« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
upon their poorer countrymen. But now, when they thought that the Church of England was being menaced by the proceedings being taken in regard to the Church in Ireland, they were all up in arms, and one would suppose that the whole country and Christianity were going at once to ruin.
This withering rebuke was as fully justified as Charles Dickens's stricture upon the right reverends and wrong reverends of every order,' from another point of view. Mr. Bright went on to observe that all that Mr. Gladstone and his supporters now proposed to do was to place the Protestant Episcopalians of Ireland in the same position exactly as the Welsh Free Churches, the Wesleyan Churches, the Free Churches of Scotland, and the Colonial and American Churches. But they gave them the advantage of their existing buildings. Yet the archbishops and bishops who met in St. James's Hall cried out as though they were about to perpetrate the grossest and most intolerable cruelty to which men had ever been subjected. If the bill passed, not only would a chance be afforded to the Irish Church, but strife would cease, and justice would have become in Ireland a guiding principle of the Imperial Parliament. To the question, Can Wales do anything to help on this great movement, he replied, “You could not, in the times that are past, contend with the power of England ; but now you may unite your power with the power of all men who love freedom either in England or in Ireland; and you may, by a significant
addition to our Parliamentary majority, contribute to the success of that great question which is now before Parliament and the country.'
It was the question of the hour, the speaker continued. There were many efforts made to deceive the electors; the First Minister (Mr. Disraeli) was skilled in phrases, especially in phrases that were calculated to deceive. But he understood the question as well as any one. More than twenty years ago
he condemned the Church of Ireland in language as forcible as any which he (Mr. Bright) could use, as an alien Church. Now, after making offers to the Church of Rome, and finding that Parliament was not in favour of them, he did his best to set up the old and evil cry of “No Popery' at the next election. Addressing his Welsh hearers, in conclusion, Mr. Bright said: 'I hold you, I bind you to this, that you are for justice to Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, established on the voluntary principle; and I argue that
you must have this opinion, and that you will support it, because you cannot sever Christianity from justice, and because you know and feel that to do justice to Ireland and to Irishmen must be to add honour and unity and strength to the Crown and to the people of this great empire.'
A vote of thanks having been passed to Mr. Bright, the hon. gentleman, in the course of some remarks acknowledging it, said that he had been speculating upon what would occur if they were defeated at the general election. If this result should take place
through a cry of ‘No Popery,' or Charch in danger,' or any other cry, there would be in Ireland a far greater discontent and a far greater resolution to achieve, if it were possible, the separation of Ireland from Great Britain. Now, we have only a right to insist that the United Kingdom shall not be severed if we are willing to do full justice to the different nations of which it is composed; and therefore there is a question far more important than whether this man or that man shall be Prime Minister, or whether a particular Cabinet, shufiling and offensive as this Cabinet is, or a more honest Cabinet which may succeed it, should govern the country. The question of justice to Ireland was greater than this. 'I will hope, and I will speak so far as I am able, and as opportunity may be given me, in favour of the great measure which is now before Parliament, for I believe it to be essential to the unity and the strength and the harmony of the United Kingdom; and I believe that, instead—to take the language of the present Prime Minister, offensive and impudent as it was—instead of dimming the lustre of the British Crown, that it will be regarded in history as one of the most honourable events in the reign of the Queen if under her mild sceptre this United Kingdom can really be united, and Ireland made as contented and loyal as any other portion of the empire.'
During the summer of 1868 Mr. Bright became the guest of Mr. George Peabody, the distinguished American philanthropist, at Castle Connell, in Ireland. In view of the general election then pending, and the fact that the question of the disestablishment of the Irish Church was uppermost in the public mind, Mr. Bright was invited to a breakfast in the Limerick Athenæum on the 14th of July. He accepted the invitation, and delivered an address on Irish affairs. In the outset, he observed that he came before the Irish people as a simple citizen, to help in discussing a question which was exciting intense interest throughout the whole of Great Britain. He hoped he might say without pretentiousness or egotism that in his humble way he endeavoured always to speak publicly to his countrymen as a preacher of political righteousness and justice. He believed it was in this way only that the unity, true glory, and the happiness of states could be built up.
Mr. Bright observed that during the twenty years which had elapsed since he was in Limerick before, there had been a considerable change, in some respects for the better, in Ireland. When he was there previously, famine and pestilence had scarcely completed their melancholy duty. When he said duty, he regarded famine and pestilence as instruments appointed by Providence to track the ignorance, the folly, and the crimes of men. But the population had been greatly thinned by an emigration which he believed to be unexampled in modern times. It did not, however, follow that the remaining portion of the population was in a better political condition; and at that moment they met under a suspension of the British constitution as regarded Ireland and its whole population. Besides the frequent suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, there was in Ireland a great military force altogether disproportioned to any necessity there could be for it in a country that was at once well governed, prosperous, and contented. There were some who thought that the only true and lasting remedy for Irish discontent was to be found either in the repeal of the Act of Union or in absolute independence. He hoped that all such would listen to his arguments upon this serious question.
The speaker went on to remark that he was willing and anxious to supplement the fraudful Act of Union by deeds of generosity and of justice which should really unite the three kingdoms. What he would propose, if it were possible for him to dictate the policy of the Imperial Parliament towards Ireland, would be to undo—absolutely to undo—the territorial and ecclesiastical arrangements maintained during the past two or three hundred years, though he would do all this without inflicting upon any living man the smallest act of injustice in connection with his personal interests in those territorial and ecclesiastical arrangements. As to the question of the land, he had already stated in Dublin and Birmingham, and also in the House of Commons, that his plan was to restore to the skilled farmers of Ireland, or those amongst them who saved money, a proprietary right