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been raised is whether there has been any considerable
number who have failed in their duty ; whether the
Irish peasantry have to any large extent to such an


extent as would influence sensibly the temper of the
whole people and the course of events in Ireland
been treated with harshness and inhumanity by those
who were invested with the powers accorded by the
law to the owners of the soil ; whether they have been
driven in large numbers from their farms and homes,
and thus forced to swell the tide of emigration. This
is the issue which has been raised ; and on which a
candid consideration of the evidence compels, I think,
an affirmative decision.*

That evidence consists chiefly in the records of
evictions.t of which the first that have been published
are for the year 1849. From that year down to 1856,
the termination of the period now under consideration,
the number of evictions which took place in Ireland
amounted to 52,193 ; the number of persons evicted,
to 259,382. During the same years the numbers
emigrating were 1,479,916. The persons evicted,
therefore, bore to those who emigrated the proportion

* To prevent misapprehension, I wish to explain. In maintaining this
affirmative, it is not intended to assert that the emigration would have
been sensibly less, had no evictions occurred. The causes which necessi-
tated a reduction of the population at least, during the first decade
of the movement were of far too imperative a kind to be evaded,
and, doubtless, had the pressure been relaxed in one direction, it would
have been felt in some other. But because evictions may not have
increased the mere volume of the tide, it does not follow that they
have not affected its character and course, or produced on the social
condition of the country effects of an important kind.

t These I take from Dr. Hancock's " Report," which I believe gives
the only accurate returns extant. Those obtained later, by Lord Belmore,
are the returns, not of "evictions," but of "notices of ejectment," with
respect to which documents it is well known that they may be
served for many other purposes than the dispossession of a tenant ;
and even where actions of ejectment are commenced with this view, a
subsequent settlement of the rent frequently puts an end to the action.


of 17*5 per cent. ; in other words, not far from one
in every five of the multitudes who then swarmed
across the Atlantic had been driven by positive
physical violence from his home. This, it must be
admitted, is an impressive fact ; but to give it its
due significance, it should be considered that virtually
eviction was carried on to a far greater extent than the
recorded returns would indicate. No eviction appears
in those returns which has not come under judicial
cognizance, and been actually carried into effect by the
executive authorities ; whereas it is notorious that a
mere " notice to quit " will frequently do all the work
of an eviction, and that a single example of the
rigour of the law will naturally reduce many tenants
to submission, just as a single agrarian murder will
spread consternation amongst all the landlords of a
district. Bearing this in mind, it must, I think, be
allowed that the proportion of the whole emigration
of this time due either to eviction or fear of eviction
must have been very considerable.

But it is alleged that two-thirds * of these evictions
took place for non-payment of rent. Granting that
the fact was so, does this constitute their moral justi-
fication ? Before answering this question, it may be
well to recall what an eviction, as conducted in Ire-
land, commonly is. Most frequently, then, the evicted
tenant has for himself and those dependent on him
absolutely no means of support, or place of shelter,
outside his farm. The evictions, moreover, having

* The statement of Lord Dufferin. His lordship's statement would
seem to refer to evictions during the last ten years ; but in the absence
of other evidence, I take the same proportion for the earlier period.

P. E. O


almost invariably taken place for the purpose of con-
solidating farms, even where non-payment of rent
may have been the occasion and legal ground, the
pulling down of the tenant's house has been an
almost constant incident in the scene an incident,
too, which is generally performed in the sight, if not
over the heads, of the retiring family, who are thrust
forth, it may be in mid-winter, frequently half-naked
and starving. In the rare instances in which they
have saved enough to procure them a passage to New
York, they will probably emigrate at once : where
this is not the case, they will cower, often for days and
weeks together, in ditches by the roadside, depend-
ing for their support upon casual charity. Of course
they have the alternative of the poorhouse, but this
they do not readily, or at all events at once, accept.
After a while some of them retire thither ; others
throw themselves on the labour market ; ultimately
the great majority all except the very old emigrate.
This being what is meant by an eviction in Ireland,
the question might be raised, whether the strict
enforcement of contracts for rent by such means, in
such times as Ireland has lately passed through, be
altogether reconcilable with that Christian chanty cf
which we all make such loud profession ; whether,
when a great national convulsion has made the per-
formance of contracts impossible, the exaction by
landlords of the tenant's pound of flesh is the precise
duty which in that crisis they owe their country ; in a
word, whether the bare plea that rent is written in the
bond, ought, under all circumstances, to be taken as a
complete discharge from responsibility for any amount


of misery inflicted in enforcing it ; this, I say, is a
question which might be raised ; but for the present
I have no need to entertain it. It will suffice to call
attention to the admitted fact that for a large pro-
portion of the evictions there did not exist even this
technical justification.

For it is admitted that one-third of the evictions
were not grounded on this reason. Well, one-third of
the evictions down to 1856 would be 17,397, and
would represent a population of 86,988, who were thus,
by admission, turned adrift, while prepared to pay the
rent for which they had contracted. And these, be
it remembered, are the recorded evictions only. How
many people, over and above these 87,000, were
involved, on no stronger reasons, in the same fate,
through the simple expedient of a notice to quit, we
have no means of knowing ; but that they must have
borne a large proportion to those actually evicted
cannot be doubted. Moreover, it should be observed
that the evictions recorded as, technically, "for non-
payment of rent," would inevitably be greatly in excess
of those to which this description could properly be
applied for the purpose of the present controversy.
There is an ambiguity in the expression " non-pay-
ment of rent." In the condition of Irish tenure as it
has long existed over large portions of Ireland, there
are generally at least two rents payable in respect to
the same portion of land : there is the rent of the
middleman, and there is the rent of the occupier.
Now the occasion on which evictions in Ireland have
most commonly taken place has been furnished by the
determination of middlemen's leases. Suppose this

o 2


determination to have occurred through non-payment of
rent by the middleman, and that the landlord coming
into possession finds his estate extensively in the hands
of small occupiers holding from year to year, whom he
proceeds to evict, the evictions will in this case be
recorded as having taken place for " non-payment of
rent," although it may be that every one of the persons
thus turned out is willing and prepared to pay the
rent in consideration of which he was admitted to
his farm. As none, however, are prepared to pay the
middleman's rent, which most probably accrues from
a very large district, arid this is the only rent in respect
to which the landlord was a contracting party, " non-
payment of rent" is recorded as the ground of the
eviction. Keeping in view how frequently middle-
men's leases have lapsed through default on the part
of the middlemen, and again how frequently this has
been the occasion for wholesale evictions, I think we
must come to the conclusion that, as against the
victims of these proceedings, the persons actually
turned adrift, the plea of non-payment of rent, what-
ever it may be worth, has a much more limited applica-
tion than appears from the printed returns.

I shall here perhaps be asked What is the bearing
of this discussion ? To what purpose bring to light
scandalous transactions long past, and which cannot
now be undone ? In the first place, unfortunately,
wholesale clearances by means of eviction and for the
purpose of consolidation are not yet quite obsolete in
Ireland,* and still less is that state of feeling between

* [The reader will bear in mind that this was written before the passing
of the Act of 1870.]


the owner and the occupier of the soil of which such
evictions have been the natural fruit. But further, the
part taken by Irish landlords in connection with the
Irish emigration is a portion of history, and one of
which the due recognition is, I hold, quite indispen-
sable to the right understanding of present events.

Not a few public writers feel much difficulty in
accounting for the persistent hatred manifested by a
portion of the Irish people for the English name.
Such a state of feeling is regarded as incomprehensible,
in presence of the many and great benefits conferred on
their country by modern legislation, and of the good
disposition towards Irishmen which is known to
animate most English statesmen ; and, as generally
happens in like cases, the phenomenon is therefore
commonly referred to some ineradicable vice or flaw
in the Celtic character. It might help those writers
to a solution of their difficulty, if they would reflect
on the condition of mind in which the victims of the
violent expulsions just described must have crossed the
Atlantic. Is it strange if, in after years, the picture
of the sheriff" and his posse, with crowbar and torch,
and the smoking ruins of their hovels tumbling to
pieces over their heads, if the nights spent in the
ditch by the wayside, and all the wretchedness of the
tramp to the port, if these things should find a more
permanent place in their imagination than the advan-
tages of Catholic Emancipation, Corporate Reform, the
National Schools, or the Encumbered Estates Court ?
Men leaving their country full of such bitter recollec-
tions would naturally not be forward to disseminate
the most amiable ideas respecting Irish landlordism


and the power which upholds it. I own I cannot
wonder that a thirst for revenge should spring from
such calamities; that hatred, even undying hatred, for
what they could not but regard as the cause and
symbol of their misfortunes English rule in Ireland
should possess the sufferers ; that it should grow into
a passion, into a religion, to be preached with fanatic
zeal to their kindred, and bequeathed to their posterity
perhaps not the less effectually that it happened to
be their only legacy. The disaffection now so widely
diffused throughout Ireland may possibly in some
degree be fed from historical traditions, and have its
remote origin in the confiscations of the seventeenth
century ; but all that gives it energy, all that renders
it dangerous, may, I believe, be traced to exasperation
produced by recent transactions, and more especially
to the bitter memories left by that most flagrant abuse
of the rights of property, and most scandalous dis-
regard of the claims of humanity the wholesale clear-
ances of the period following the famine.



THE war of 1870, which has already unmade and made
emperors, which has shaken one nation to its centre
and consolidated another, has also brought some well-
worn platitudes to the proof. What have become of
our peace-at-any-price principles ? of the doctrine of
non-intervention, as interpreted by Manchester ? How
completely do we now miss in able leaders the cus-
tomary assurance winding up all discussion on foreign
topics, that, come what might, under no circumstances
could England be drawn into war. The common form
has disappeared, and has given place to an entirely
different refrain. The picture of the secure watcher
gazing from his serene height on the tempest-tossed
bark below is less familiar than it was some six months
ago. In early July England's interest in European
politics was that of the gods of Epicurus in human
affairs. Before the month passed, indeed, the reve-
lation of the Benedetti treaty showed that anger
could find a place even in the placid bosoms of
* Fortnightly Review, February 1871.


Englishmen. But the unwonted emotion was ap-
peased by the new Belgian treaty. The course of
the war, removing all danger on the side of that
Power from which danger was most apprehended,
reassured us, and by October we had begun to
settle down into the comfortable conviction, that,
behind our " streak of silver sea," the role for us in
Europe could only be a moral one. Let others
maintain armies and seek aggrandizement or glory
in barbarous warfare ; ours the purer ambition, sitting
aloof from the distractions of less favoured lands, to
weigh the merits of our neighbours' quarrels, award
by our verdict the meed of honour or disgrace, and
shape that opinion which rules the world. " Happy
England!" which thus, safe from the dangers of
Continental neighbourhood, may yet share in all the
honours of the grand drama ! We had begun, I say, to
settle down into this conviction, when the Gortchakoff
circular rudely disturbed our self-gratulations, and
showed us the sort of paradise we were living in.
We, whose interest in European affairs was either
none at all, or that of the impartial and disinterested
spectator, were suddenly discovered to be the prin-
cipal, if not the sole, guardians of European public
law. Having pronounced judgment, it belonged to
us also, it seemed, to carry the sentence into effect.
Nor so strictly were our obligations interpreted
was it permitted to go behind the form in order to
look at the substance, nor yet to take account of the
joint nature of our responsibilities, shared as they
were by others equally or more interested and equally
bound with ourselves. It was sufficient that the law


was so, that our signature was to the bond. Such,
or nearly such, was the language very generally held
by the London press in the end of November under
the stimulus given to our national self-respect by the
Russian manifesto ; and it would seem in the main
to have correctly reflected the passing mood of the
public. To this complexion have our peace-at-any-
price professions come, and such is the practical issue
from our oft-repeated resolves to withdraw wholly
from the Continental scene. I say such is the prac-
tical issue from those professions ; for who does not
see that the present overwrought susceptibility of the
nation is but the natural and inevitable reaction from
past ignoble avowals ? No doubt we meant but a
small portion of what we said, or what was said on
our behalf; but professions of faith are not neces-
sarily without practical consequences because they are
insincere. They may be believed by others ; and
those who uttered the platitudes, or who suffered them
to pass, thinking them, perhaps, a graceful homage to
becoming aspirations, may find themselves forced into
courses such as they would never have dreamed of
entering on, were it not for the real or supposed
necessity of dissipating delusions they have them-
selves sedulously built up.

But, not to enter now on controverted ground, one
truth, at all events, comes out with sufficient distinct-
ness from the heated utterances and more or less wild
pretensions of the last month. England is not going
to retire from the field of European politics. She
means to take part in the controversies of nations ;
a part other than that of impartial spectator and


serene arbiter of disputes in the issue of which she
has no share. Englishmen may differ as to the
precise occasions which would warrant and call for
a resort to arms ; but as a nation they recognize
that such occasions may arise. Not only do they
desire to pursue, undisturbed from without, their
internal development : they would also speak their
mind freely on the great issues of Europe, unassailed,
or at all events unaffected, by those insolent warnings
of which Belgium, for instance, was but the other day
made the object. Nay, further, if I do not greatly
misinterpret the present signs, they would wish, in
certain not impossible contingencies, to be ready to
strike an effective blow in the cause of the indepen-
dence of nations. And, desiring the end, they desire
the means. They would have a force sufficient, not
merely to secure them against attack, but also to give
weight to their voice in council, and, if need were,
value to their co-operation in the field.

Such seems to me the practical conclusion deducible
from the crisis we have just passed through. And
now how does our material position accord with our
political pretensions ? Our foreign policy, we have
been told by high authority, must govern our arma-
ments. Taking the former to be such as has been
indicated, what is the state of our preparations in
presence of the Powers whose forces we may any day
be called upon to confront ?

The facts of our military position (for I put aside
the question of the navy as foreign to the subject of
this paper) must now be familiar to most readers.
The entire aggregate of our military establishment of


all arms, comprising colonial and West India corps,
depots of Indian regiments and other accessory esta-
blishments, amounts, on paper, to just 115,000 men.*
Of these the numbers in England amount to 82,000 ;
and of this force, the proportion which would be avail-
able to put in line against an enemy, after the necessary
deduction for Ireland, for garrisoning; our fortresses

' O O

and for various subsidiary services, is, according to
Mr. Trevelyan's calculation, which has not, so far as I
know, been disputed, from 35,000 to 40,000 men little
more than the strength of a single Prussian army
corps. In addition to these, we should have, as a
reserve, our militia, yeomanry, and volunteers, the
value of which, in the present state of their organiza-
tion and equipment, if opposed to the trained and fully
equipped troops of the Continent, I leave to military
critics to determine. These, at all events, even on
the most favourable supposition, could only come into
action as a second line ; and in effect the net available
outcome of our military resources at the present time,
in the event of our being engaged in a struggle with
a Continental Power of the first rank, would be repre-
sented by 40,000 men, as against, for example, the
250,000 which France six months ago was able to
place in line of battle on her frontier, or the 500,000,
supported by a reserve of still greater dimensions,
which Prussia sent to the front. What the tangible
force actually forthcoming out of the enormous military
resources of Austria and Russia would be, I will not
venture to conjecture ; but, as set down on paper, the
regular armies, including reserves, of these two Powers

* I take these figures from Martin's Statesman's Year Book.


appear respectively as 830,000 and 1,135,000 men.*
Such would be our military position in the pre-
sence of a Continental Power of the first class. But
then we are told of the excellent quality of English
troops, and how a French general congratulated
himself there were so few of them. They would
certainly need to be of high quality, considering the
odds against which they would have to fight ; and
they certainly ought to be of high quality if cost of
maintenance affords any criterion of the value of the
article. For how stand the facts in this respect ?
Briefly thus : while France, at an expense of
^14,000,000 sterling, maintained, up to the outbreak of
the war, a force available for the field of 250,000 men ;
while North Germany, at half this expense, that is to
say, for ^"7,000,000 sterling, maintained an organization
capable of furnishing, at fourteen days' notice, 500,000
men, and of not only keeping up this number through
a most destructive campaign, but of raising it in a few
months to nearly double the amount ; we, at a cost
equal to the larger of the sums mentioned that is to
say, at a cost of 14, 000,000 1 have just contrived
to keep on foot an army which, all indispensable and
permanent needs being provided for, would leave us,

* Martin's Statesman's Year Book. Under the new military laws of
Russia, of which the proposed draft has just been published, the effective
aggregate for that country will, no doubt, be largely increased. It will
be noticed that all the proposed reforms are in the direction of the
Prussian military system.

t The total cost of the army, as set down in the last estimates, is, in
round numbers, ^13,000,000, but a supplementary vote was passed at the
end of the session for ^2,000,000 for both services, of which .1,000,000
may be assumed as taken for the army. In 1869-70 the army cost us
^14,111,000, and in 1868-9, ,15,455,000.


in the event of war, a force available for the field of
40,000 men. Or we may represent the case thus :
A German soldier costs the State some ^29 a year; a
French soldier costs the State some ^"41 a year; an
English soldier costs the State ^"100 a year; so that
if cost furnished any criterion of quality, the quality of
the English soldier might fairly be supposed to stand
high. Unfortunately in this critical age people will
ask for some other evidence of the superiority of the
British soldier than that furnished by the extravagant
sum which he costs. But, unless they are satisfied
with allusions to " the thin red line," and to the ex-
ploits of British armies under Marlborough and Wel-
lington, I fear they will ask in vain. It will scarcely
be held that the Crimean campaign is conclusive upon
this question ; and it will be remembered that most of
the armies of the Great Powers in Europe have been
remodelled since 1856.

What we know is, that the personnel of our army
differs from that of armies on the Continent mainly
in these two circumstances : alone among European
armies, the English rank and file is recruited exclu-
sively from a single class of the population, this class
being the poorest, the most ignorant, and the least
moral of the community ; and alone, again, among
European armies, it is commanded by officers who
owe their promotion, not to proved professional quali-
fication, not to personal merit or distinction, not even
to seniority, but mainly to the strength of their aristo-
cratic or political connection and to the length of their
purse. So far as outsiders can see, these are the
main differences between English and Continental


armies in the matter of personnel ; and they are
scarcely of a kind to warrant us in supposing that
English troops can, man for man, stand against four
or five times the number of their possible adversaries.
Thus, at a cost equal to that incurred by France,
double that incurred by Germany, we maintain an
army for practical purposes one-sixth as numerous
as the army of France, one-twelfth as numerous as
the army of Germany an army composed ex-
clusively in its rank and file of the dregs of the
community,* and officered by men for whose moral,
intellectual, and professional competency it is a very-
weak statement of the case to say we have absolutely
no guarantee at all.

Such are the broad and simple facts of the case ;
the undisputed, the indisputable facts. Is it necessary
to go further, and to spend time in discussing " the
dual system of government," the half-pay list, sine-
cure colonelcies, army agencies, and the other mys-

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 15 of 27)