Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 online

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resistance. All frauds would be forgiven in an hour of plausible
success, or even in a moment of undeniable preparation. But
disappointment coming in the rear of extravagant hopes will be fatal,
and strike a frost to the heart of the conspiracy. For it cannot be
doubted that none of these extra services, whether in money or personal
attendance, would have been rendered without express assurances from
high quarters, and not _merely_ from fond imaginations founded on
appearances, that the pretended regeneration for Ireland was at land.

Now let us see how these natural sequences, from the very nature of the
showy demonstrations recently organized, and from the very promises by
which they must have been echoed, will operate in relation to the
measures of the Government; either those which have been adopted, or
those which have been declined. Had the resolution (a fatal resolution,
as we _now_ think) been adopted in the cabinet to disperse the meetings
by force, blood would have flowed; and a plea, though fraudulent in
virtue, would have been established for O'Connell - such as we may
suppose to be built upon a fact so liable to perversion. His hands would
have been prodigiously strengthened. The bloodshed would have been kept
before the eyes of the people for ever, and would have taken innumerable
forms. But the worst, ultimately the ruinous, operation of this official
intervention would have lain in the plenary excuse from his engagements
furnished to Mr O'Connell, and in the natural solution of all those
embarrassments which for himself he _cannot_ solve. At present he is at
his wits' end to devise any probable scheme for tranquillizing the
universal disappointment, for facing the relapse from infinite
excitement, and for propitiating the particular fury of those who will
now hold themselves to have been defrauded of their money. Leave this
tempest to itself, and it will go near to overwhelm the man: or if the
local separation of the parties most injured should be so managed as to
intercept that result, assuredly it will overwhelm the cause. In the
estimate, therefore, of O'Connell, we may rely upon it - that a battalion
of foot, or a squadron of horse, appearing in aid of the police to clear
the ground at Mallow or at Donnybrook, would have seemed the least
questionable godsend that has ever illuminated his experience. "O
_jubilate_ for a providential deliverance!" that would have been his
cry. "Henceforward be all my difficulties on the heads of my opponents!"
But at least, it is argued, the _fact_ would have been against him; the
dispersion would have disarmed him, whatever colouring he might have
caused it to bear. Not at all. We doubt if one meeting the less would
have been held. Ready at all times for such emergencies, the leader
would not suffer himself to be found without every conceivable legal
quillet, sharpened and retouched, against the official orders. He would
have had an interview with the authorities: he would have shown a flaw
in the wording of the instructions: he would have rebaptized his
assembly, and, where no business goes on, any name will answer: he would
have called his mob "a tea-party," or "an agricultural association;" the
sole real object concerned, which is the exhibition of vast numbers
trained and amenable to instant restraint, would have proceeded under
new names. This would no longer have languished when Government had
supplied the failing impulse: and in the mean time to have urged that,
merely by its numbers, combined with its perilous tendencies, the
gathering was unlawful - would have availed nothing: for the law
authorities in parliament, right or wrong, have affected doubts upon
that doctrine; and, when parliament will not eventually support him, it
matters little that a minister of these days would, for the moment,
assume the responsibility of a strong measure. Or, if parliament were to
legislate anew for this special case, the Repealer would then split his
large mobs into many small ones: he would lecture, he would preach, he
would sing, in default of other excuses for meeting. No law, he would
observe coolly to the magistrate, against innumerable prayer-meetings or
infinite concerts. The items would still be reported to one central
office: the _facit_ would be the same; and it would tell for the same

Thus it appears that no fact would have resulted against the Repealers,
had the Government taken a severe course. Still, may it not be said that
a _fact_, and a strong one, survives on the other side, viz. against the
Government, under this forbearing course which they really have taken?
What fact? Is it the organization of all Ireland? Doubtless that bears
an ominous sound: but it must be considered - that if the leader cannot
wield this vast organization for any purposes of his own, and plainly he
cannot so long as he acquires no fresh impulses or openings to action
from the indiscretion of his opponents, but on the contrary must be
ruined - cause and leader, party and partisan chief, by the very 'lock'
(or as in America is said, the 'fix') into which he has brought himself,
by the pledge which he cannot redeem - far less can that organization be
used by others or for any other purpose. It is an organization not
secret; not bound by oaths; loose and careless in its cohesion; not
being good for its proper object, it is good for no other, and we hear
of no one attribute by which it threatens the public peace beyond its
numerical extent.

But is _that_ true? Is it numerically so potent as it is represented? We
hardly need to say, that the exaggerations upon this point have been too
monstrous to call for any pointed exposures. With respect to one of the
southern meetings - that at Cork, we believe - by way of applying some
scale or measurement to the exaggerations, we may mention that a
military man, actually measured the ground after the retirement of the
crowd. He ascertained that the ground could barely accommodate
twenty-five thousand men standing in regimental order. What was the
report of the newspaper? Four to five hundred thousand, as usual.
Indeed, we may complain of our English Conservative Journals as, in this
point, faithfully reflecting the wildest statements of the Repeal
organs. So much strength was apparently given, for the moment, to the
Repeal interest by these outrageous fictions, that we, for our own
parts, (whilst hesitating as to other points of the Government policy,)
did not scruple to tax the Home Minister and the Queen's Lieutenant with
some neglect of duty[O] in not sending experienced officers of the army
to reconnoitre the meetings in every instance, and authentically to make
returns of the numbers present. Since reading the minister's speech,
however, we are disposed to think that this neglect was not altogether
without design. It appears that Sir Robert relies in part upon these
frightful falsehoods for effecting a national service by rousing the
fears of the Roman Catholic landholders. In this there is no false
refinement; for, having very early done all the mischief they could as
incendiary proclamations of power to the working classes, the
exaggerations are now, probably, operating with even more effect in an
opposite direction upon the great body of the Catholic gentry. Cordially
to unite this body with the government of Ireland would, by much,
overbalance the fickle support of the peasantry, given for the moment to
the cause of disaffection. That disaffection, under its present form, is
already, perhaps, on the point of unlocking its union. It _cannot_ be
permanent as an organization; for, without hope, no combination can
sustain itself, and a disaffection, founded purely upon _social_ causes,
can be healed by no Government whatever. But if the Catholic gentry,
treated as they now are with fraternal equality, should heartily
coalesce with the party promoting a closer _British_ connexion, that
would be a permanent gain.

The Irish policy, therefore, the immediate facts of the policy, pursued
by the Government, if we distinguish it from the general theory and
principles of their policy as laid down in the speech of the Premier,
has not been what it is said to have been. Summing up the heads, let us
say that we are _not_ resigned negligently to the perils of civil war;
those perils, though as great as Mr O'Connell could make them, are not
by any means as great as Mr O'Connell describes them; the popular arrays
are ridiculously below the amounts reported to us: in some instances
they have been multiplied by 20, probably in all by 15; the rumour and
the terror of these arrays have operated both ways; _for_ us more
permanently than against us. Lastly, it is not true that the Government
has proceeded only by negative steps; the army has been increased in
Ireland, the garrisons have been better arranged; military stations have
been strengthened, and seditious magistrates have been dismissed.

Upon this last point, one word: we have seen nothing more grossly
factious in the conduct of the Whigs, than the assertion, that these
magistrates ought _not_ to have been dismissed. Well might the
Chancellor say, that the discussion had been conducted by petty
lawyerlike quibbles. The case stands thus: there are two principles
concerned in the tenure of the magistrate's office - theoretic
amenability to the letter of the law, and practical serviceableness for
his duties. Either furnishes a ground of dismissal. To be scandalously
indecorous, to be a patron of gambling in public places, would offer no
_legal_ objection to a magistrate; but he would be dismissed as a person
unsuitable by his habits to the gravity of the commission. If you hire a
watchman to protect your premises, and you discharge him upon the ground
that he has been found drinking with reputed burglars, no man will hold
the watchman to have been hardly used, because the burglars had not been
convicted judicially. That allegation amounts to this: that he has not
committed any offence known to the laws. What will you reply? "I know
it," you say: "I grant it; and therefore I charge you with no offence.
But I dismiss you on a principle of expedience. You have violated no
law; but you have shown yourself to be a man disqualified for the very
urgent duties of the post - much more disqualified than you would have
been by sickness, blindness, or any other physical infirmity."

Mr O'Connell now threatens to pursue his career, by repeating that same
absurd misdemeanour of summoning a mock parliament, which, some twenty
and odd years ago, a Staffordshire baronet expiated by the penalties of
fine and imprisonment. At that crisis we shall see the tranquil minister
unmask his artillery. But could it be reasonable to look for a faithful
discharge of painful duties, arising in these later stages of the Repeal
cause (and duties applying probably to the cases of gentlemen,
neighbours, fellow partisans,) from one who had already promoted that
cause, in its previous stages, to the extent of sedition and
conspiracy? He who has already signalized to the nation his readiness
to co-operate in so open a mischief as dismemberment of the empire,
wherefore should he shrink from violating an obscure rule of the common
law, or a black letter statute?

But enough of the policy which _has_ been pursued. _That_, by its nature
is limited, and of necessity, in many points of recent application, is a
policy of watching and negation. Now, let us turn to the general policy,
as it is reviewed in the very comprehensive speech of the Prime
Minister. This applies equally to the past and the future. The French
journals, and in particular the _Débats_, complain that it is crowded
with details. How should this be otherwise? Can there be an answer given
to charges whose vice is their vagueness, otherwise than by
_circumstantial_ exposures of their falsehood? Ireland, for instance,
has been unfairly treated as to taxes, partition of indulgences,
pecuniary advances. That is the charge. Can it be met with another
answer than by absolute arithmetic, tax-office proofs, or returns from
the Exchequer? "But in these a foreigner takes no interest." Doubtless!
and _that_ should be an argument with the foreigner for his declining to
judge upon the question. Want of understanding is not at all a worse
disqualification for acting as a judge than want of interest in the
subject. We mention this pointedly; because it is not to foreigners
chiefly that this maxim applies: a profound injustice continually
operates in this way amongst the parliamentary foes of Government. Often
in private life we witness the unprincipled case - that, upon suspecting
a man's vindication to be established by any investigation, men will
decline to look into it, as really possessing too little interest for
themselves; though these same people had not found any want of interest
in the allegations - nay, had mastered all the details - so long as the
charges pointed to some disgraceful issue, and the verdict threatened to
be unfavourable. An instance of this baseness, truly shocking to the
moral sense, is found in the ridiculous charge against the ministers,
founded upon the mail-coach contract. This was not at all too petty to
be pressed with rancour. However, it was answered. The answer, on the
principle of the case, and coupled with the illustrations from parallel
cases, is decisive. And then the taunt is - "But why fasten upon charges
so minute and frivolous?" Minute and frivolous, we grant; but not so in
that degree which prevented you gentlemen in opposition from dwelling on
then with genial spite, as being odious in proportion to their
pettiness. "You, you, it was," says Sir Robert, "that pressed the case!"
Certainly: and they it was who would never have withdrawn the case had
they not found it untenable. It is thus easy for two men to concert a
collusive attack which shall succeed either way, and be dishonest both
ways. "Do you," says the one, "_try on_ this particular case for
harassing the minister. If it tells, if it sticks, then we both pitch
into him. If it fails, then rise I and say: - 'How shameful in an
official person to throw dust in the eyes of the House by detaining it
upon a miserable trifle, whilst the criminal gravities of his conduct
are skulking in the rear under this artifice for misleading the public

With this prefatory explanation, called for, perhaps, by the unequal
importance of the points reviewed, we shall now rehearse the heads of
this speech. It is a speech that, by anticipation, we may call
memorable, looking before and after; good, as a history for half a
century gone by since our union with Ireland; good, we venture to hope,
as a rule and as a prophecy for the spirit of our whole future connexion
with that important island. We shall move rapidly; for our rehearsal
will best attain the object we have in view by its brevity and

I. - Mr Roebuck had insisted that Ireland was made the victim of our
English parsimony; not once and away, but systematically. This happens
to be a charge peculiarly irritating to all parties - to the authors of
the parsimony, and to its objects. And, says Sir Robert, I am told to
avoid it as secondary; but observe, it is quite substantial enough, as
others say, to justify "an impeachment." This is the honourable
barrister's word; and a "soft" impeachment it will turn out.

_a._ By the Act of Union, it was provided that, in voting the civil
estimates for Ireland, whatever sum it should appear that Ireland had
averaged for six years before the Union, in her own votes for a
particular purpose, annually that same sum should be voted for a period
prescribed by the United Parliament. The purpose was, internal
improvement in Ireland, and any national uses, whether pious or
charitable. What, then, had been the extent of the Irish vote? We
neglect small fractions, and state that it had averaged seventy-three
thousand a year. For the first twenty years, therefore, the obligation
upon the Imperial Parliament had been, to vote twenty times that sum, or
L. 1,460,000. This was the contract. What was the performance? Five
millions, three hundred and forty-eight thousand pounds, or three and a
half times the amount of the promise.

_b._ Another extraordinary vote in the Irish Parliament, previous to the
Union, had been upon the miscellaneous estimates. This vote, when
averaged on the same principle, had produced annually one hundred and
twenty-eight thousand pounds. To the same sum the United Parliament
stood pledged for the first period of twenty-eight years succeeding the
Union. The reader will see at once that the result ought to have been
little more than three and a half millions. That was the debt. What was
the payment? Something beyond five millions.

_c._ Upon another comparison, viz. between Scotland and Ireland, as to
another class of _extras_ and contingencies, it turns out - that, during
the last period of seven years, to Scotland had been voted six hundred
and sixty thousand pounds, to Ireland two million, two hundred, and
sixty thousand; to Scotland, that is, less than _one_ hundred thousand
_per annum_; to Ireland, more than _three_ hundred thousand.

In the same category stands the relative taxation. Ireland was to pay
two-seventeenths of the whole imperial burden. That was the bargain,
which we are not called on to reopen. But, as _extras_, as a liberal
_bonus_ upon this bargain, Ireland has been excused from paying for
windows - for assessed taxes - for soap. At this moment, in addition to
these liberal discounts, she has no _national_ share, _as_ Ireland,[P]
in the Income Tax: and she may be said, in one sense, to receive her
letters gratuitously, for the postage yields nothing to Government, all
being absorbed by the Irish post office. It is little, after this, to
start possibilities of unequal contribution as regards the indirect
taxation: this could not be separately apportioned to the three great
limbs of the empire without disturbing the great currents of commerce.
It is enough that by exemptions upon the direct taxes, so far as
concerns three of them - window, assessed, and income - Ireland receives a
large indemnity.

II. Connected with the last head is the reproach made to Great Britain
upon the subject of railway encouragement. What encouragement? By money?
Yes, says Lord John Russell, whose experience in office (as one of a
cabinet plagued in the way that all cabinets are by projectors and
scheming capitalists) ought to have taught him better. Have we given any
money to our own railways? No: but England is rich. True: and Ireland is
not suffered to be _so_ rich as she might be by her Irish "friends." But
rich or not rich, is no question here. If schemes of profit are not
profitable in this country, we do not encourage them. If they _are_
profitable, they want no encouragement. Still, it is said, might it not
be prudent to feed the railroads in Ireland, not with any view to the
scheme for itself but considered as a means of development for the
circumjacent country? No, replies Sir Robert, that is an error: railways
may benefit _by_ the country: but the country through which they race,
is rarely affected by _them_ more than the atmosphere aloft by the
balloons. The great towns on the route, or at the extremities, doubtless
benefit; but in too small a degree, unless they are manufacturing towns,
to warrant the least thoughtful of ministers in assisting them. However,
to make a beginning, and as a topic to be borne in mind, how much would
be wanted? A matter of _ten millions_, says Lord John. _Olli
subridens_, replies the minister, "What! only that?" But, returning to
business, he reminds the house - that, even for so small a sum as ten
millions sterling, the nation would perhaps expect security. Who is to
give it? Are the counties traversed to be assessed? But they will disown
the benefit arising. And, says Sir Robert, take a miniature case - a sum
little more than one-tenth of ten millions was advanced by this country
on account of the Irish work-houses, and for a time there was some
advantage gained to the industry of the land. But that soon passed away,
and then two evils arose at once. The money was to be repaid, and the
employment was at an end. But this latter evil was worse than it seemed,
for it did not act as a simple privation of so much good; the _extra_
stimulation of the national industry, as invariably happens, and as at
this moment we see in England upon the cessation of a ten years' demand
for iron, on account of our own railways, brought about a corresponding,
exhaustion for the new Poor Law, tending violently to civil tumults. The
repayment of that advance will yet cost Ireland many a groan.

III. If Ireland, then, is not ill-treated as to her taxation, or her
public improvements, is it true that she is ill-treated in the persons
of her children? That also has been said; but Sir Robert disperses that
fancy by facts which are as conclusive as they are really little needed
at this day. Sculptors had been appointed by members of the cabinet,
police commissioners, &c.; and, as will easily be believed, with no
question ever mooted as to their birth, whether English, Scotch, or
Irish. Subsequently, however, it had turned out as a blind fact, which
is useful in showing the entire indifference to such a point in the
minds of public men, that the larger proportion of successful candidates
were Irish. This was an accident certainly, but an accident
irreconcilable with the least shadow of prejudice pointing in that

IV. Of social grievances, grievances connected with the state of
society, there are but too many in Ireland: relations between landlord
and tenant for instance; but these are so little caused or aggravated by
Parliament, that they cannot even be lightened by Parliament. What
little is possible, however, says Sir Robert, we will attempt. The
elective franchise is another case; yet, if that is now too much
narrowed, why is it so? Let Ireland thank herself, and the growing
indisposition amongst Irish landlords to grant leases. Might we not,
then, transfer to Ireland our English franchise? But _that_, applied to
Irish institutions and arrangements, would narrow the electoral basis
still further than it is narrowed. Not, therefore, _against_ the Irish,
but in their behalf, we withhold our own unsuitable privileges. It is a
separate question, besides, whether the _moral_ civilization of Ireland
is equal to the exercise of our English franchise. Education of the
people again, if there is an obstacle at this time to its movement in
Ireland, where does it originate? We all know the great schism upon that
subject existing amongst the Irish Protestants, and how embarrassing the
Government has found that fend - how intractable and embittered, for the
very reason that it rested upon no personal jealousies which might have
relaxed or been overruled, but (for one side at least) upon deep
conscientious scruples. Reverence those scruples we must; but still the
Irish are not entitled to charge upon ministers a public evil of their
own creation. In all these calamities, or others of the same nature,
oppressing the state of society in Ireland, and derived as an
inheritance from ancient times, the blame too notoriously, in no part of
it, rests with the English ministers; and the proof is evident in this
fact - that, except by one monstrous anti-social proposal from a very few
of the opposition members, as a remedy for the land-occupancy
complaints - a proposal strongly disavowed by the leaders of the party,
no _practical_ flaw was detected, either of omission or commission, as
affecting the ministerial policy. The objections were pure generalities;
and even Lord John Russell, who adopted the usual complaint against the
minister, that he brought forward no definite plan, and whose own field
of choice was therefore left all the wider, offered nothing more
specific than the following mysterious suggestion, which is probably a
Theban hieroglyphic - that, like as the "celebrated" Cromwell, in times
past, did appoint Sir Matthew Hale to the presiding seat on the bench
of justice, even so ought Sir Robert Peel to - - . But there the
revelation ceased. What are we to suppose the suppressed _apodosis_ of
the proposition? Was it to disarm Mr O'Connell, by making him an
archbishop? Little propensity have we to treat a great national crisis
with levity; but surely every man is entitled to feel indignant, that
when the burden of attack upon Government, is for their silence with
regard to specific measures, (which, to be effectual, must often be

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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 22 of 23)