Page images
PDF
EPUB

ART. VII.-- The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century.

By JAMES ANTHONY FROUDE, M.A. In three volumes.

Vols. II. and III. London: 1874. TT is a singular but happy coincidence that a history of Ire1 land under its native Parliament by one of the most distinguished of living writers has appeared at a time when all the elements of moderation and stability in Irish politics have been swept away before the absurd resuscitation of Repeal. Whether recent legislation may have temporarily stimulated the restlessness it was designed to allay, or whether it is impossible to eradicate a discontent which everything fails to satisfy, and which reasoning only irritates, there cannot be a doubt that at the present moment a majority of the Irish people are demanding a reform of the Constitution which would give to the disaffected classes an absolute power of legislation and administration in their island. Surely, the activity of agitation in the sister-country must be sustained by an untiring impulse. There are not many nations so backward in political knowledge as the Irish, with less respect for the decisions of a majority, or with less moderation in dealing with the rights of a minority-in a word, so deficient in that faculty of self-government, in the absence of which free institutions can neither flourish nor be permanently maintained-yet there are none more ready to grasp at a new Constitution without having learned the simplest lessons needed to guarantee its security or its utility. They are prepared at present to risk the substance for the sake of the more seductive shadow. It is, unhappily, a new instance of the inveterate misfortune of the Irish people to be carried away by delusions under the guidance of politicians, restrained by no principle, and destitute of all constructive ability or ains, who are ready to advocate projects in which they have not the slightest belief, and to excite hopes which many of them would not even desire to realise. Whether the new agitation is stimulated by the dream of an absolute independence, or is merely directed by a mischievous provincial sentiment, it is avowedly a composite affair, ingeniously contrived to suit the occasions of parties seldom found on the same platform; while, under the pressure of a general election, it has succeeded in working those rapid conversions, tardy to a shameful degree, and timely to a suspicious extent, which have always in the history of Ireland prepared the way for betrayal and disappointment. Time will tell whether politicians, who find it convenient to run with a popular sentiment, however mistaken or injurious in its effects, to save themselves from political annihilation, will succeed in creating two laws of opinion, two irreconcilable societies, in these islands, and in putting an end to that imperial arbitration between Irish sects and classes, which is the distinguishing advantage and glory of the Union.

If, however, the Irish desire to appear once more on the stage of human affairs as the masters of their own country, it is only natural that we should try to discover for ourselves—if not their own measure of the historical resurrection they demand from us, which they might find it difficult to supply from the want of a common understanding among themselves—at least some adequate picture of the political and social condition of Ireland under its native Parliament during the stirring changes of the eighteenth century. If we can discover anywhere in its past history the traces of an independent national life, a settled political and social system, founded on authority or tradition, and consolidated by long years of unshaken continuance; if we can find a native Parliament distinguished by personal virtue, public principle, and lofty patriotism, working for the whole nation those miracles of prosperity which in other lands are rather the slow and painful product of private virtue and patient industry; if we can find that the possession of power conferred the capacity and the motive to exercise it well, and that the effect of all liberal changes in the Constitution towards the end of the century was to attach the country more firmly to the British nation; it might be difficult to withstand the historical claim of the Nationalists. We need hardly say that all the writers of Ireland, without exception, have failed to discover anywhere a historical basis of the least solidity for an independent nationality, except it might be in the barbarism and anarchy which made the original conquest of the country so easy. The powerful picture of the nation during the eighteenth century drawn by Mr. Froude will certainly go far to show that under its native Parliament the country was, at least, very unlike the imaginary island of Sir Thomas More

-sola insula velut una familia; for its legislature is seen to have maintained in power for nearly a century a sordid Protestant oligarchy, which, ruling in the name of England, intercepted every benefit for the people at large it could not turn to its own advantage, while it opposed every patriotic attempt to interfere with the oppressions exercised by the landlords, which were fast driving the country into the depths of social anarchy; and that the tardy concession of independence only led the way to a formidable insurrection which almost suc

es of everfor state the req be colendst

ceeded in separating Ireland from the British Empire. People may differ in opinion as to the historical value of Mr. Froude's picturesque delineations of Irish affairs, but the great lesson of his book is undoubtedly this: that for her own comfort and prosperity Ireland ought to break with her historic past altogether; that she can no more free herself from the influence of England than the moon can abandon the earth to set up as an independent planet ; that to restore her native Parliament, under the necessarily altered conditions of the world, would not only create a new disturbing force in the general career of the United Kingdom, but would involve a social separation of the people in the smaller island, under the influence of Ultramontanism and Nationalism combined, and a monopoly of power in the hands of the majority that would reduce the minority to subjection, or banishment, or extermination itself. For it would be an insult to our understandings to suppose that a domestic Parliament would not necessarily mirror with the utmost faithfulness every passion, every prejudice, and every delusion of the disaffected classes; while, judging by the childish pertinacity with which both Protestants and Catholics still cling to the observance of disquieting anniversaries, the mutual animosities of Irishmen would become more deadly and destructive than ever. Apart, however, from historical questions, we must judge for ourselves whether a people, hardly yet emerged out of that state of political minority to which disciplinary laws belong, possess the requisite materials out of which an independent nationality can be constructed, or even have an intelligent perception of practical ends to be achieved by the concession of a Federal Constitution; because we must remember that Irish nationality is a purely selfish movement, not arising out of any theory of national elevation --for its supporters are strongly opposed to the national unity of Italy and Germany—but simply for the advancement of the Irish. The work of Mr. Froude will supply important materials for the formation of sound judgments on many of these points.

In noticing these additional volumes which complete the work of Mr. Froude on · The English in Ireland,' we are constrained to admire the stern impartiality of his judgments upon the conduct of all political parties, whether English or Irish, who were concerned in the management of that turbulent, but misgoverned island during the eighteenth century. We had occasion in our notice of his first volume to hint that it displayed some stronger trace of the advocate than the historian, while we gave him all due credit for an enlightened patriotism

and for an honest and genuine regard for the Irish themselves. We could not expect to find in Mr. Froude the moral indifference of Thucydides ; but there was a fear that where history was lowered into advocacy, it necessarily excited a spirit of antagonism little favourable to the interests of historic truth. But our objections cannot to the same extent apply to the volumes before us, however much we may find occasion to differ from the author on the great principle that governs his treatment of the Irish difficulty. Perhaps, on the score of historic impartiality, his account of the Insurrection of 1798 is the least satisfactory portion of his work; but, with this no doubt important 'exception, Mr. Froude has dealt out evenhanded justice to all parties. He has assailed English statesmen and Irish politicians with equal vigour and zest, with a quick eye and a keen satire for all their mistakes and follies ; and if he is consistently severe upon the vices of the Irish, he is not less honest in exposing the debasing tyranny which demoralised them for a century, the unparalleled venality of the Irish patriots, the rackrenting greed of the landlords, the shameless neglect and lordly pride of the bishops, the irritating rapacity of the tithe-proctors, the supineness or corruption of a useless magistracy, and the social escapades of a gentry who seemed destitute of all patriotism and oblivious of all duties. He has certainly assisted in dispelling whole clouds of misrepresentation raised by Irish national writers. Illusions everywhere vanish under his hand. The style of the volumes attests great literary skill and brilliancy, though, perhaps, he has found more difficulty 'than usual in throwing life into the dreary chronicle of Irish Parliamentary debates. The early part of the second volume shows little of that vigour in hurrying us through the prosaic details of legislation, of which Hume was such a master, and which, in the forty-fourth chapter of Gibbon, has made his name immortal. But his pictures of Irish society are matchless. Perhaps he was fortunate in selecting for treatment a century which presented more game for the satirist and observer of character, a greater mixture of lights and shadows, more gaiety and more fierceness, than any earlier period; while he had the genius and the skill to turn all his unexampled opportunities to account. Perhaps he was in some degree attracted to his subject by something in the great mobility of the Celtic character-so ardently strong in its attachments and so ferociously bitter in its hatreds---which closely resembles his own historical temperament, though clearly deficient in his own transparent honesty and sincerity of purpose. His work abounds in a set of remarkable historical pictures pieced to

the Irish all now pation of faciting up

affected put the Englise necessary fact that the the sole s

gether into one imposing panorama, and, though painted with the most brilliant colours, resting upon the most rigid and conscientious examination of fact.

We shall now proceed, first, to inquire into the condition of the Irish people during the period embraced in the earlier part of the second volume. The first volume left us at that point where the historian records the rise of the political agitator

the adventurer, whose trade was agitation; who, careless of • Ireland's welfare, made his own way to wealth and distinction • by constituting himself the champion of her wrongs '-and whose irrepressible vitality, we may say, is still visible in Irish politics. Ministers were resolved to corrupt where they could not defy—for the forgotten hand of Cromwell’ was no longer possible—and Ireland was now to be managed with the abuse of patronage, and, still worse, with the abuse of the pensionlist. The country was governed by a Protestant oligarchy, consisting of four great families: the Fitzgeralds, of Kildare; the Boyles, the Ponsonbys, and the Beresfords, who usually affected patriotism for objects of their own, and made pecuniary terms with the English viceroys at the beginning of each session for the carriage of the necessary parliamentary measures. The strength of this party lay in the fact that they were sustained by England on the supposition of their being the sole security for the connexion between the two countries, while they always consistently laboured to prevent the English Government extending to Ireland any large measure of policy, as its effect would necessarily be to take the country entirely out of their hands. But the English Cabinet resolved to make a new experiment in government. Lord Townshend went over as Viceroy with a loyal intention to put an end, as far as possible, to Irish jobbery and anarchy; and Irish politicians were to . have an opportunity of showing whether their complaints had • been sincere, whether they were prepared to co-operate loyally • and without the need of underhand influence in measures of 'genuine reform.' He soon discovered that the oligarchy would not work upon the new terms, and he promptly discarded the four families, because, as the Viceroy observed, • they have distressed one Lord-Lieutenant, compromised with * another, always gaining something for themselves, and paring • away the authority and reputation of the English Government * until it has scarce ground left to stand upon. The English Cabinet imagined in their simplicity that it was possible to find among the Irish representatives the materials for an honest and independent party on whose support the Viceroy could rely; but the expectation only conducted to a fresh disappointment

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »