Billeder på siden

practical resolutions for the modification of the tithe system. The justice and moderation of the proposals could not be gainsaid; they were, therefore, simply met by a measure which kept them out of the Journals of the House—the premature prorogation of Parliament in the middle of April. This was a ready means of stopping all progress, and extinguishing even the hope of reform.

Public corruption could not exist without private depravity within the official domain. The Governmental system of appointing to places political renegades or their bribe-giving protégés had filled the official departments with the dregs of the Ascendency. They had been promoted because they had been unscrupulous, and they carried the quality which had gained them Government's favour into the Government's service. The Duke of Buckingham suddenly came down upon the minor offenders, seized their keys, and demanded a rigorous account. Panic, flight, and suicides followed. This was a meritorious raid, no doubt; but, considering the conduct of the viceroy himself, it rather resembled the raid of a great wolf on a pack of little foxes.

It must not be inferred, from the existence of local oppression and suffering, that there was a general depression. On the contrary, the country was generally prosperous; this fact was declared by the chancellor of the exchequer, who gave satisfactory proof of his veracity by introducing a Bill to reduce interest from six to five

Manufactures abounded, and all the occupations dependent on them flourished. Dublin assumed the appearance of a thriving metropolis, at once a hive of industry, a home of arts and learning, and a haunt of fashion. Many absentees were drawn back by the attractive life of the brilliant Irish capital. Its stately and well known, when a gentleman solicited from the minister a hearth-money collection, that instead of £40 a year, its nominal value, he considered it worth from £ 100 to £200 a year? and whence did that arise, but out of the plunder of the people, already too wretched, by taking indulgence money, and by afterwards taking their pot, their blanket, and at last their door, and making what return they thought proper to the public treasury ?

Plowden, “ Historical Review,” vol. ii. p. 199.

per cent.





spacious avenues, new-paved, and lighted with improved lamps having double burners, were crowded with the splendid equipages of a profuse aristocracy and gentry. The magnificence of the public edifices was rivalled by the beauty of private mansions, on which the art of Italy was lavished, as well as the trained skill of Ireland. Leinster's ducal palace was taken as a model for the White House of Washington. Chimney-pieces of the period are even still ripped out of old houses in decayed streets, and fetch enormous prices in London marts. Whilst a viceroy had established the order of the Knights of St. Patrick to divert the minds of the nobility from "speculative subjects," Lord Charlemont founded the Royal Irish Academy for the encouragement of science, polite literature, and the study of antiquities. The Irish Parliament gave it a generous grant; and by liberal subsidies, encouraged the Dublin Society to foster and develop the industrial arts and improve the agriculture of the island.

Not only did the provincial cities share in the general good fortune, but, in various rural places, medicinal spas came into vogue and attracted a fashionable concourse in the season. Field sports were a common passion, and hospitality a universal virtue. Nor should it be inferred, from the grievances mentioned, that the state of the peasantry was inferior to what it has been of later years. It is no exaggeration to say that in some respects it was superior.

This statement is fully borne out by the recorded regular and rapid increase of agriculture, owing to which, in the account of the interchange of cereals with Great Britain for the ten years following 1780, Ireland had a balance in her favour of nearly £1,500,000, according

1 Freehold leases (commonly leases for lives and thirty-one years) were universal amongst Protestants, and were extended to Catholics when then obtained the electoral franchise. The landlords generally desired to appear at the head of a prosperous tenantry, especially during the time of the volunteers. "I well recollect,” wrote the late Lord Rosse, “ the glowing terms in which several old people were wont to speak of the plenty in their younger days bread, meat, and the best of ale being the ordinary peasants' fare "(Lord Rosse, “ Relations of Landlord and Tenant," 1870).

to the English official statement. This was due to a well-arranged system of bounties, which, controlling the cost of inland carriage, brought the market to the farmer's door, and, securing him a constant home demand, gave encouragement to create a surplus for export. The bounty system was better devised and carried out with more effective care in Ireland than in Britain. Whilst British witnesses complained of the frauds, perjuries, and scandalous abuses which, during the entire existence of the Irish Parliament, destroyed the repute of British-cured herrings abroad, they testified that the Irish article always fetched a much higher price because of its unimpeachable character. The Irish exports of beef and bacon were similarly esteemed for their excellence. The English inspectorgeneral of imports and exports quoted the wisdom and sound policy which led Virginia and Maryland to suffer no tobacco to be exported which had not undergone thorough inspection. “ The same system of policy," he added, “ has been adopted in Ireland, with respect to beef and pork; and I believe both countries are in no small degree indebted to this regulation for the superior quality, character, and price which their respective staple commodities bear in every part of the world.” 3

" 3

1 “Parliamentary Debates," vol. xi. pp. 424 et seq. 2 “Reports on British Fisheries,” vol. x.

3 “Reports from Committees on the State of the British Herring Fisheries," vol x. Minutes of evidence of Mr. J. Irving, inspector-general of the imports and exports of Great Britain, June 1798.


In the autumn of 1788 the king's mind gave way; in the beginning of November, his insanity could no longer be concealed. The British Parliament met on the 20th, but was adjourned till the first week of December, when the great question of the regency came on. Recognition of the Prince of Wales as regent meant the dismissal of Mr. Pitt, and the accession to power of Mr. Fox and the Whigs. Under these circumstances, it was perhaps natural, if not edifying, to find the Tory chief resorting to Whig, even to Radical, principles; whilst the Whig leader adopted Tory views for the nonce. Mr. Pitt declared that the Prince of Wales had no more right to assume the regency than any other subject; Parliament might appoint whom it pleased, Mr. Fox first asserted that the prince had the same right to sovereignty as if the king were dead, and that Parliament could only state the period when his power began. Laying aside that theory, he afterwards maintained the view that the heir-apparent had a legal claim which, when adjudicated by Parliament, became a sovereign right, not confined by limitations. Lord Loughborough (who had given his written legal opinion that the prince should assume the regency without Parliamentary sanction)1 pointed out that, if the British Parliament could appoint any person besides the heir-apparent, a like course was open to the Irish Parliament, so that there might be two regents. The question of right was ultimately waived, and the question of procedure entered on. Mr. Fox and Lord Rawdon proposed that an address of both Houses should be presented to the prince, praying him to take upon himself, as regent,

Campbell, “Lives of Lord Chancellors."


the administration of the executive Government, in the king's name. This would have made him regent without restrictions; but Mr. Pitt wanted restrictions. He proposed to proceed by Bill. The restrictions forbade the regent to create a single peer (except such of the royal family as came of age); to grant any office in reversion, or any pension or place for life, except such as were by their nature life-places.

In Ireland, the intelligence of the king's malady caused great political excitement. It was hoped that an arbitrary and odious oligarchy would be thrown out of power. During and after November, in anticipation of a general election, associations of electors were formed, bound not to vote for any candidate who should not pledge himself to their test; namely, a percentage tax on the property of absentees, a settlement or commutation of tithes, restoration of the sailcloth manufacture, protective duties, a limitation of the pension list (then £8000 above the English list), and reform in the representation of the people. Grattan and Charlemont, who had been in communication with the English Whigs, were assured that the incoming Whig administration would grant the required redress of grievances. The Castle, however, had orders to obtain a majority for the registration of Pitt's decision. Urgent efforts were made to bribe and intimidate. British gold was ready to flow in; offers of place, pension, and dignity were thrust on members for acceptance. Curran was offered a judgeship, with prospect of a peerage.? He rejected the offer on principle, and stood not alone. The great landed interests, the Duke of Leinster, Lords Shannon, Tyrone, and others, took up an independent attitude. The Ponsonbys left the viceroy. Ministers convened Parliament on February 5, 1789, but were beaten by a majority of 128 to 74 on an amendment of Grattan's, fixing an earlier day for the consideration of the regency question than ministers had proposed.

1 Plowden, vol. ii. p. 228.
2 “Curran's Life,” by his son, vol. i. p. 240. 1819.

« ForrigeFortsæt »