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while they would be able to offer to all the children of the country a sound elementary education.
Turning them to the subject of the commercial treaty with France, Mr. Bright warned his hearers against the new 'reciprocity' movement, which was merely Protection under another name. He advised working men not to be deceived by interested agitators, and recommended them to press for such a retrenchment in taxation as would not only give to all who heard him a free breakfast-table, but free trade in land as well. This question of free land, he said, in conclusion, was coming on, and was inevitable :
'I believe that an alteration of the land laws of England, such as might be made without lessening by sixpence the value of any man's property, would do much to arrest that tide of pauperism which is constantly flowing from the agricultural counties into our great centres of industry. But when I have mentioned these things, I am obliged to confess that they are not all—that something more is wanted, although the law will not effect it, and although its foundation lies beyond the bounds of law. It is that which every man should consider : I have considered it often and often, with great seriousness and with much anxiety, during the thirty years that I have been in the habit of discussing public questions. No Government, no Administration, no laws, no amount of industry or commerce, no extent of freedom, can give prosperity and solid comfort to the homes of the people unless there be in those homes economy, temperance, and the practice of virtue. That which I am preaching is needful for all, but it is specially needful-most needful in some respects—for those whose possessions are the least abundant and the least secure. If we could subtract from the ignorance, the poverty, the suffering, the sickness, and the crime which are caused by one single but most prevalent bad habit or vice—the drinking heedlessly of that which destroys body and mind, and home and family—do we not all feel that this country would be so changed, and so changed for the better, that it would be almost impossible for us to know it again ? Let me then, in conclusion, say what is upon my heart to say, what I know to be true, what I have felt every hour of my life VOL. II.
when I have been discussing anything which affects the condition of the working classes. It is by the union of a wise Government with a virtuous people, and not otherwise, that we may hope to make some steps towards that blessed time when there shall be no longer complaining in our streets, when our garners shall be full, affording all manner of store.'
At a public breakfast given to him on the day following the delivery of this speech, Mr. Bright discussed the question of working-men candidates, and said he did not approve of such candidates as representatives of the working classes only. He approved of good men of any class being returned to Parliament, if they were capable of representing all classes; but he wished the idea of classes to be got rid of, and desired rather national representation. This expression of opinion led to a controversy with the supporters of Mr. George Odger, who was then contesting the borough of Southwark.
In the debates on Mr. Gladstone's Irish Land Bill of 1870—a further scheme for the pacification of Ireland in which he had taken a deep and special interest—Mr. Bright was able to take no part. On the very eve of the meeting of Parliament, finding he was suffering greatly from mental exhaustion, the right hon. gentleman wrote as follows to Mr. Gladstone: 'I cannot tell you how much I am disappointed at being absent from the meeting of Parliament, but I have distinct warnings of an attack of something like that from which I suffered fourteen years ago, and I dare not disregard them. I am quite unable to work, and must leave London for a time. I regret deeply that I cannot be at your side to vote and plead for the Irish Land Bill. I think it a wise, just, and comprehensive measure; and I hope the moderation and patriotism of Parliament will enable it soon to become law.'
The Land Bill was introduced by Mr. Gladstone on the 15th of February. In a speech of three hours' duration he minutely discussed the several questions of loans to occupiers and landlords, the judicial machinery for administering the Act, the different classes of holdings, damages for eviction, improvements, and leases. The question, What is an improvement ?' had given the Government much trouble, and the definition the author of the bill gave was that it must be something which should add to the letting value of the land, and must be suitable to the holding. The bill would reverse the present presumption of law, and would presume all improvements to be the property of the tenant, and it would be for the landlord to prove the contrary. Retrospective improvements would be included, but only so far back as twenty years, except in the case of permanent buildings and reclamations of lands. As to holdings under lease, the Premier said any owner might exempt his lands from the custom, always excepting the Ulster custom, which would be legalized, and from the scale of damages, by giving to his tenants a lease for thirty-one years, provided that the lease were approved by the Court, and gave the tenant at the close of it a right to compensation for manures, permanent buildings, and reclamation of
land. The bill, after lengthy discussions, passed
be stated that the Purchase clauses' of the Act were, as is well known, proposed by Mr. Bright, and urged by him upon the Cabinet. They met with little earnest support, however, and, it is believed, in one quarter with strong opposition. The Irish Executive had their scheme in the bill which became law, and the Cabinet were disposed to be content with their suggestions; and the utmost which was accepted from Mr. Bright were the incomplete clauses whose operation has been so partial and limited.
The plan then proposed by Mr. Bright was mainly that adopted in the later bill of the session of 1881. As we have remarked, shortly before the commencement of the session of 1870 Mr. Bright was in failing health, and was compelled to absent himself from Parliament before the bill was brought forward. He was consequently unable to insist upon and defend his clauses, as he might, and doubtless would, under other circumstances have ably and effectively done. Mr. Gladstone is understood to have regarded the plan with favour, but opinion seemed not to have ripened sufficiently to enable the Government to deal more boldly with the question. It is the opinion of many well-informed persons in Ireland that if the plan accepted in 1881 with almost unanimous consent had been adopted in the bill of 1870, the country might have been spared the suffering and the danger of the agitation through which Ireland has passed since Mr. Gladstone's first Land Bill became law.
The Irish addresses delivered by Mr. Bright during the period we have just traced—that is, from 1866 to 1870—demonstrate not only his love of justice, and his deep desire to secure a righteous treatment for Ireland, but a capacity for a high order of statesmanship. In a very large degree, as we have before observed, it was his advocacy that hastened those great remedial measures passed for the benefit of Ireland and the Irish people which shed such lustre upon Mr. Gladstone's first Administration.