy, and a fourth to democracy, they stop short, almost terrified at their prophetic power, for they believe that they have announced to nations the solemn decrees of inflexible destiny.
It is in England especially that I have heard these theories professed; and I am not astonished at it; for the English, who are a great people, have the most singular pride of birth that ever existed; they readily believe that the happiness and power of a people depend more upon its nature than its institutions; like those heroes who place more confidence in their destiny than in their valour.
I have never spoken to Englishmen of Ireland and its miseries without almost immediately hearing this objection: “Ireland complains of being poor—but what is to be done? Labour alone gives wealth; and the natural laziness of the Irish is an invincible obstacle to his labour, and consequently to the termination of his misfortunes. We shall never see industry prosper in Ireland. England is accused of keeping Ireland under the yoke: what a senseless complaint! The fickle character of the Irish must ever prevent them from possessing free institutions. Unfit for liberty, could they meet a more fortunate lot than to fall under the empire of a more civilised nation, which shares with them its glory and its greatness? The Irish, subjected to the English, submit to the law of nature: they are an inferior race.”
This language always appeared to me the result of prejudice or injustice. I readily admit that there exist among nations marked differences of character and manners. I do not dispute that every people is endowed with certain peculiar inclinations, and certain faculties, which collectively give it a peculiar physiognomy in the midst of other nations. I grant without difficulty that the Irishman and Englishman have very opposite characters, not only in their actions, but in their opinions and habits of thought. Let us take, for example, the most prominent trait in the English character,—that firmness of soul which presides over all its enterprises, that unalterable perseverance in overcoming obstacles, that steadiness which never abandons the task till it is completed. Assuredly we find nothing like this in the Irishman. He seems, on the contrary, naturally fickle and inconstant, ready to pass from despair to hope, from exertion to despondency. Full of ardour, imagination, and spirit, he wants entirely that consistency which predominates with the Englishman, and supplies the place of those qualities in which he is deficient. All that can be done at once, and by sudden effort, the Irishman will execute better than anybody else, because no one is more enthusiastic than he is; he rushes to encounter an obstacle without measuring the difficulties; but if he fails in the first attempt, he turns back and renounces the enterprise. It is assuredly difficult to find two nations subject to the influence of more opposite dispositions; and I am tempted to believe that there is something in the hereditary character of the one race which leads to boldness of enterprie, whilst the disposition of the other is, from its very origin, more cold and less expansive.
But still, may not what we attribute to descent arise from some other cause? Even if this opposition of inclinations actually arose from diversity of race, what inference should we deduce from it? Ought we to conclude that the Englishman will never cease to be steady and persevering, and that the Irishman will always continue enthusiastic and fickle? Perhaps it is with nations as with individuals; the latter derive from nature diverse propensities, whose influence cannot be denied, but which, nevertheless, may be so powerfully combated by means of education, according as it is directed to good or evil, that the man naturally vicious may be rendered virtuous, and that the best natural inclinations may be depraved. Thus, after having demonstrated that any certain evil disposition is peculiar to a nation, it is further necessary, before pronouncing an anathema, to prove that this evil inclination might not be checked by some contrary influence. And when different faculties have been recognised in two nations, who is to decide which of these faculties gives the one a moral superiority over the other? Are the qualities of the head and heart to be weighed in a balance?
To deny the vices of the Irish people would be assuredly to contradict all evidence. The Irishman is lazy, mendacious, intemperate, prompt to acts of violence. He has notoriously a sort of invincible aversion to truth. If it is necessary to make a disinterested choice between truth and falsehood, he will tell the lie. Thus, he scarcely makes an assertion without supporting it by an oath; he accompanies every statement with “upon my honour,” “upon my word,”—phrases familiar to those who habitually violate truth.
His repugnance to work is no less singular; he performs generally without pleasure, care, or zeal, whatever he undertakes to execute, and for the most part he is idle. Many miserable Irishmen add much to their misery by their indolence; a little industry and a little activity are alone wanting to alleviate their distress; but nothing can withdraw them from their apathy and carelessness; they seem contented with the mere display of their wretchedness, and to be almost insensible of their wants.
These are deplorable vices, but still more terrible remain. Violent and vindictive, the Irishman displays the most ferocious cruelty in his acts of vengeance. We have seen how the Irish tenant, who has been ejected from his farm, or whose stock has been seized for non-payment of rent, is led by revenge to reprisals tainted with the most atrocious barbarity. The punishments which he invents in his savage fury cannot be contemplated without horror.1 Sometimes incendiarism and assassination are not sufficient; he inflicts lingering tortures on his victim.2 He is often as unjust as he is cruel in his rage, and wreaks vengeance for the wrongs he has suffered on persons totally innocent.3 He not only attacks the landlord or the clergyman on account of the harshness for which they alone are responsible, but his violence extends to the agent of the proprietor, to the new tenant, to the minister’s proctor; he sometimes goes further, and carries off the wives and daughters of individuals, to punish husbands and fathers who are not themselves culpable.
These vices, these crimes,—I know them; I see them amongst the Irish, and I do not find them amongst the English. Whence come these vices and crimes? From birth? NO! I reject as a monstrous impiety the doctrine which makes vice and crime depend on birth or nature. I never can believe that a nation has been predestined by the fatality of its origin to vice, and linked by its nature with crime. I never will be persuaded that God, who made man in his own image, and fashioned him in his own likeness, has created a people deprived of the power of becoming just and honest. I will never admit that he has refused moral liberty to this people; that is to say, that, in giving it life, he has deprived it of the conditions of virtue. Such an enormous injustice should be so irrefragably demonstrated, as not to be less certain than the existence of Deity, before I could believe it. But why should I admit it when it rests on no proof? Through what strange disposition should I attribute to the presumed injustice of Heaven an evil, of which I can clearly discover the causes upon earth?
Those who explain the immorality of the Irish by an original and hereditary taint, forget that during seven centuries this nation has been subjected to the most constant and the most merciless tyranny. We see every day the man possessing the greatest strength, and endowed with the highest moral energy, degrade himself, and fall into absolute physical weakness, under the influence of a few years of the rule of misery and corruption; and yet it seems we do not comprehend that six hundred years of hereditary slavery, physical suffering, and moral oppression, must have deteriorated a nation, vitiated its blood, and tainted its habits. Ireland has been subjected to the yoke of despotism; Ireland must of necessity have been demoralised; the despotism was long, the demoralisation must be immense. You are astonished to find the morals of slaves amongst the descendants of a people that has endured six centuries of slavery: for my part, I should be much more surprised to meet the habits and dignity of a freeman in him who has never known any rule save that of servitude. When I see a nation that has had the misfortune to fall beneath the yoke, and remain in subjection, I do not inquire what vices it has, but I ask what vices it has not, and what virtues it can have.
Consider attentively the character of the Irishman, analyse his virtues and his vices, and you will soon recognise that every one of his dispositions, good or bad, is directly derived from the state of Irish society since the Conquest, and that this social state has either originated his inclinations, or at least given them direction and development. Taking this as your starting-point, you will not be astonished, on comparing Ireland with England, to find them so dissimilar.
The fickleness that is sometimes remarked in the habits of a nation, is sometimes the result of misery; and such a nation, though now unstable and frivolous, only wants to acquire wealth and freedom in order to become grave and steady. I know not whether the seriousness of the English belongs more to their institutions or their race. There is neither a nation nor an individual so devoted to pleasure as that one of them which does not work; the Englishman spends little time in amusement, because he is engrossed by business. He has his rights and liberties to defend, whilst, at the same time, he has the wealth of the world to conquer. Would the character of the Englishman be the same, if he were deprived of his political privileges and the empire of the sea? I question it. I readily believe that under his cloudy skies he would never feel those soft sensations of languor, those invitations to repose and effeminacy, produced by the bright sun of Naples. But if it be true that the humid atmosphere in which he lives excites him more to action than the clear skies of Italy would, must we not acknowledge that his dispositions favourable to toil, produced by his stern climate, might be combated by political institutions which, instead of seconding his industrial inclinations, would restrain them?
See how his character is modified, despite of his race, according as he is subjected to different influences. Who in the cold, calculating, steady Scotchman of the present day, could recognise the poetical child of Caledonia, haughty, undisciplined, a rebel to all authority, descending from his mountains at the summons of his bards and his minstrels? Who in the midst of American democracy can recognise the Englishman, a friend to aristocracy? The Englishman in England wishes for liberty above all things; in America his darling object is equality. Who in the indolent planter of Carolina or Louisiana can recognise the Englishman unwearied in industrial toil? Look at France in the present day; do you deem that the character of its inhabitants is the same as it was before 1789? Whence do these differences of habit arise, unless from the difference of laws and institutions?
If you do not lose sight of this dominion of institutions over the morals of nations, you will no longer be astonished that the English people labour, and that the Irish people do not. We find in the ancient chronicles of Ireland that steadiness at work was once one of the distinctive traits of the Irish people, of whom instability is now the principal character.4 Is it not natural that the spirit of industry should be prevalent in a society where the profits of toil, secured by law, have always been a fruitless source of honour and comfort, sometimes of power and glory? And, for the same reason, is it not a logical consequence, that a nation in which industry has never been honoured, rewarded, or free, should be lazy and idle?
During centuries Ireland was declared incapacitated from becoming rich; positive laws bound her to poverty. What inclination, then, could be felt for labour from which no property could be derived?
Stripped of the rights of property, the Irish were dispersed over the soil, and condemned to till the ground for the profit of their masters. They obeyed the necessity—they did toil; but, like all slaves, they conceived an invincible hatred and disgust for labour; the Irishman hates his task, as every man does who works without pay.
Such sentiments, the natural offspring of evil institutions, cannot disappear on the very day that better laws are established. Whatever you may do now, you cannot produce the deep instincts of property, nor the consequent love of exertion, amongst men who fifty years ago could neither purchase land, nor possess a horse worth more than five pounds.5
If the misery of the Irishman belongs not to his race, we may say the same of all the consequences which this misery has produced. Thus, this deplorable negligence, this absolute want of steadiness and care, perceptible in everything that he does, this recklessness, this total absence of self-respect, are the direct effects of his social condition. He feels that he counts for nothing in society, and that there are no means by which he may become somebody. If he wishes for work, he cannot obtain it without great difficulty; if any is offered, it is wretchedly remunerated; there is no order or arrangement in his mode of life, because all his means of existence are uncertain. He never attempts to look beyond the present moment, because his foresight enables him only to see evil in the future prospect. The question is not for him to choose between an unfortunate existence, the result of his indolence, and a comfortable life procured by his industry; he is sure to remain miserable; the only doubt is, whether he shall be more or less so: now this misery is so great, that the advantage of diminishing it by a degree is not worth the trouble necessary for his success. “We are so poor!” is the reply of the Irish peasants, when they are reproached with increasing their6 misery by neglect; and they continue in the filth that chokes their hovels, without the slightest wish to keep them clean.7
Irish intemperance and love of whisky, one of the most deplorable of the national vices, arise from the same source.8 As he believes it impossible ever to establish any durable accordance between his income and his expenses, he dissipates without scruple the moderate wages of his temporary employment.—Scarcely has he received his wages, when he runs to the whisky-shop, and, for some moments at least, drowns his misery in drunkenness and brutalization.
Thus, by the very condition of the people, all the vices usually produced by extreme misery are naturally explained. Thus also the secondary vices, which are the usual accompaniments of those I have mentioned, may also be explained; thus, the Irishman, precisely because he does nothing, boasts and blusters; as he has a master, he is a flatterer, and full of insolence when he is not cringing. These vices, indeed, add to his misery, but they were first derived from it. From the same source that his other pernicious inclinations flow, is derived that sad habit of falsehood, and that frightful predisposition to the most cruel and the most iniquitous outrages.
There is no need of a very deep study of the character and habits of the Irish people to discover that they are often deficient in the most simple notions of good and evil, of right and wrong.
In the midst of the terrible catastrophes of which this country has been the theatre since the twelfth century, in the tumult of the awful revolutions which have transferred the property of the soil into the hands of all parties in their turn, led to the triumph of the most opposite political principles, elevated temples and altars for the most varied forms of worship; there has been formed amongst the Irish the most strange medley of ideas and opinions in morals, religion, and politics? Ascend to the origin of the tyranny, and what will you see?—men robbed of their property by confiscation, and reduced to the condition of labourers. Is this primitive act of violence one likely to confirm a people in the feelings of rectitude and justice?
Why has this spoliation been committed? Why were the estates confiscated from the original possessors? Because the owners adhered firmly to their religious faith, and preferred the loss of property to the abandonment of their creed. Is it a moral instruction to witness the injury of the upright man, whose probity entails his ruin, and to see this ruin profit a violent and sacrilegious usurper?
This lucky usurper, attached by no sympathy to the Irish, whose race he abhors and whose creed he contemns, treats them with merciless severity; after having robbed them, forbids them to become rich; absolutely closes political society against them, hampers them in civil society, establishes a regular system of religious persecution, and thus organises the most anti-social system that ever existed. Can any one find lessons of justice in this frightful oppression, weighing for more than a century on unfortunate men, whose only crime was to be vanquished, and who suffered because they would not abandon their conscience to their victors as well as their country?
The principal and most cruel tyranny that Ireland has had to endure, was that brought upon it by its creed. Does any one suppose that a man will derive sound notions of rectitude and equity from a government which he sees proscribing the religion which, according to his faith, is the only true mode of adoring God;—when he sees his mode of worshipping his Creator, in his view the first of all duties, raised into a crime; or when he sees his priests, that is to say, the men he venerates as the representatives of God on earth, driven into banishment—when, to hear the last words and the adieus of these proscribed holy men, he is obliged to shroud himself in secrecy and mystery under the most terrible penalties? Thus, in order to practise what is honourable and lawful, it is sometimes necessary to hide from human eyes; these duties are crimes punished by human law. There exist just actions which the law calls crimes, but which are not crimes!—Behold notions of morality which you may be well assured will bear their fruit.
Still this cruel tyranny runs its course; it crushes the people incessantly; all support it with equal energy: at length some despond and embrace the only means to assuage their misfortunes and alleviate their sufferings; they take oaths that their conscience rejects, they become renegades, and at once enter on the possession of the rights and privileges of which they have been deprived. Thus, apostasy, the greatest of crimes in the sight of the Irish peasant, is recompensed by the law. Thus, as there exist virtues of which human law makes crimes, there are also crimes which men agree to call virtues. . . . A second rule of morality, which will doubtless greatly aid the Irish peasant to distinguish between right and wrong.
Troubled by all these contradictions, which pass the limits of his understanding; constantly seeing what he regards as justice, truth, and rectitude, falling under physical force; the Irishman takes the part of submission, and seizes on the only weapons which belongs to the feeble—cunning, falsehood, violence.
“Why,” said he, sometimes, “should I not slay the man who has caused my brother’s death? Why am I not master of the lands which my ancestors enjoyed? By what right does this man, who calls himself proprietor of an estate that ought to belong to me, eject me from the farm where I spin out a miserable existence?”—And sometimes a frightful act of violence is the conclusion of his reasoning.
But this violence is at once repressed by assemblies of his enemies that call themselves courts of justice, and where the organs of the law proclaim those deeds crimes, which a depraved conscience declares to be acts of substantial justice. Brought before the tribunal of his master, the accused generally defends himself by falsehood. His fellows are summoned to bear witness against him, they are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Will they observe the oath? No, without doubt. In this case, perjury is honourable, and telling truth would be infamous; they give false evidence in favour of a man oppressed like themselves, and their conscience testifies that they have acted right. This false evidence is, in its turn, declared a crime by those who derive their rules of morality from a different principle.
Sometimes a single individual opposes open resistance to the law; it is the powerless revolt of isolated misery: often several are associated in insurrection as they are united in wretchedness; it is not the vulgar war of a banditti against society which it still believes just,—it is a war waged against iniquitous laws, by men who think that they are so; it is the war of the Whiteboys. Finally, there are sometimes insurrections of the popular masses, as in 1641 and in 1798; then the ground itself quivers, and the entire social structure is shaken.
In every case, when the effort for freedom comes from one or from all, its moral effect, when it fails, is always of the same nature. Hence there is a terrible abyss for those minds which aspired to their own deliverance, and having made a vain effort, behold human justice in which they were ready to believe vanishing before their eyes; the chains of tyranny then fall with all their weight upon the people, as always happens when the slave who attempts to break his fetters falls again into the power of his master: this is the moment when the most fatal and depraving effect is produced upon the conscience; it is the hour that corruption chooses to penetrate the soul, and blight all that remains of virtue. Some who hitherto held out courageously against persecution and their interests, feel themselves falling; without doubt, they contracted many vices in this unequal contest, where it was necessary to oppose force with all the petty means that are at the disposal of weakness; but still, while resistance lasted, the moral sentiment of duty survived all the efforts of corruption. This struggle ended, no tie any longer bound the Irish renegade to what was just and honourable; his degradation was consummated.
This total depravity only reached a small number; but perhaps there was not one who, even whilst adhering to his religious creed, was not tainted by similar corruption. All lost the love of truth, because frankness and veracity brought down certain persecution on their heads; almost all contracted the habit of lying, because falsehood during a century was a legitimate and necessary weapon. They assumed habits of outrage and insurrection under the influence of a tyranny which drove them into open opposition to the law. Now do not complain, if you find amongst the Irish a general aversion to truth, and an absolute love of falsehood. Can the Irishman, gross and ignorant as you have made him, draw with any discretion in his mind the line between the cases in which conscience may pardon a lie, and those in which it cannot be justified? How is he to distinguish, amongst the crimes established by law, those which are not crimes and those which he should regard as such? How is he to distinguish among the virtues which his enemies honour, those that are real virtues from those dependent on convention and form?—Grant that he honestly attempts to make these distinctions, which are often so difficult, do you think, after the brutalisation he has undergone, that he will have the delicate tact to distinguish in the midst of all these incoherences, truth from falsehood, justice from iniquity? Be assured, that after some efforts he will fail in such an attempt; though intending to reform his vices, he will keep them; he will be sometimes just and honest, but he will never be certain of being so, for he will have lost the standard of justice and honesty. In a given particular case, he will be tempted to tell the truth; still in the midst of the uncertainties of his conscience, deprived of every moral guide, and open to the suggestions of interest, he will end by adopting the lie; he will lie because he will not be assured that in this particular instance falsehood is less lawful than in other cases, where he has no doubt that falsehood is permitted. He will, perhaps, hesitate to commit some particular murderous outrage; but he will banish remorse, if he feels the temptation, by representing to himself the analogy between the projected vengeance and other sanguinary acts of vengeance, which he has been accustomed to consider as lawful deeds.
In the uncertainty into which he is thrown by this confusion of principles, he also contracts certain habits of violence, and his mind carries into this violence a certain methodical arrangement which he afterwards applies in all cases. Who does not see in the brutal practices of the Whiteboys, in their principle of doing justice to themselves, in their system of intimidation, the source of the outrages recently committed in Ireland by the trades unions?9 A manufacturer takes four apprentices: “It is too much,” say the operatives employed in the trade, and whom the apprentices injure by their gratuitous labour; “if you do not turn off two of them, we will have your life:” and when the menace was despised, the crime was committed. Dublin, in the year 1837, was the theatre of a thousand atrocities of this nature, committed by wretches who looked upon violence as their only resource, and thus destroyed the industry of the country, by which alone they could hope to be supported.
It is thus that persecution and tyranny corrupt nations; cease then to attribute to degeneracy of race the moral degradation of a people depraved only by bad laws.
This depravity, moreover, is not confined to the man of pure Irish descent; it has corrupted all those subjected to its influence, whatever may have been their original descent. The complaints of England against the Irish are generally known, because that two or three centuries after the conquest the English settlers in Ireland had adopted the manners of the natives, and become more alien than the mere Irish (hibernis ipsis hiberniores). The reproach was addressed to those of English as well as those of Irish descent, on whom the despotism of England fell with equal weight: they were corrupt, because they were equally bowed down by tyranny.
Sir John Davis, whose testimony will not be rejected by the partial friends of England, estimated that in his time, about three centuries and a half after the conquest, there were already in Ireland more English settlers than natives, whence he inferred the absurdity of those who attributed the calamities of Ireland to inferiority of race.10 Let Ireland be carefully studied, and it will be seen that the misery and corruption of the people are everywhere spread in the same proportion as the tyranny which oppresses each district. Ulster is less unhappy and less vicious, because it has been less persecuted.
There is another common error in estimating the Irish character, which renders all just appreciation of it quite impossible. The Irishman is usually compared with the Englishman, his superior in rank and fortune, his political master, his religious enemy. This is a certain source of error. To estimate the morality of a man, he must be viewed in reference to his equals. On this account, in order to comprehend the morals of an Irishman, you must not merely examine him in his relations with the superior Protestant class, but still more in his conduct to the Catholics, poor like himself.
See now to what an extent this Irishman, crafty and cruel towards the rich, is sincere and faithful to the man of his own class.11 I have often heard the question asked, in all simplicity, how does it happen that the Irishman, often so treacherous and barbarous, exhibits on other occasions the most touching examples of humanity and charity?12 The answer is easy. He is inhuman to the enemies of his creed and race, and charitable to his brethren, humble and oppressed like himself. If you do not take this distinction as a guide to your observations, you will never comprehend the character of this people.
I have already said that in his blind vengeance the Irishman sometimes dishonours the wife or daughter of the person who incurs his resentment: it is, nevertheless, certain, that the Irish are remarkable for chastity;13 natural children are rare, adultery almost unknown. Whence arises this contradiction? Simply because the outrage is not dictated by lust, but is a means of vengeance employed against his enemies.
There is not, perhaps, one crime in Ireland which is not more or less tinged by the spirit and passions of party. Even the robberies that are committed partake of this character; even when dictated by cupidity, vengeance is never a stranger to their execution. Far different from the Spanish bandit, who, in the choice of victims, always prefers the traveller and stranger to whom he is unknown, the Irishman most readily attempts the life and property of those whom he knows. In no part of the world can a stranger travel with more safety than in Ireland.
From the foregoing, it appears that the Irishman is a complex character: he is composed of two distinct elements, which must be kept in view when his character is justly estimated; he is at once the man whom tyranny has endeavoured to corrupt during seven centuries, and whom, during the same period, religion has laboured to preserve pure.
All the faculties of his soul that despotism has touched are blighted; the wounds there are large and deep. All of this part of him is vice, whether it be cowardice, indolence, knavery, or cruelty; half of the Irishman is a slave.
But there are recesses where tyranny has vainly endeavoured to force an entrance, and which has thus remained free from every stain; they are the parts that hold his religious faith. Attacked in all his rights, he has yielded them to force, all save one, that of worshipping God according to his conscience; at the very moment when he yielded himself wholly to the tyranny of his masters, he reserved his soul, and thus kept an asylum for virtue. He did more than refuse submission. His conscience was roused, and maintained itself for centuries in a state of revolt. This rebellion of the slave is liberty itself; hence came persecution with all its miseries, but hence also sublime devotion and sacrifice, the source of all moral greatness and resignation, the eternal power of the feeble. Thus, religion has never deserted his soul, nor ceased to defend its sound parts against the enterprises of despotism. It is by the aid of religion that the Irishman, in the midst of the greatest oppression, has never ceased to be a freeman.
SUMMARY OF THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS.—ILLUSIONS OF THE IRISH ARISTOCRACY.
We have seen how a political cause and a religious principle have corrupted the aristocracy and its institutions in Ireland.
The Irish aristocracy, for the most part, does not govern at all, and when it governs, it governs badly. It wants the first condition necessary to the existence of a beneficent government, which is, to feel sympathy instead of contempt for its subjects. It is detested when absent; it is cursed when present; it possesses all the land in a country where the people have nothing but the land for their support, and immense revenues of which it never returns one farthing to the wretches from whom those revenues are raised. It possesses immense civil powers, and it makes such use of these powers, that neither government nor subjects recognise any proceeding but force, the one to impose the law, and the other to evade it. It has great religious privileges, which it has so strangely abused, that it has rendered its creed hateful among a thousand other objects of hate. Here are vices so great and enormous, that it may be said to possess nothing of aristocracy but the name.
But there is in this aristocracy something more surprising and extraordinary than its vices; I mean the delusions by which it imposes on itself, the faith that it has in the holiness of its rights and the legitimacy of its titles, the indignation which it displays when the least of its privileges is disputed.
I will grant, if they wish, that after the conquest of Ireland, there were great obstacles to the fusion of the English conquerors with the natives; I will concede, if required, that after the reformation, the English, having become Protestants, felt a legitimate repugnance to unite themselves closely with Irish Catholics; I will go further, and taking into account the genius of the age and of revolutions, I will concede that the Protestant conquerors laboured sincerely for the conversion of the Irish to Protestantism, and that they practised, from pure conscientious motives, a persecution which is often attributed to interest. These premises being established, I will easily give up the consequences. I will, without difficulty, acknowledge that the great English lord who possesses estates both in England and Ireland, ought to prefer a residence in England to one in Ireland. I will go still further, and concede that he who is a proprietor in poor Ireland only, is so near happy England that he is strongly tempted to dwell in it. I can readily conceive his abandoning Ireland, such as it is in our days, a prey to a thousand intestine commotions, and devoured by a thousand evils which he found in the land at his birth: I will also admit, that being far from his estate and his tenants, it must be difficult for him to know the sufferings which it is his duty to alleviate: nay, I will go so far as to concede, that the landlord who is kept at home in Ireland by mediocrity of fortune or any other cause, is less culpable in his oppression of a population that he despises and detests, in consequence of traditions received from his ancestors, than an oppressor would be who was exempt from these prejudices.
But what I cannot conceive is, that after two or three ages of useless persecutions to convert Ireland to the reformed faith, the Irish aristocracy does not clearly see that Ireland is destined to remain Catholic, and that persecution, exercised in vain, must have rooted in the hearts of the people the most profound hatred of their persecutors; further, what I cannot conceive is, that the great English or Irish landlord, who is merely a proprietor in Ireland, should pretend there to all the powers of aristocracy, should believe that he has a right to command his tenants to vote according to his pleasure, and when he sees them give an independent suffrage, should exclaim with profound grief, that the sacred bonds between landlord and tenant are broken;—it is impossible for me to comprehend how one man who does not reside on his estates, where he is wholly unknown,—or another who announces his presence only by rigour and exaction—the Irish justice of peace who resides habitually in London, but who comes on an occasional trip to sit on the bench of magistrates, and who, after having received his rents, will not depart without pronouncing sentence upon some Irish malefactors,—this justice of peace, whose decrees excite no feeling among the people but hatred and indignation, whose incapacity is so great that he could not administer the law without the aid of the central power, and whose authority is so feeble that without British artillery he would not be obeyed,—this minister of the Anglican church, to whom the poor pay taxes, and from whom the poor receive nothing,—who has come to Ireland as a missionary, and is nothing more than an annuitant, and who, finding himself surrounded in Ireland by hatred and peril, goes to expend the five or six hundred a year derived from his Irish benefice at Bath or Cheltenham,—it is, I say, impossible for me to conceive how such persons, proprietors, magistrates, or clergymen, who do nothing for the people, should claim the privileges of an actually governing aristocracy—should, after having abandoned the people to themselves, be surprised to see them ignorant and famishing—should, after having treated the peasants as slaves, be astonished to find them vile and degraded,—and, after having been the voluntary or involuntary cause of these evils, should wonder at being hated. What passes my powers of understanding is, that, after having degraded their country to a degree of wretchedness unknown to any other people, at a time when England surpassed in prosperity all the nations of the world, these lords of the soil are indignant, because they do not enjoy in Ireland the popularity which the aristocracy possesses in England,—that, deprived of all conditions of existence, this nominal aristocracy should declare itself legitimate, regard its rights as sacred, and its titles as inviolable; should rigorously claim the honour and respect with difficulty obtained by an enlightened, just, and beneficent aristocracy, and should raise the cry of impiety when the least of its privileges is attacked.
I am mistaken: these passions of the Irish aristocracy ought not to surprise me—they are natural;—does not he who is born a proprietor of slaves believe in the sanctity of slavery?
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[2.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[3.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[4.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[5.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[6.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[1.]See Historical Introduction respecting Whiteboys.
[2.]See Historical Introduction respecting Whiteboys.
[3.]The new tenant, not the landlord, is the usual object of Whiteboy vengeance.
[4.]See Sir John Davis’s Inquiry.
[5.]See Historical Introduction—Penal laws.
[6.]The translator has often been thus answered.
[7.]A perceptible improvement has recently taken place.
[8.]Temperance societies are now patronised by many of the Catholic priests.
[9.]See the last Parliamentary Report on Combinations.
[10.]“Inquiry into the causes why Ireland was imperfectly conquered.”
[11.]The charity of the poor Irish to each other is without a parallel.
[12.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[13.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]