Aubrey de Vere.

English misrule and Irish misdeeds; four letters from Ireland addressed to an English Member of Parliament online

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" I know that the interests of the two countries must be taken to-
gether, and that a man cannot speak as a true Englishman unless he
speaks as a true Irishman, nor as a true Irishman unless he speaks as a
true Englishman." — Mr. Pitt's Speech on the Union.

" As an Englishman, I owe reparation to Ireland for the wrongs of
centuries." — Mr. Wilberforce.

Koiva yap <pi\a>v axr}
Koipa d'ei TL ireiaeTat
abe ya

EuRiP. Phceniss.




Two Englands. — One of these always adverse to Ireland. —
Subjects treated in this Work. — The Labour Rate Act
as it worked. — A different Mode of Relief suggested. —
Progressive Symptoms of English Discontent with Ire-
land. — Attempts to discover its Cause. — Necessity for
moderating the Expression of it. — Probable Effects in
Ireland of recent English Detraction. — Its worse Effect
in England. — Its incompatibility with Justice and Truth 1


The Faults of the Irish. — The continued Existence of So-
ciety in Ireland accounted for. — The Connection between
Irish Faults and past Misgovemment. — Brief Sketch of
Events in Ireland. — Variations of English Policy ac-
cording to Change of Circumstances.' — Outlawry, Legal
Tyranny, Corruption.— The Irish Constitution. — The
Union. — ■ Catholic Emancipation. — > Agitation. — The
Penal Laws still operate in Ireland. — English Intoler-
ance still finds a Mode of expressing itself. — National
Debt of England to Ireland. — Amendment the Test of
Repentance. — Imperial Legislation during Forty-seven
Years. — A Poor Law. — ^Neither the Responsibilities nor
the Rights of Property asserted in Time. — The Problem
of to-day the same as that at the Time of the Union . 48


Ireland's Prosperity the only safety for England. — The
Consequence to England of Irish Ruin. — The Irish
Revenue and Expenditure. — Irish Property spent by

( ■



Englishmen or in England. — Irish and English Trade. —
English Charges on Irish Property. — The Rich the
losers. — Invasion of England by Irish Labourers. — Eng-
lish Plagiarisms of Irish Faults. ■ — An exaggerated
Charge which might be brought against England. —
Slight Suggestions as to Principles of Legislation for
Ireland. — Good Measures only good if applied in Time.
— Remedial Measures. — Security to Life and Property.
— Colonization, Agricultural Education. — Amendment
of the Poor Law. — Useful Public Works and Waste
Lands.— The Tenure of Land. — Provisions for enforcing
the Rights as well as Duties of Property. — Simplifica-
tion of the Law. — Sale of encumbered Estates. — Sana-
tory Improvements in Towns. — Schools for the Children
of the higher Orders. . 117


Necessity of acting on a large Principle. — A Cure worth
its Cost. — Self-love one Cause of English Dislike to Ire-
land. — England has her Blemishes as well as Ireland. —
Mining Districts. — Manufacturing System. — False Civil-
ization. — Alienation of Classes. — India. — The Colonies.
— English Pauperism. — No Popery. — Covetousness. —
Verbal Truth compatible with HoUowness and Pretence.
— Some Characteristics of the Irish Peasant. — Position
of an Irish Proprietor. — ^Dangers that lie before Eng-
land. — Their connection with her present Policy towards
Ireland. — Both Countries now on their Trial. — Safety
only in a true Union. — Two Destinies lie before Eng-
land, each connected with her present Course. — The
Bankruptcy of a great National Company. — The possible
Greatness of a united Empire founded on Virtue and on
Trade. — Practical Hints as to Principles of Irish^Tolicy.
— What has been effected by an approach to Union. . 185





Two Englands. — One of these always adverse to Ireland. — Subjects
treated in this Work. — The Labour Rate Act as it worked. — A dif-
ferent Mode of Relief suggested. — Progressive Symptoms of English
Discontent with Ireland. — Attempts to discover its Cause. — Necessity
for moderating the Expression of it. — Probable Effects in Ireland of
recent English Detraction. — Its worse Effect in England. — Its incom-
patibility with Justice and Tnith.

The great dissatisfaction and distress occasioned
of late years to England by the noise of Irish
misery, and its yet more formidable infection, blown
over to you frequently in the westerly winds, not
so much by our fault as by reason of the con-
tiguity of the two islands, is a matter which ought
long since to have touched us with some remorse,
had we not been selfishly preoccupied with our own
troubles. In former times, when the political con-
dition of Ireland was lower than it is now, though the
pressure of distress was less urgent, you appear to



have suffered little from this annoyance, perhaps be-
cause men complain less loudly of bondage than of
starvation. It is a hard thing, Sir, to be assailed by
the immediate breath of, some person whom we have
injured, and who is loathsome to us ; — hard to look
upon the scar which we had inflicted long ago, and
intended to forget. Within the last two years the
distress of England on this score appears to have
been increasing ; and it has been expressed in a tone
of acrimony rising through the gradations of ani-
mosity up to abhorrence and a sort of contempt, or
assumed contempt, at which for some time it has been
stationary. This anger has, however, been subject
to laws, by a careful induction from which we are
enabled to calculate its intensity and foretell its
amount at any given period. The more you have
had to pay for Ireland, the more you have disliked
her. Had it not been for prejudice and antipathy,
England would have been conciliated toward Ireland
by the endeavour to serve her.

Before proceeding further. Sir, there is one statement
which I desire to make, not so much for your sake as
for my own, and because there are many countrymen-
of yours to whom I would not willingly give pain, and
whose censure I would not wantonly incur. The
class to which I allude are, I hope, neither so unjust
nor so unwise as to resent the fact that I do not think
the faults of their country past cure, or their country
so far enfeebled and degenerate, that she cannot


afford (as sometimes happens to individual men who
have no part in true greatness) to dispense with her
faults. I have sometimes been tempted to think that,
as the mythologists make mention of three Jupiters,
so there must be at least two Englands. In her
past history, I have observed indications of a com-
pound nature as diverse as her twofold language ;
and in recent times they seem to contend for the
mastery. It is with one only that I have to do at

T have to entreat that this plain introductory state-
ment may be kept in mind by any one who chooses
to read these observations. If he thinks that there
exists a certain England, noble, wise, and strong,
against which such charges as I make must be as
unjust as the charges which I repel, I think the
same ; and I believe that this better England not
only exists, but has existed for the last thousand
years, and has wrought after its kind. It has also, I
believe, slept at times, and not known what was done
in its name by that more sordid England with which
it is strangely bound up. The distinction to which
I refer is not one of classes or orders : each of these
two Englands is composed of clergy and laity, rich
and poor, aristocrats and democrats, agriculturists
and manufacturers, Whigs and Tories ; and, a sad and
singular fact, the two have occasionally concurred
in the same course, influenced by the most opposite
motives indeed, but by a common delusion. My

B 2


sentiments with regard to my better England, I shall
state, before I conclude, with as much sincerity as
I state my convictions in the first place concerning
your England, which we believe also to exist by
reason of the wounds which we bear ; as, however,
books are not always read to the end, especially the
dull or the hostile, I have given this warning in time,
in order that any person who applies to the whole of
his country, what I have said of its baser element,
may have only his own inattention to blame. For
six centuries the bad England generally kept vigil
for Ireland, while for the rest of the world it ge-
nerally slept. This fact is attested by the just award
of European opinion, which reveres your history
at large, but regards the Irish part of it with a
sentiment of resentment, wonder, and scorn. It is
not for me to determine how this mysterious duality
exists ; all I know is, that England is not one, but
two ; and that while the loftier influence reigns in her
brain, and looks forth from her eye, the more earthly
spirit occasionally masters her hand, and miserably
simulates her voice. It is the latter England, that
is to say, your England, with which I have at present'
to converse ; and if you think my words too harsh, I
beg to express my belief that nations are not called
upon, like private persons, when smitten on one
cheek to turn the other, and that a course of con-
tumelious injury, justified by those who inflict it, and
fatal alike to the maligner and the maligned, is less


fitly replied to by a gentle justice than by a just

My intention is in these letters to search out the
causes of your dislike to us, by analysing its symp-
toms, and to suggest to you motives for concealing
its intensity, if you cannot absolutely control it. I
shall next make some inquiry as to the pretexts by
you commonly assigned for your sentiments towards
us ; and as these are grounded upon your notions of
Irish character, I shall suggest a larger conception
of that character, and indicate the mode in which
its less amiable part was formed. I shall next
point out a few reasons which make it the policy
of England, though but in self-defence, rather
to assist Ireland than to revile her, or at least not to
attempt both courses at once ; and shall mention a
few strictly practical measures by which such aid
may be afforded. I shall then touch upon certain
reasons, secret even from yourself, which make this
course distasteful to you; and since they rest on
an estimate of your own character as erroneous as
that which you have formed of ours, I shall lead
you to a different point of view from which that
character may be contemplated. It is the custom of
effeminate men, whether rough or polished in de-
portment, to aggravate their own sufferings by
supposing them to be peculiar, if not unprece-
dented; I shall therefore endeavour to mitigate
yours by proving to you that your calamities result
from natural laws, which, if you choose to understand


them, you may make your friends. I shall, in con-
clusion, describe the reward which may accrue to
you if you should adopt a right course in time, and
on right motives ; as well as a career which may yet
lie before your country more glorious than you have
yourself conceived; and grounded on a character
substantially nobler than you have ever cared to
impute to her.

I adopt this method of treatment in the belief that it
involves the most practical question which can be dis-
cussed — I mean that of the temper and spirit in which
all secondary questions should be examined. Tem-
porary success sometimes attends a selfish policy ;
but wisdom accompanies justice ; nor can I doubt
that England, if once liberated from the prejudices
which enslave her, would exercise towards Ireland
that sound judgment which characterizes her above
most nations, in the management of her own imme-
diate concerns.

In the spring of 1846 your sentiments towards
Ireland were only incidentally expressed in debates
on more important matters. " It was a shame,"
you said, "to make so much of the Irish famine
by way of depreciating those laws which protected
English agricultural industry." In the autumn of
] 846 you were warned by many a significant voice
from this country, that the measures adopted by the
Imperial Parliament (hastily, and when honourable
members were bent on enjoying a little partridge


shooting) would prove insufficient for the support of
the people, and very injurious to their moral in-
terests. The measures to which I refer are the Labour
Rate Act, which provided employment for destitute
persons by making and mending of roads, and the
removal, at a time when the passions of men were
most likely to be inflamed, of those restrictions on
the possession of arms, previously found necessary
in Ireland. The effect of the latter measure has
been complete, though unintended *; yet to its merits
all classes, even the lowest in Ireland, continued in-
sensible until assured that it was intended as a com-
pliment due to a high-spirited people who had always
had a hking for fire-arms. Pray, Sir, let us have your
abuse in future rather than more of such compli-

As regards your former measure, the remonstrances
I have mentioned were listened to at last: but as
they came chiefly from persons of the higher orders,
your indignation, then more loudly expressed, took
the form of invective against Irish landlords; a class
whom you do not admire, but with whose services
you do not willingly dispense. Month after month
passed by, and every day the warnings which had
provoked your resentment, instead of rousing you to

* The following table illustrates this subject in but a slight degree.
Cases of robbery of arms.

1844 159

1845 551

1846 611

Five months of 1847 948


face in time the difficulties which you could not but
meet at last, proved themselves to have been just.
Every day increased crowds betook themselves to the
roads — at the end of every week the imperial disburse-
ments became heavier, and your indignation hotter.
The invective in which the English press then dealt
was divided impartially between the higher and middle
classes, who served together on the Relief Committees,
and the lower orders who were employed on the
roads. The Relief Committees had not, when the
fountains of the great deep were broken open, sup-
pressed the rising flood of pauperism, or restrained
it within the channels laid down on the official
charts. This circumstance was amongst those plainly
predicted to you. The selection of persons needing
employment must at best have been a most diffi-
cult, as well as invidious, task. No general rules
could be adopted which did not sanction imposi-
tion or sentence to starvation. The people saw the
public money brought into the market-place ; a very
dangerous, though sometimes necessary, exhibition.
The amount of destitution was in itself bewilder-
ing, and the difficulty of dealing with it was greatly
increased by the pressure of panic, a separate trial
of which you have had some recent experience in
your own financial concerns. Applicants who might
have held back a little longer rushed forward, lest,
when their need came, their place might be pre-
occupied. Every day the prices of food rose —
rates impended ; and many of the small farmers who


expected, even though they escaped the famine, to be
ruined by subsequent assessments, were resolved to
snatch what they could from an expenditure the re-
payment of which was ultimately to fall in part on
them. Instances of apparent partiality necessarily
were to be found where no rules could be of uni-
versal application : such cases excited the rivalry of
the less fortunate, or the anger of multitudes who
had no lights by which to guide their judgment of
right or wrong. It was impossible to discriminate
between contending claims except by means of pri-
vate information ; and as impossible, in so miscella-
neous a body as a Relief Committee, to know what
would be kept secret and what be divulged. Lists were
to be laboriously scrutinized by men unaccustomed
to business, in the midst of crowds whose move-
ments could no more be regulated than those of a
shipwrecked crew descending into the only boat.
Every error became a precedent that could not be
recalled. At the Baronial Presentment Sessions the
performance of duty was a task harder still. In
spite of the great energy and ability of the gentlemen
connected with the Board of Works, it was impos-
sible to prevent delays and disappointments each of
which exposed hundreds to the chance of starvation.
The magistrates and ratepayers, exhausted by their
previous labours at relief committees, generally found
themselves assembled at the sessions after the dis-
tress had already become severe. They deliberated

B 3


in the midst of hungry crowds, who filled the court-
house, and clustered on each other at darkened
windows and doors, watching every movement of the
pen, and guessing whether it gave or withheld. The
action, almost the countenance, of any single person
was sufficient, in that painful tenseness of suspense,
to shoot a sympathetic vibration through the mass ;
and a single irresponsible will wielded as many arms
as were idle in a starving district. A ratepayer, in
alarm for himself, had but to fly into a dishonest
passion and accuse the rest of delay. A very rapid
selection of roads was the consequence, and financial
arrangements were calculated in the storm of the
battle-field, m hen the mistake of a figure was certain
to produce the delay of a fortnight. On the roads
the case was no better. A large proportion of those
supplied with work tickets, as the only mode of sup-
porting life, were old men or boys; by their side
strong men refused to put forth their strength ; and
the check clerks were significantly advised not to
measure the tasks too closely. The works were often
valueless, and the people had wit enough to distin-
guish between useful labour and an arbitrary test of
destitution. Above all, it was found impossible to
divest labour, which being a universal institute is
based on our moral nature, of those moral relations
which constitute a bond of mutual good between the
employer and the employed. Unelevated by its ordi-
nary sanction, the original curse of labour remained


unmitigated by a service of mutual good-will; and
work became unproductive. In a word, the Labour
Rate Act failed, and survives only in its conse-

Before quitting this part of my subject, I wish to
acknowledge that I do not think this relief system
was made the best of in Ireland: but no efforts
could have made it work well. At the expense of a
digression, I will here make a few practical sugges-
tions with regard to a relief system which would pro-
bably unite more of good with less of evil. When
you have next a famine to deal with in Ireland, or
elsewhere, lay your foundations, in the first place, by
instituting a large system of mere vulgar alms, given
in kind. Political economy does not, I believe, in-
clude any canon against calling things by their names ;
and if men live upon public charity, why should
they not know themselves by the name of paupers ?
As the general basis of your operations, support
on rations those whom you must needs support :
make the district thus relieved pay at once, and by
rate, whatever proportionate part of the expense it
can possibly pay, in order to guard against a lavish
expenditure : let the gift of the state be called by
the name of gift; and be very cautious how you
lend money to public bodies, unless they borrow it
by a voluntary act, and unless they profess to have
the means of repaying it. In the second place,
do all that can be done to encourage private em-
ployment. Labour becomes pauperised where la-


bour is the only resource of starving millions ; but
from the moment you have established a cheap and
severe system of charity, you render possible a
system of free and productive labour. Proprietors
and farmers will then be able to make their own re-
sources available ; and should those resources be
insufficient, it will be the interest of the State to
lend to them on their individual responsibility, be-
cause the money thus lent will be usefully laid out and
honestly repaid. Public works really useful ought,
also, to be undertaken in those districts, if possible ;
but the usefulness of the work should be its obvious
sanction, and the relief afforded should be only an
incident. None but the able-bodied should be em-
ployed ; and those who worked ill should be at once
discharged, an easy matter where the alternative is
not starvation. In public as in private works, it might
be useful to require, in the case of young men without
families, that a portion of the wages earned should be
reserved as a fund to assist emigration at the con-
clusion of the work. In the third place, where the
pressure from without is great, and you find labour,
however unproductive, necessary, as the only test of
destitution, call it by the name of a test, and give to
those who demand it simply the necessaries of life in
proportion to the size of their family. The old man
will thus continue to sit in his chimney corner, in-
stead of breaking stones in the blasts of February, and
dying before March : the man who has ten in family
will get his ten rations: the farmer's servant boy


will discover that by deserting his master he can
earn no more than twopence a day: the smallest
possible number of applications for employment will
be made: the largest possible amount of private
employment will be given : charity will be of the
cheapest and least disturbing sort, and labour will
be productive.

To return from this digression, the Labour Rate
Act, as I have stated, failed. Irritated by this dis-
appointment, and not willing to account for it on
grounds common to human nature, which would have
condemned your own legislation, you attributed it to
the depravity of Irish nature. Parliament at last
met, and it was found expedient to change the whole
system of Irish relief. Several other laws were
passed, as a compliance with the more innocent of
our prejudices. I allude to the suspension of the
Navigation Laws, and the measures permitting the
free importation of com, and the use of sugar in the
distilleries. The effect of those enactments was such
as to prove that if Parliament had been summoned
to meet in autumn, as we had ventured to hope it
might have been, for the purpose of both passing
such measures, and amending the Labour Rate Act,
the supply of food would have been greater than it
was, the prices lower, and many thousands of lives
might have been spared. The sum of a£600,000
was subsequently voted as a loan to two or three
Irish Railway Companies, and £500,000 under the


" Land Improvement Act " to Irish proprietors. As
the latter loan has frequently been estimated at a
million and a half, it is necessary to mention that the
portion of it to which I have not referred, viz.
£1,000,000, was voted on separate grounds, at the
conclusion of the preceding session, together with
£*J,000,000 lent to English and Scotch proprietors.
In consequence of some blunders in the wording of
the Act (for blunders are not confined to this side of
the water) the portion of this loan intended for Irish
proprietors was not to be had when most wanted ;
and those who had applied for loans under the
various drainage Acts had found the proceedings too
slow to supply so urgent a need. One-half of the
money spent upon the roads was then charged upon
the imperial purse, instead of upon the lands cut up
by them, and in many cases damaged rather than
improved ; the Minister of the Crown admitting
that so vast a disaster as the potato failure was an
imperial calamity, and consequently that the whole
of the money spent in mitigation of it could not
with justice be charged on those districts which,

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Online LibraryAubrey de VereEnglish misrule and Irish misdeeds; four letters from Ireland addressed to an English Member of Parliament → online text (page 1 of 17)