Imágenes de páginas

agriculture and manufactures of the country can find employment for it. All degrees of all nations begin with living in pigstyes. The king or the priest first gets out of them ; then the noble, then the pauper, in proportion as each class becomes more and more opulent: Better tastes arise from better circuinstances; and the luxury of one period is the wretchedness and poverty of another, English peasants, in the time of Henry the Seventh, were lodged as badly as Irish peasants now are; but the population was limited by the difficulty of procuring a corn subsistence. The improvements of this kingdom were more rapid ; the price of labour rose; and, with it, the luxury and comfort of ihe peasant, who is now decently lodged and clothed, and who would think himself in the last stage of wretchedness, if he had nothing but an iron pot in a turf house, and plenty of potatoes in it. The use of the potatoe was introduced into Ireland when the wretched accommodation of her own peasantry bore some proportion to the state of those accommodations all over Europe. But they have increased their population so fast, and, in conjunction with the oppressive government of Ireland retarding improvement, have kept the price of labour so low, that the Irish poor have never been able to emerge from their mud cabins, or to acquire any taste for cleanliness and decency of appearance. Mr Curwen has the following description of Irish cottages.

"These mansions of miserable existence, for so they may truly be described, conformably to our general estimation of those indispensable comforts requisite to constitute the happiness of rational beings, are most commonly composed of two rooms on the ground floor, a most appropriate term, for they are literally on the earth ; the surface of which is not unfrequently reduced a foot or more, to save the expense of so much outward walling. The one is a refectory, the other the dormitory. The furniture of the former, if the owner ranks in the upper part of the scale of scantiness, will consist of a kitchen dresser, well provided and highly decorated with crokery—not less apparently the pride of the husband, than the result of female vanity in the wife: which, with a table--a chest--a few stools--and an iron pot, complete the catalogue of conveniences generally found, as be. Jonging to the cabin ; while a spinning-wheel, furnished by the Linen Board, and a loom, ornament vacant spaces, that otherwise would remain unfurnished. In fitting up the latter, which cannot, on any occasion, or by any display, add a feather to the weight or importance expected to be excited by the appearance of the former, the inventory is limited to one, and sometimes two beds, serving for the repose of the whole family! However downy these may be to limbs impatient for rest, their coverings appeared to be very slight; and the whole of the appartment created reflections of a very painful nature. Under such privations, with a wet mud floor, and a roof in tatters, how idle the search for comforts !'-Curwen, I. 112, 113.

To this extract we shall add one more on the same subject. "The gigantic figure, bare-headed before me, had a beard that would not have disgraced an ancient Israelite--he was without shoes or stockings and almost a sans-culotte-with a coat, or rather a jacket, that appeared as if the first blast of wind would tear it to tatters. Though his garb was thus tattered, he had a manly commanding countenance. I asked permission to see the inside of his cabin, to which I received his most courteous assent. On stooping to enter at the door I was stopped, and found that permission from another was necessary before I could be admitted. A pig, which was fastened to a stake driven into the floor, with length of rope sufficient to permit him the enjoyment of sun and air, demanded some courtesy, which I showed him, and was suffered to enter. The wife was engaged in boiling thread ; and by her side, near the fire, a lovely infant was sleeping, without any covering, on a bare board. Whether the fire gave additional glow to the countenance of the babe, or that Nature impressed on its unconscious cheek a blush that the lot of man should be exposed to such privations, I will not decide ; but if the cause be referrible to the latter, it was in perfect unison with my own feelings. Two or three other children crowded round the mother: on their rosy countenances health seemed established in spite of filth and ragged garments. The dress of the poor woman was barely sufficient to satisfy decency. Her countenance bore the impression of a set melancholy, tinctured with an appearance of ill health. The hovel, which did not exceed twelve or fifteen feet in length, and ten in breadth, was half obscured by smoke-chimney or window I saw none; the door served the various purposes of an inlet to light, and the outlet to smoke. The furniture consisted of two stools, an iron pot, and a spinning-wheel-while a sack stuffed with straw, and a single blanket laid on planks, served as a bed for the repose of the whole family. Need I attempt to describe my sensations ? The statement alone cannot fail of conveying, to a mind like yours, an adequate idea of them-I could not long remain a witness to this acmé of human misery. As I left the deplorable habitation, the mistress followed me to repeat her thanks for the trifle I had bestowed : This gave me an opportunity of observing her person more particularly. She was a tall figure, her countenance composed of interesting features, and with every appearance of having once been handsome.

- Unwilling to quit the village without first satisfying myself whether what I had seen was a solitary instance, or a sample of its general state ; or whether the extremity of poverty I had just beheld had arisen from peculiar improvidence and want of management in one wretched family ; I went into an adjoining habitation, where I found a poor old woman of eighty, whose miserable existence was

painfully continued by the maintenance of her granddaughter. Their condition, if possible, was more deplorable.'-Curwen, I. 181-183.

This wretchedness, of which all strangers who visit Ireland are so sensible, proceeds certainly, in great measure, from their accidental use of a food, so cheap, that it encourages population to an extraordinary degree, lowers the price of labour, and leaves the multitudes which it calls into existence almost destitute of every thing but food. Many more live, in consequence of the introduction of potatoes; but all live in greater wretchedness. In the progress of population, the potatoe must. of course become at last as difficult to be procured as any other food; and then let the political economist calculate what the immensity and wretchedness of a people must be, where the farther progress of population is checked by the difficulty of procuring potatoes.

The consequence of the long mismanagement and oppression of Ireland, and of the singular circumstances in which it is placed, is, that it is a semibarbarous country :-more shame to those, who have thus ill treated a fine country, and a fine people; but it is part of the present case of Ireland. The barbarism of Ireland is evinced by the frequency and ferocity of duels,--the hereditary clannish feuds of the common people,-and the fights to which they give birth,—the atrocious cruelties practised in the insurrections of the common people and their proneness to insurrection. The lower Irish live in a state of greater wretchedness than any other people in Europe, inhabiting so fine a soil and climate. It is difficult, often impossible, to execute, the processes of law. In cases where gentlemen are concerned, it is often not even attempted. The conduct of under-sheriffs is often very corrupt. We are afraid the magistracy of Ireland is very inferior to that of this country; the spirit of jobbing and bribery is very widely diffused, and upon occasions when the utmost purity prevails in the sister kingdom. Military force is necessary all over the country, and often for the most common and just operations of Government. The behaviour of the higher to the lower orders, is much less gentle and decent than in England. Blows from superiors to inferiors are more frequent, and the punishment for such aggression more doubtful. The word gentleman seems, in Ireland, to put an end to most processes of law. Arrest a gentlenian!!!!-take out a warrant against a gentleman-are modes of operation not very common in the administration of Irish justice. If a man strikes the meanest peasant in England, he is either knocked down in his turn, or immediately taken before a magistrate. It is impossible to live in Ireland, without perceiving the various points in wlaich it is inferior in civilization. Want of unity in feeling and interest among the people,-irritability, violence, and revenge,want of comfort and cleanliness in the lower orders, -habitual disobedience to the law,---want of confidence in magistrates,-corruption, venality, the perpetual necessity of recurring to military force,-all carry back the observer to that remote and early condition of mankind, which an Englishman can learn only in the pages of the antiquary or the historian. We do not draw this picture for censure, but for truth. We admire the Irish, feel the most sincere pity for the state of Ireland, -and think the conduct of the English to that country to have been a system of atrocious cruelty and contemptible meanness. With such a climate, such a soil, and such a people, the inferiority of Ireland to the rest of Europe is directly chargeable to the long wickedness of the English Government.

A direct consequence of the present uncivilized state of Ireland is, that very little English capital travels there. The man who deals in steam-engines, and warps and woofs, is naturally alarmed by Peep-of-Day Boys, and nocturnal Carders; his object is to buy and sell as quickly and quietly as he can; and he will naturally bear high taxes and rivalry in England, or emigrate to any part of the Continent, or to America, rather than plunge into the tumult of Irish politics and passions. There is nothing which Ireland wants more than large manufacturing towns, to take off its superfluous population. But internal peace must come first, and then the arts of peace will follow. The foreign manufacturer will hardly think of embarking his capital, where he cannot be sure that his existence is safe. Another check to the manufacturing greatness of Ireland, is the scarcity-not of coal-but of good coal, cheaply raised; an article in which (in spite of papers in the Irish Transactions) they are lamentably inferior to the English.

Another consequence from some of the causes we have stated, is the extreme idleness of the Irish labourer. There is nothing of the value of which the Irish seem to have so little notion as that of time. They scratch, pick, daudle, stare, gape, and do any thing but strive and wrestle with the task before them. The most ludicrous of all human objects, is an Irishman ploughing.

A gigantic figure-a seven foot machine for turning potatoes into human nature, wrapt up in an immense great coat, and urging on two starved ponies, with dreadful imprecations, and uplifted shillala. The Irish crow discerns a coming perquisite, and is not inattentive to the proceedings of the steeds. The furrow which is to be the depositary of the future crop, is not unlike, either in depth or regularity, to those domestic furrows

which the nails of the meek and much-injured wife plough, in some family quarrel, upon the cheeks of the deservedly-punished husband. The weeds seem to fall contentedly, knowing that they have fulfilled their destiny, and left behind them, for the resurrection of the ensuing spring, an abundant and healthy progeny. The whole is a scene of idleness, laziness, and poverty, of which it is impossible, in this active and enterprising country, to form the most distant conception; but strongly indicative of habits, whether secondary or original, which will long present a powerful impediment to the improvement of Ireland.

The Irish character contributes something to retard the improvements of that country. The Irishman has many good qualities : He is brave, witty, generous, eloquent, hospitable, and open-hearted; but he is vain, ostentatious, extravagant, and fond of display-light in counsel-deficient in perseverancewithout skill in private or public economy-an enjoyer, not an acquirer-one who despises the slow and patient virtues—who wants the superstructure without the foundation-the result without the previous operation-the oak without the acorn and the three hundred years of expectation. The Irish are irascible, prone to debt, and to fight, and very impatient of the restraints of law. Such a people are not likely to keep their eyes steadily upon the main chance, like the Scotch or the Dutch. England strove very hard, at one period, to compel the Scotch to pay a double Church ;-but Sawney took his pen and ink; and finding what a sum it amounted to, became furious, and drew his sword. God forbid the Irishman should do the same; the remedy, now, would be worse than the disease: But if the oppressions of England had been more steadily resisted a century ago, Ireland would not have been the scene of poverty, misery, and distress which it now is.

The Catholic religion, among other causes, contributes to the backwardness and barbarism of Ireland. Its debasing superstition, childish ceremonies, and the profound submission to the priesthood which it teaches, all tend to darken men's minds, to impede the progress of knowledge and inquiry, and to prevent Ireland from becoming as free, as powerful, and as rich as the sister kingdom. Though sincere friends to Catholic emancipation, we are no advocates for the Catholic religion, We should be very glad to see a general conversion to Protestantism among the Irish; but we do not think that violence, privations, and incapacities, are the proper methods of making proselytes.

Such then is Ireland at this period,-a land more barbarous than the rest of Europe, because it has been worse treated and


« AnteriorContinuar »