Front Page Titles (by Subject) 338.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 8 DEC., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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338.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 8 DEC., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
Mill here comments on yet another waste-land reclamation scheme, that advanced by William Smith O’Brien (1803-64), Protestant Irish nationalist and M.P. for Limerick since 1835, in “The Landed Proprietors of Ireland. Letter III. Drainage and Reclamation of Lands,” Morning Chronicle, 7 Dec., p. 7, from which Mill’s quotations are taken. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A twenty eighth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 8th December 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 64).
in a letter to the landed proprietors of Ireland, which we extracted in Monday’s paper, Mr. Smith O’Brien has at length entered at large upon the subject of waste lands and peasant proprietors. We are glad to be able to say that his opinions and propositions on the subject are just and rational, and we congratulate the good cause on having acquired, in his person, another and no contemptible champion in Parliament.
There are points in Mr. O’Brien’s letter which would afford food for criticism if we were disposed at the present moment to indulge in it. In the double capacity of Irish landlord and Irish Repealer, he gives way to some vagaries of sentiment for which we shall not dispute his claim to be excused. He talks of the “ribald vituperation now daily poured forth against the landlords and people of this country by the most influential portion of the English press.” No one, that we know of, is vituperating the Irish people. Mr. Foster’s crotchets about the inferiority of the Celtic race are the last thing we have seen, in any influential journal, which even prejudice could select to hang that imputation upon.1 The landlords indeed have lately been receiving part of their deserts, and high time was it that they should, when they were stretching out their hands as “importunate mendicants” (we thank Mr. O’Brien for the word), expecting that as usual the alms designed for the peasantry would be dispensed to them, and this time by millions instead of thousands of pounds, and, as far as the uninitiated could perceive, with as much probability as ever of having their expectation realised. It was altogether natural that the “most influential portion” of the English journals, whatever other measures they recommended, should protest with one voice against so scandalous an abuse. England will grudge nothing for the relief of the Irish peasantry; she grudges, and ought to grudge, everything to the landlords. Respecting the measures best adapted to raise the condition of the Irish people there are various opinions, but on this point we believe, on our side of the Channel, there is but one—that whatever is done shall be done for the people, and for the people directly, passing over the landlords.
We forgive Mr. O’Brien for asserting that Ireland (which in this case means the landlords) has a “national claim” to an indefinite drain on the resources of the empire for the relief of poverty which was caused or which might have been prevented by themselves. For while Mr. O’Brien pays this tribute to landlordism, he exhorts the landlords to find a better resource in emergency than this imaginary privilege. He bids them “approach the Legislature with the dignity of men who are themselves prepared to shrink from no sacrifices which can justly be exacted from them, rather than as supplicants endeavouring to wring from the relucant hand of a taskmaster some wretched pittance of eleemosynary relief.” We can pardon much false theory for such a practical corollary. He then says that the landlords have submitted to have imposed on them, by the Legislature, the burden of providing for the subsistence of those who are now suffering; and that, this duty having been accomplished, “we” (the landlords) “owe not only to ourselves, but also to every other class of our fellow-countrymen, the obligation of providing an immediate escape from the universal pauperism which the system at present in operation cannot fail ultimately to produce.” Rem acu tetigit:2 this is the very thing which required to be said. We hope that the landlords will listen to the friendly voice of a brother landlord, if that of the vituperative English press is too rough for them, and that they will avert the imminent danger of having the whole people converted into parish paupers, in the only way in which that danger can be repelled, by converting them into something better.
Mr. O’Brien’s remedial measures partly consist in things to be done by individual landlords on their estates, for which purpose he would have money advanced to them on terminable annuities by the Government; and partly in a general measure for reclaiming waste lands, and covering them with a peasant proprietary.
Allowing twenty acres to each farm, a million of acres would suffice for the creation of fifty thousand farms, which would give direct employment to as many families, and would indirectly afford a livelihood to nearly the same number. It is not too much to say that from 300,000 to 500,000 persons might be advantageously located upon the unreclaimed soil of Ireland.
Even fifty thousand families of peasant proprietors would be an invaluable element to introduce into the population of such a country, and would be a great draft from the overcrowded cottier tenantry. But twenty acres to each farm, except where the land is very bad, is an unnecessary allotment, and for the sake of accommodating a greater number we should generally be satisfied with ten.
“As there is no land absolutely vacant” (Mr. O’Brien continues), “some difficulty would arise in dealing with tenants at present in occupation, as well as with the proprietors.” Tenants of uncultivated land can have rented only the natural pasture, which is seldom of any material value, or else the right of cutting turf for fuel. Compensation for these rights would be as easily awarded to tenants as to landlords. “I am persuaded, however, that if legal facilities were afforded for the alienation of property of this description, and if liberal terms were offered by way of compensation, both to tenants and landlords, large tracts could be purchased on terms of voluntary sale.” Mr. O’Brien, however, supports the proposal for assuming a power of compulsory purchase. He takes a more sanguine view of the reception of this project by Irish landlords than the Dublin Evening Post,3 and we sincerely hope he will prove the truer prophet. He is “inclined to hope that little difficulty would be raised on the part of Irish proprietors. The substantial impediment to the proposal will be the reluctance of Parliament to apply to such an object the requisite amount of capital.”
On this last point Mr. O’Brien has something further to say, and so have we. “It is useless,” he says,
to mislead the public by fallacious calculations. I fear that we could not estimate the amount of money required to purchase the soil, to build houses, and to reclaim as much of the land as would be necessary in order to give subsistence to the settlers during the first year, at much less than £10 per acre. An Irish member who should propose to apply ten millions of money to the reclamation of land in Ireland, would be laughed to scorn in the British Legislature.
Now, in the first place, we believe that Mr. O’Brien considerably overrates the amount of advance which would be required. He probably contemplates the payment to the owners of the land of a much larger compensation than we should consider due to them for what they have never used, and are not able to use; and he includes in his estimate the expense of building houses, which, as we have said more than once, we would for all reasons, and not for reasons of expense merely, leave the settlers to do for themselves and in their own way.4 But if it did require ten millions, or much more than ten millions, we are convinced that Mr. O’Brien does injustice to England and the English Parliament in supposing that there would be the least difficulty to a Ministry in obtaining that sum, even if it were not, as it would be, a mere loan at interest, with good landed security for repayment in full within a small number of years. Let a well-concocted plan be laid before Parliament, and due provision made against misapplication of the money, and we question if there would be twenty English members who would vote against the plan when brought forward by a Ministry. Mr. O’Brien, not being “so weak as to believe that this operation will be undertaken as a benevolent project by our prudent neighbours,” suggests to the landlords, “If you consent to take all the risk of the experiment upon yourselves—if you will mortgage your estates, and pledge your county rates as a collateral security, it is possible that you will be permitted to make the experiment by means of a loan from the Imperial Treasury.” Our notion of what it is “weak to believe” differs little from that of Mr. O’Brien, and if the adoption of the plan rested upon the chance of their closing with this suggestion of his, we should indeed tremble for it. The English Parliament will hearken to Mr. O’Brien’s recommendations much sooner than, we fear, the Irish landlords will; and if he finds ten to join him in the chivalrous undertaking which he proposes, for the sake of those ten righteous men we could almost consent to be reconciled to the entire class.
[1 ]See No. 308 for Foster’s comments in The Times.
[2 ]Titus Maccius Plautus (ca. 255-184 ), Roman comic dramatist, Rudens; or, The Rope, V, ii, 19; in Plautus (Latin and English), trans. Paul Nixon, 5 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1916-38), Vol. IV, p. 420.
[3 ]E.g., in the leader of 1 Dec., 1846, cited in No. 337.
[4 ]See Nos. 316 and 321.