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The annals of Ireland present to the historian a melancholy field, and one which few historians have cared to cultivate. Compared with those of France or Scotland, they are wanting in brilliant figures and dramatic situations. They seldom cross the great central movements of European history, for the island has had but slight and transient relations with any Continental country, and has, until recent times, affected the course of events even in England only during a few short periods. Accordingly Irish history has been little studied out of Ireland. The time seems now to have come when Englishmen and Scotchmen feel the need of knowing more than they have hitherto cared to know of that Irish past which has produced a present so profoundly significant to themselves. But the fact that this quickened interest in Irish history is largely a political interest, born of passing events, makes the task of the historian more than usually difficult. He can hardly fail to be suspected of writing in a spirit of partisanship rather than of scientific inquiry. His pages are likely to be searched less for the sake of obtaining trustworthy information and just views than of finding arguments which may be used in current controversy.
It is no disparagement to this book, which I have taken no small pains to bring before the world, to say not only that the chapters which follow contain no direct reference to the political controversies which now fill the national mind, but that the worth of history for the purposes of practical politics is apt to be, I will not say overrated, yet at least much
Except for a few slight verbal changes, this Introducti remains as originally written (in 1888. See p. v.)
misunderstood. History furnishes no precepts or recipes which can be directly applied to a political problem as a reported case can be applied by judges to a lawsuit brought before them, or even as a theorem of economic science can sometimes be applied to a question of legislation. Men talk of history repeating itself; but that is the one thing which history never does. Situations and conjunctions of phenomena arise which seem similar to others that have gone before them, but the circumstances are always so far different that it is never possible confidently to predict similar results, nor to feel sure that it is necessary either to avoid a remedy which failed, or to resort to one which succeeded on the previous occasion. The use of history to a statesman consists rather in this, that it gives him the data of the problem which lies before him. Statesmanship is a practical science, the foundation of which is a knowledge of the facts to be dealt with, and history helps us to a true comprehension of the facts by showing how they have come into being, and by revealing the causes that have determined their relative importance. What is it that an English statesman ought to know about Ireland ? Her economic condition, and how law affects it, and how custom, and how custom modifies law: her religious condition, and what are the sources of the bitterness which religious feeling has taken; whether these sources are drying up, and whether the power of ecclesiastics rests on or is due mainly to their spiritual authority or other grounds also: her social structure, and the causes that have gone far to destroy those relations of respect on the one side, and sympathy and protection on the other, which, where they subsist between the richer and the humbler classes, give stability to the body politic; whether these causes of discord lie deep in the character of the people, or may be explained by a series of unfortunate events: the ideas and habits of the Irish, and the reason why their gifts, in some respects so brilliant, have effected little for the material prosperity and the contentment of the country: the sentiments of the