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national talent takes the direction of politics. The pulse of an energetic national life is felt in every quarter of the land. The debates of Parliament are followed with a warm, constant, and intelligent interest by all sections of the community. It draws all classes within the circle of political interests, and is the centre of a strong and steady patriotism equally removed from the apathy of many continental nations in time of calm, and from their feverish and spasmodic energy in time of excitement. Its decisions, if not instantly accepted, never fail to have a profound and a calming influence on the public mind. It is the safety-valve of the nation. The discontents, the suspicions, the peccant humours that agitate the people find there their vent, their resolution, and their end.
It is impossible, I think, not to be struck by the contrast which in this respect Ireland presents to England. If the one country furnishes us with an admirable example of the action of a healthy public opinion, the other supplies us with the most unequivocal signs of its disease. The Imperial Parliament exercises for Ireland legislative functions, but it is almost powerless upon opinion—it allays no discontent, and attracts no affection. Political talent, which for many years was at least as abundant among Irishmen as in any equally numerous section of the people, has been steadily declining; and the marked decadence in this respect among the representatives of the nation reflects but too truly the absence of public spirit in their constituents. The upper classes have lost their sympathy with and their moral ascendency over their tenants, and are thrown for the most part into a policy of mere obstruction. The genuine national enthusiasm never flows in the channel of imperial politics. With great multitudes sectarian considerations have entirely superseded national ones, and their representatives are accustomed systematically to subordinate all party and all political questions to ecclesiastical interests; and while calling themselves Liberals, they make it the main object of their home politics to separate the different classes of their fellow-countrymen during the period of their education, and the main object of their foreign policy to support the temporal power of the Pope. With another and a still larger class the prevailing feeling seems to be an indifference to all Parliamentary proceedings; an utter scepticism about constitutional means of realising their ends; a blind, persistent hatred of England. Every cause is taken up with an enthusiasm exactly proportioned to the degree in which it is supposed to be injurious to English interests. An amount of energy and enthusiasm which if rightly directed would suffice for the political regeneration of Ireland is wasted in the most insane projects of disloyalty; while the diversion of so much public feeling from Parliamentary politics leaves the Parliamentary arena more and more open to corruption, to placehunting, and to imposture.
This picture is in itself a very melancholy one, but there are other circumstances which greatly heighten the effect. In a very ignorant or a very wretched population it is natural that there should be much vague, unreasoning discontent; but the Irish people are at present neither wretched nor ignorant. Their economical condition before the famine was indeed such that it might well have made reasonable men despair. With the land divided into almost microscopic farms, with a population multiplying rapidly to the extreme limits of subsistence, accustomed to the very lowest standard of comfort, and marrying earlier than in any other northern country in Europe, it was idle to look for habits of independence or self-reliance, or for the culture which follows in the train of leisure and comfort. But all this has been changed. A fearful famine and the long-continued strain of emigration have reduced the nation from eight millions to less than five, and have effected, at the price of almost intolerable suffering, a complete economical revolution. The population is now in no degree in excess of the means of subsistence. The rise of wages and prices has diffused comfort through all classes. The greater part of Ireland has been changing from arable into pasture land, for which it is pre-eminently fitted ; and this most important transformation, which almost convulsed English society in the sixteenth century, and elicited the bitterest lamentations from Bacon and More, has been of late years effected in Ireland upon a still larger scale without producing any considerable suffering. It is following in the train of a natural movement of emigration, springing no longer from distress or from landlord tyranny, but partly from a healthy spirit of industrial ambition impelling young men to the great fields of enterprise in the new world with which they are no longer unacquainted, and partly from a feeling of natural affection drawing the older members of a family to the distant homes which their children have established. Probably no country in Europe has advanced so rapidly as Ireland within the last ten years, and the tone of general cheerfulness, the improvement of the houses, the dress, and the
general condition of the people must have struck every observer. Ireland is no doubt still very poor if compared with England, or even with Scotland ; but its poverty consists much more in the absence of great wealth than in the presence of great misery. It has been recently stated that while paupers are in England as one to twenty, and in Scotland as one to twentythree of the population, in Ireland they are only as one to seventy-four. At the same time industrial habits have been rapidly spreading. The custom of early marriages, which lay at the root of the economical evils of Ireland, has, according to recent statistics, been seriously checked; and the standard of comfort is far higher and the spirit of industrial progress far more active than in any previous portion of the century. If industrial improvement, if the rapid increase of material comforts among the poor, could allay political discontent, Ireland should never have been so loyal as at present.
Nor can it be said that ignorance is at the root of the discontent. The Irish people have always, even in the darkest period of the penal laws, been greedy for knowledge, and few races show more quickness in acquiring it. The admirable system of national education established in the present century is beginning to bear abundant fruit, and among the younger generation at least, the level of knowledge is quite as high as in England. Indeed, one of the most alarming features of Irish disloyalty is its close and evident connection with education. It is sustained by a cheap literature, written often with no mean literary skill, which penetrates into every village, gives the people their first political impressions, forms and directs their enthusiasm, and seems likely in the long leisure of the pastoral life to exercise an increasing power. Close observers of the Irish character will hardly have failed to notice the great change which since the famine has passed over the amusements of the people. The old love of boisterous out-of-door sports has almost disappeared, and those who would have once sought their pleasures in the market or the fair now gather in groups in the public-house, where one of their number reads out a Fenian newspaper. Whatever else this change may portend, it is certainly of no good omen for the future loyalty of the people.
i Soo Fawcett on Pauperism,' p. 27.
It was long customary in England to underrate this disaffection by ascribing it to very transitory causes. The quarter of a century that followed the Union was marked by almost perpetual disturbance, but this it was said was merely the natural ground-swell of agitation which followed a great reform. It was then the popular theory that it was the work of O'Connell, who was described during many years as the one obstacle to the peace of Ireland, and whose death was made the subject of no little congratulation, as though Irish discontent had perished with its organ. It was as if, the Æolian harp being shattered, men wrote an epitaph upon the wind. Experience has abundantly proved the folly of such theories. Measured by mere chronology, a little more than seventy years have passed since the Union; but famine and emigration have compressed into those years the work of centuries. The character, feelings, and conditions of the people have been profoundly altered. A long course of remedial legislation has been carried, and during many years the