THE ENGLISH MISUNDERSTANDING.
Whatever may be the ultimate verdict of history upon the long struggle of the majority of the Irish people for self-government, the picture of a small country with large aspirations giving of its best unstintingly to the world, while gaining for itself little beyond sympathy, will appeal to the imagination of future ages long after the Irish Question, as we know it, has been buried. It may then, perhaps, be seen that the aspirations came to nought because they were opposed to the manifest destiny of the race, and that it should never have been expected or desired that the Dark Rosaleen should 'reign and reign alone.' Nevertheless, the fidelity and fortitude with which the national ideal had been pursued would command admiration, even if the ideal itself were to be altogether abandoned, or if it were to be ultimately realised in a manner which showed that the methods by which its attainment had been sought were the cause of its long postponement. Whatever the future may have in store for the remnant of the Irish people at home, the continued pursuit of a separate national existence by a nation which is rapidly disappearing from the land of all its hopes, and the cherishing of these hopes, not only by those who stay but also by those who go, will stand as a monument to human constancy.
The picture will be all the more remarkable when emphasised by a contrast which the historian will not fail to draw. Across a narrow streak of sea another people, during the same period, increased and multiplied and prospered mightily, spread their laws and institutions, and achieved in every portion of the globe material success which they can call their own. Yet, although Irishmen have done much to win that success for the English people to enjoy, and are to-day foremost in maintaining the great empire which their brain and muscle were ever ready to augment, Ireland makes no claim for herself in respect of the achievement. It is to her but a proof of what her sons will do for her in the coming time; it does not bring her nearer to her heart's desire.
Although the nineteenth century, with all its marvellous contributions to human progress, left Ireland with her hopes unfulfilled; although its sun went down upon the British people with their greatest failure still staring them in the face, its last decade witnessed at first a change in the attitude of England towards Ireland, and afterwards a profound revolution in the thoughts of Ireland about herself. The strangest and most interesting feature of these developments was that in practical England the Irish Question became the great political issue, while in sentimental Ireland there set in a reaction from politics and an inclination to the practical. The twentieth century has already brought to birth the new Ireland upon whose problems I shall write. If the human interest of these problems is to be realized, if their significance is not to be as wholly misunderstood as that of every other Irish movement which has perplexed the statesmen who have managed our affairs, they must be studied in their relation to the English and Irish events of the period in which the new Ireland was conceived.
In 1885 Gladstone, appealing to an electorate with a large accession of newly enfranchised voters, transferred the struggle over the Irish Question from Ireland to Great Britain. The position taken up by the average English Home Ruler was, it will be remembered, simple and intelligible. The Irish had stated in the proper constitutional way what they wanted, and that, in the first flush of a victorious democracy, when counting heads irrespective of contents was the popular method of arriving at political truth, was assumed to be precisely what they ought to have. A long but inconclusive contest ensued. At times it looked as if the Liberal-Irish alliance might snatch a victory for their policy. But when Gladstone was forced to break with the Irish Leader, and Parnellism without Parnell became obviously impossible, the English realised that the working of representative institutions in Ireland had produced not a democracy but a dictatorship, and they began to attach a lesser significance to the verdict of the Irish polls. Their faith in democracy was unimpaired, but, in their opinion, the Irish had not yet risen to its dignity. So most English Radicals came round to a view which they had always reprobated when advanced by the English Conservatives, and political inferiority was added to the other moral and intellectual defects which made the Irish an inferior race!
The anti-climax to the Gladstone crusade was reached when Lord Rosebery in 1894 took over the premiership from the greatest English advocate of the Irish cause. The position of the new leader was very simple. In effect, he told the Irish Nationalists that the English party he was about to lead had done its best for them. They must now regard themselves as partners in the United Kingdom, with the British as the predominant partner. Until the predominant partner could be brought to take the Irish view of the partnership, the relations between them must remain substantially as they were. And not only must the concession of Home Rule await the conversion of the British electorate, but before the demand could be effectively preferred, another leader must rise up among the Irish; and he, for all Lord Rosebery knew, was at the moment being wheeled in a perambulator. This apparently cynical avowal of the new premier's own attitude towards Home Rule accurately stated the facts of the situation, and fairly reflected the mind of the British electorate, after Irish obstruction had given them an opportunity of studying the bearing of the Irish Question on English politics.
If the logic of events was thus making for the removal of Home Rule from the region of practical politics in England, an even more momentous change was taking place in Ireland. Whilst the Home Rule controversy was at its height in the 'eighties and early 'nineties, some Irish grievances were incidentally dealt with--not always under the best impulses or in the best way. The concentration of all the available thought and energy of Irish public men upon an appeal to the passions and prejudices of English parties had led to the further postponement of all Irish endeavour to deal rationally and practically with her own problems at home. But during the welter of contention which prevailed after the fall of Parnell, there grew up in Ireland a wholly new spirit, born of the bitter lesson which was at last being learned. The Irish still clung undaunted to their political ideal, but its pursuit to the exclusion of all other national aims had received a wholesome check. Thought upon the problems of national progress broadened and deepened, in a manner little understood by those who knew Ireland from without, and, indeed, by many of those accounted wise among the observers from within. Was the realisation of a distinctive national existence, many began to ask themselves, to be for ever dependent upon the fortunes of a political campaign? In any scheme of a reconstructed national life to which the Irish would give of their best, there must be distinctiveness--that much every man who is in touch with Irish life is fully aware of--but the question of existence must not be altogether ignored. At the rate the people were leaving the sinking ship, the Irish Question would be settled in the not distant future by the disappearance of the Irish. Had we not better look around and see how other countries with more or less analogous conditions fared? Could we not--Unionists and Nationalists alike--do something towards material progress without abandoning our ideals? Could we not learn something from a study of what our people were doing abroad? One seemed to hear the voice of Bishop Berkeley, the biting pertinence of whose Queries is ever fresh, asking from the grave in which he had been laid to rest nearly a century and a half ago 'whether it would not be more reasonable to mend our state than complain of it; and how far this may be in our own power?'
These questionings, though not generally heard on the platform or even in the street, were none the less working in the depths of the Irish mind, and found expression not so much in words as in deeds. Yet though the downfall of Parnell released many minds from the obsession of politics, the influence of that event was of a negative character, and it took time to produce a beneficial effect. That fruitful last decade of the nineteenth century saw the foundation of what will some day be recognised as a new philosophy of Irish progress. Certain new principles were then promulgated in Ireland, and gradually found acceptance; and upon those principles a new movement was built. It is partly, indeed, to expound and justify some, at any rate, of the principles and to give an intelligible account of the practical achievement and future possibilities of this movement that I write these pages.
For English readers, to whom this introductory chapter is chiefly addressed, I may here reiterate the opinion, which I have always held and often expressed, that there is no real conflict of interest between the two peoples and the two countries, and that the mutual misunderstanding which we may now hope to see removed is due to a wide difference of temperament and mental outlook. The English mind has never understood the Irish mind--least of all during the period of the 'Union of Hearts.' It is equally true that the Irish have largely misunderstood both the English character and their own responsibility. The result has been that their leaders, despite the brilliant capacity they have shown in presenting the unhappy case of their country to the rest of the world, have rarely presented it in the right way to the English people. There have been many occasions during the last quarter of a century when a calm, well-reasoned statement of the economic disadvantages under which Ireland labours would, I am convinced, have successfully appealed to British public opinion. It could have been shown that the development of Ireland--the development not only of the resources of her soil but of the far greater wealth which lies in the latent capacities of her people--was demanded quite as much in the interest of one country as in that of the other.
Here, indeed, is an untilled field for those to whom the Irish Question is yet a living one. If I could think that each country fully realised its own responsibility in the matter, if I could think that the long-continued misunderstanding was at an end, nothing would induce me to trouble the waters at this auspicious hour, when a better feeling towards Ireland prevails in Great Britain, and when the Irish people are fully appreciative of the obviously sincere desire of England to be generous to Ireland. But an examination of the events upon which the prevailing optimism is based will show that, unhappily, misunderstanding, though of another sort, still exists, and that Ireland is as much as ever a riddle to the English mind.
Now this new optimism in the English view of Ireland seems to be based, not upon a recognition of the development of what I have ventured to dignify with the title of a new philosophy of Irish progress, but upon a belief that the spirit of moderation and conciliation displayed by so many Irishmen in connection with the Land Act is due to the fact that my incomprehensible countrymen have, under a sudden emotion, put away childish things and learned to behave like grown-up Englishmen. Throughout the press comments upon the Dunraven Conference and in public speeches both inside and outside Parliament there has run a sense that a sort of portent, a transformation scene, a sudden and magical alteration in the whole spirit and outlook of the Irish people, has come to pass.
I feel some hesitation in asking the reader to believe that a great and lasting revolution in Irish thought has been brought about in such a moment in the life of a people as twelve short years. But a lesser number of months seemed to the English mind adequate for the accomplishment of the change. And what a change it was that they conceived! To them, less than a year ago, the Irish Question was not merely unsolved, but in its essential features appeared unaltered. After seven centuries of experimental statecraft--so varied that the English could not believe any expedient had yet to be tried--the vast majority of the Irish people regarded the Government as alien, disputed the validity of its laws, and felt no responsibility for administration, no respect for the legislature, or for those who executed its decrees. And this in a country forming an integral part of the United Kingdom, where the fundamental basis of government is assumed to be the consent of the governed! Nor were any hopes entertained that the cloud would quickly pass. During the Boer war the prophets of evil, in predicting the calamity which was to fall upon the British Empire, took as their text the failure of English government in Ireland. When they wanted to paint in the darkest colours the coming heritage of woe, they wrote upon the wall, 'Another Ireland in South Africa'; and if any exception was taken to the appropriateness of the phrase, it was certainly not on the ground that Ireland had ceased to be a warning to British statesmen.
I believe, quite as strongly as the most optimistic Englishman, that there has been a great change from this state of things in Irish sentiment, and my explanation of that change, if less dramatic than the transformation theory, affords more solid ground for optimism. This change in the sentiment of Irishmen towards England is due, not to a sudden emotion of the incomprehensible Celt, but really to the opinion--rapidly growing for the last dozen years--that great as is the responsibility of England for the state of Ireland, still greater is the responsibility of Irishmen. The conviction has been more and more borne in upon the Irish mind that the most important part of the work of regenerating Ireland must necessarily be done by Irishmen in Ireland. The result has been that many Irishmen, both Unionists and Nationalists, without in any way abandoning their opposition to, or support of, the attempt to solve the political problem from without, have been trying--not without success--to solve some part of the Irish Question from within. The Report of the Recess Committee, on which I shall dwell later, was the first great fruit of this movement, and the Dunraven Treaty, which paved the way for Mr. Wyndham's Land Act, was a further fruit, and not the result of an inexplicable transformation scene.
The reason why I dwell on the true nature of the undoubted change in the Irish situation is not in order to exaggerate the importance of the part played by the new movement in bringing it about, nor to detract from the importance of Parliamentary action, but because a mistaken view of the change would inevitably postpone the firm establishment of an improved mutual understanding between the two countries, which I regard as an essential of Irish progress. I confess that my apprehension of a new misunderstanding was aroused by the debates on the Land Bill in the House of Commons. As regards the spirit of conciliation and moderation displayed by the Irish, and the sincere desire exhibited by the British to heal the chief Irish economic sore, the speeches were, if not epoch-making, at any rate epoch-marking; but they showed little sense of perspective or proportion in viewing the Irish Question, and little grasp or appreciation of the large social and economic problems which the Land Act will bring to the front. Temporary phenomena and legislative machinery have been endowed with an importance they do not possess, and miracles, it is supposed, are about to be worked in Ireland by processes which, whatever rich good may be in them, have never worked miracles, though they have not seldom excited very similar enthusiasms in the economic history of other European lands.
I agree, then, with most Englishmen in thinking, though for a different reason, that the passing of the Land Act marked a new era in Ireland. They regard it as productive of, or co-incident in time with, the dawn of the practical in Ireland. I antedate that event by some dozen years, and regard the Land Act rather as marking a new era, because it removes the great obstacle which obscured the dawn of the practical for so many, and hindered it for all.
Whatever may have been the expectations upon which this great measure was based, I, in common with most Irish observers, watched its progress with unfeigned delight. The vast majority regarded the hundred millions of credit and the twelve millions of 'bonus' as a generous concession to Ireland; and I sympathised with those who deprecated the mischievous suggestion, not infrequently heard in English political circles, that this munificence was the 'price of peace.' On one point all were agreed: the Bill could never have become law had not Mr. Wyndham handled the Parliamentary situation with masterly tact, temper, and ability. To him is chiefly due the credit for the fact that the Land Question, in its old form at any rate, no longer blocks the way, and that the large problems which remain to be solved, and, above all, the spirit in which they will have to be approached by those who wish the existing peace to be the forerunner of material and social progress, can be freely and frankly discussed.
It is true, as I have said, that Ireland is becoming more and more practical, and that England is becoming more anxious than ever to do her substantial justice. But still the manner of the doing will continue to be as important as the thing which is done. Of the Irish qualities none is stronger than the craving to be understood. If the English had only known this secret we should have been the most easily governed people in the world. For it is characteristic of the conduct of our most important affairs that we care too little about the substance and too much about the shadow. It is for this reason that I have discussed the real nature of one phase of Irish sentiment which has been largely misunderstood, and it is for the same reason that I propose to preface my examination of the Irish Question with some reference to the cause and nature of the anti-English sentiment, for the long continuance of which I can find no other explanation than the failure of the English to see into the Irish mind.
I am well acquainted with this sentiment because, in my practical work in Ireland, it has ever been the main current of the stream against which I have had to swim. Years spent in the United States had made me familiar with its full and true significance, for there it can be studied in an atmosphere not dominated by any present Irish controversies or struggles. I have found this sentiment of hatred deeply rooted in the minds of Irishmen who had themselves never known Ireland, who had no connection, other than a sentimental one, with that country, who were living quiet business lives in the United States, but who were ever ready to testify with their dollars, and genuinely believed that they only lacked opportunity to demonstrate in a more enterprising way, their "undying hatred of the English name."
With such men I have reasoned, and sometimes not in vain, upon the injustice and unreason of their attitude. I have not attempted to controvert the main facts of Ireland's grievances, which they frequently told me they had gleaned from Froude and Lecky. I used to deprecate the unqualified application of modern standards to the policies of other days, and to protest against the injustice of punishing one set of persons for the misdoings of another set of persons, who have long since passed beyond the reach of any earthly tribunal. I have given them my reasons for believing that, even if such a course were morally admissible, the wit of man could not devise any means of inflicting a blow upon England which would not react injuriously with tenfold force upon Ireland. I have gone on to show that the sentiment itself, largely the accident of untoward circumstances, is alien to the character and temperament of the Irish people. In short, I have urged that the policy of revenge is un-Christian and unintelligent, and, that, as the Irish people are neither irreligious nor stupid, it is un-Irish. I well remember taking up this position in conversation with some very advanced Irish-Americans in the Far West and the reply which one of them made. "Wal," said my half-persuaded friend, "mebbe you're right. I have two sons, whom I have raised in the expectation that they will one day strike a blow for old Ireland. Mebbe they won't. I'm too old to change."
I have chosen this incident from a long series of similar reminiscences of my study of Irish life, to illustrate an attitude of mind, the historical explanation of which would seem to the practical Englishman as academic as a psychological exposition of the effect of a red rag upon a bull. The English are not much to be blamed for resenting the survival of the feeling, but it appears to me to argue a singular lack of political imagination that they should still fail to appreciate the reality, the significance, and the abiding force of a sentiment which has so far successfully resisted the influence of those governing qualities which have played a foremost part in the civilisation of the modern world. The Spectator some time ago came out bluntly with a truth which an Irishman may, I presume, quote without offence from so high an English authority:--"The one blunder of average Englishmen in considering foreign questions is that with white men they make too little allowance for sentiment, and with coloured men they make none at all." I am afraid it must be added that 'average Englishmen' make exactly the same blunder in under-estimating the force of sentiment when considering Irish questions, with the not unnatural consequence that the Irish regard them as foreigners, and that, as those foreigners happen to govern them, the sentiment of nationality becomes political and anti-English.
There is one reason why this sentiment is not allowed to die which should always be remembered by those who wish to grasp the inner workings of the Irish mind. Briefly stated, the view prevails in Ireland that in dealing with questions affecting our material well-being, the government of our country by the English was, in the past, characterised by an unenlightened self-interest. Thoughtful Englishmen admit this charge, but they say that the past referred to is beyond living memory and should now be buried. The Irish mind replies that the life of a nation is not to be measured by the life of individuals, and that a wrong inflicted by a Government upon a community entitles those who inherit the consequences of the injury to claim reparation at the hands of those who inherit the government. With this attitude on the part of the Irish mind I am not only most heartily in sympathy, but I find every Englishman who understands the situation equally so. In the later portions of this book it will be shown that practical recognition, in no small measure, has been given by England to the righteousness of this part of the Irish case, and that if the effect thus produced has not found as full an outward expression as might have been expected, the Irish people have at any rate responded to the new treatment in a manner which must, in no distant future, bring about a better understanding.
The only historical causes of our present discontents to which I need now particularly refer, are the commercial restrictions and the land system of the past, which stand out from the long list of Irish grievances as those for which their victims were the least responsible. No one can be more anxious than I am that we should cease to be for ever seeking in the past excuses for our present failures. But it is essential to a correct estimation of Irish agricultural and industrial possibilities that we should notice the true bearings of these historical grievances upon existing conditions.
In this connection there arises a question which is very pertinent to the present inquiry and which must therefore be considered. I have seen it argued by English economists that the industrial revolution which took place at the end of the eighteenth and commencement of the nineteenth century would in any case have destroyed, by force of open competition, industries which, it is admitted, were previously legislated away. They point out that the change from the order of small scattered home industries to the factory system would have suited neither the temperament nor the industrial habits of the Irish. They tell us that with the industrial revolution the juxtaposition of coal and iron became an all-important factor in the problem, and they recall how the north and west of England captured the industrial supremacy from the south and east. Incidentally they point out that the people of the English counties which suffered by these economic causes braced themselves to meet the changes, and it is suggested that if the people of Ireland had shown the same resourcefulness, they, too, might have weathered the storm. And, finally, we are reminded that England, by her stupid Irish policy, punished her own supporters, and even herself, quite as much as the 'mere Irish.'
Much of this may be true, but this line of argument only shows that these English economists do not thoroughly understand the real grievance which the Irish people still harbour against the English for past misgovernment. The commercial restraints sapped the industrial instinct of the people--an evil which was intensified in the case of the Catholics by the working of the penal laws. When these legislative restrictions upon industry had been removed, the Irish, not being trained in industrial habits, were unable to adapt themselves to the altered conditions produced by the Industrial Revolution, as did the people in England. And as for commerce, the restrictions, which had as little moral sanction as the penal laws, and which invested smuggling with a halo of patriotism, had prevented the development of commercial morality, without which there can be no commercial success. It is not, therefore, the destruction of specific industries, or even the sweeping of our commerce from the seas, about which most complaint is now made. The real grievance lies in the fact that something had been taken from our industrial character which could not be remedied by the mere removal of the restrictions. Not only had the tree been stripped, but the roots had been destroyed. If ever there was a case where President Kruger's 'moral and intellectual damages' might fairly be claimed by an injured nation, it is to be found in the industrial and commercial history of Ireland during the period of the building up of England's commercial supremacy.
The English mind quite failed, until the very end of the nineteenth century, to grasp the real needs of the situation which had thus been created in Ireland The industrial revolution, as I have indicated, found the Irish people fettered by an industrial past for which they themselves were not chiefly responsible. They needed exceptional treatment of a kind which was not conceded. They were, instead, still further handicapped, towards the middle of the century, by the adoption of Free Trade, which was imposed upon them when they were not only unable to take advantage of its benefits, but were so situated as to suffer to the utmost from its inconveniences.
I am convinced that the long-continued misunderstanding of the conditions and needs of this country, the withholding, for so long, of necessary concessions, was due not to heartlessness or contempt so much as to a lack of imagination, a defect for which the English cannot be blamed. They had, to use a modern term, 'standardised' their qualities, and it was impossible to get out of their minds the belief that a divergence, in another race, from their standard of character was synonymous with inferiority. This attitude is not yet a thing of the past, but it is fast disappearing; and thoughtful Englishmen now recognise the righteousness of the claim for reparation, and are willing liberally to apply any stimulus to our industrial life which may place us, so far as this is possible, on the level we might have occupied had we been left to work out our own economic salvation. Unfortunately, all Englishmen are not thoughtful, and hence I emphasise the fact that England is largely responsible for our industrial defects, and must not hesitate to face the financial results of that responsibility.
When we pass from the domain of commerce, where we have seen that circumstances reduced to the minimum Ireland's participation in the industrial supremacy of England, and come to examine the historical development of Irish agrarian life, we find a situation closely related to, and indeed, largely created by, that which we have been discussing. 'Debarred from every other trade and industry,' wrote the late Lord Dufferin, 'the entire nation flung itself back upon the land, with as fatal an impulse as when a river, whose current is suddenly impeded, rolls back and drowns the valley which it once fertilised.' The energies, the hopes, nay, the very existence of the race, became thus intimately bound up with agriculture. This industry, their last resort and sole dependence, had to be conducted by a people who in every other avocation had been unfitted for material success. And this industry, too, was crippled from without, for a system of land tenure had been imposed upon Ireland that was probably the most effective that could have been devised for the purpose of perpetuating and accentuating every disability to which other causes had given rise.
The Irish land system suffered from the same ills as we all know the political institutions to have suffered from--a partial and intermittent conquest. Land holding in Ireland remained largely based on the tribal system of open fields and common tillage for nearly eight hundred years after collective ownership had begun to pass away in England. The sudden imposition upon the Irish, early in the seventeenth century, of a land system which was no part of the natural development of the country, ignored, though it could not destroy, the old feeling of communistic ownership, and, when this vanished, it did not vanish as it did in countries where more normal conditions prevailed. It did not perish like a piece of outworn tissue pushed off by a new growth from within: on the contrary, it was arbitrarily cut away while yet fresh and vital, with the result that where a bud should have been there was a scar.
This sudden change in the system of land-holding was followed by a century of reprisals and confiscations, and what war began the law continued. The Celtic race, for the most part impoverished in mind and estate by the penal laws, became rooted to the soil, for, as we have seen, they had, on account of the repression of industries, no alternative occupation, and so became, in fact, if not in law, adscripti glebae. Upon the productiveness of their labour the landlord depended for his revenues, but he did little to develop that productiveness, and the system which was introduced did everything to lessen it. The wound produced by the original confiscation of the land was kept from healing by the way in which the tenants' improvements were somewhat similarly treated. I do not mean that they were systematically confiscated--the Devon and Bessborough Commissions, as well as Gladstone, bore witness to the contrary--but the right and the occasional exercise of the right to confiscate operated in the same way. In the Irish tenant's mind dispossession was nine-tenths of the law.
An enlightened system of land tenure might have made prosperity and contentment the lot of the native race, and, perhaps, have rendered possible such a solution of the Irish problem as was effected between England and Scotland two centuries ago. What was chiefly required for agrarian peace was a recognition of that sense of partnership in the land--a relic of the tribal days--to which the Irish mind tenaciously adhered. But, like most English concessions, it was not granted until too late, and then granted in the wrong way. The natural result was that, when at last the recognition of partnership was enacted, it became a lever for a demand for complete ownership. But this was the aftermath, for in the meantime, from the seed sown by English blundering, Ireland--native population and English garrison alike--had reaped the awful harvest of the Irish famine, which was followed by a long dark winter of discontent. Upon the England that sowed the wind there was visited a whirlwind of hostility from the Irish race scattered throughout the globe.
It would be altogether outside the scope or purpose of this chapter to present a complete history of the remedial legislation applied to Irish land tenure. That history, however, illustrates so vividly the English misunderstanding, that a short survey of one phase of it may help to point the moral. The English intellect at long last began to grasp the agrarian, though not the industrial side of the wrong that had been done to Ireland, and the English conscience was moved; there came the era of concessions to which I have alluded, and for over a quarter of a century attempts, often generous, if not very discriminating, were made to deal with the situation. In 1870, dispossession was made very costly to the landlord. In 1881, it became impossible, except on the tenant's default, and the partnership was fully recognised, the tenant's share being made his own to sell, and being preserved for his profitable use by a right to have the rent payable to his sleeping partner, the landlord, fixed by a judicial tribunal. These rights were the famous three F's--fixity of tenure, free sale, and fair rent--of the Magna Charta of the Irish peasant. If these concessions had only been made in time, they would probably have led to a strengthening of the economic position and character of the Irish tenantry, which would have enabled them to take full advantage of their new status, and meet any condition which might arise; and it is just possible that the system might have worked well, even at the eleventh hour, had it been launched on a rising market. Unhappily, it fell upon evil days. The prosperous times of Irish agriculture, which culminated a few years before the passing of the 'Tenants' Charter,' were followed by a serious reaction, the result of causes which, though long operative, were only then beginning to make themselves felt, and some of which, though the fact was not then generally recognised, were destined to be of no temporary character. The agricultural depression which has continued ever since was due, as is now well known, to foreign competition, or, in other words, to the opening up of vast areas in the Far West to the plough and herd, and the bringing of the products of distant countries into the home markets in ever-increasing quantity, in ever fresher condition, and at an ever-decreasing cost of transportation. Great changes were taking place in the market which the Irish farmer supplied, and no two men could agree as to the relative influence of the new factors of the problem, or as to their probable duration.
Whatever may be said in disparagement of the great experiment commenced in 1881, there can be no doubt that it enormously improved the legal position of the Irish tenantry, and I, for one, regard it as a necessary contribution to the events whose logic was finally to bring about the abolition of dual ownership. But what a curious instance of the irony of fate is afforded by this genuine attempt to heal an Irish sore, what a commentary it is upon the English misunderstanding of the Irish mind! Mr. Gladstone found the land system intolerable to one party; he made it intolerable to the other also. For half a century laissez-faire was pedantically applied to Irish agriculture, then suddenly the other extreme was adopted; nothing was left alone, and political economy was sent on its famous planetary excursion.
When Mr. Gladstone was attempting to settle the land question on the basis of dual ownership, the seed of a new kind of single ownership--peasant proprietorship--was sown through the influence of John Bright. The operations of the land purchase clauses in the Church Disestablishment Act of 1869, and the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, were enormously extended by the Land Purchase Acts introduced by the Conservative Party in 1885 and in 1891, and the success which attended these Acts accentuated the defects and sealed the fate of dual ownership, which all parties recently united to destroy. In other words, Parliament has been undoing a generation's legislative work upon the Irish land question.
This is all I need say about that stage of the Irish agrarian situation at which we have now arrived. What I wish my readers to bear in mind is that the effect of a bad system of land tenure upon the other aspects of the Irish Question reaches much further back than the struggles, agitations, and reforms in connection with Irish land which this generation has witnessed. The same may be said with regard to the other economic grievances. No one can be more anxious than I am to fasten the mind of my countrymen upon the practical things of to-day, and to wean their sad souls from idle regrets over the sorrows of the past. If I revive these dead issues, it is because I have learned that no man can move the Irish mind to action unless he can see its point of view, which is largely retrospective. I cannot ignore the fact that the attitude of mind which causes the Irish people to put too much faith in legislative cures for economic ills is mainly due to the belief that their ancestors were the victims of a long series of laws by which every industry that might have made the country prosperous was jealously repressed or ruthlessly destroyed. Those who are not too much appalled by the quantity to examine into the quality of popular oratory in Ireland are familiar with the subordination of present economic issues to the dreary reiteration of this old tale of woe. Personally I have always held that to foster resentment in respect of these old wrongs is as stupid as was the policy which gave them birth; and, even if it were possible to distribute the blame among our ancestors, I am sure we should do ourselves much harm, and no living soul any good, in the reckoning. In my view, Anglo-Irish history is for Englishmen to remember, for Irishmen to forget.
I may now conclude my appeal to outside observers for a broader and more philosophic view of my country and my countrymen with a suggestion born of my own early mistakes, and with a word of warning which is called for by my later observation of the mistakes of others. The difficulty of the outside observer in understanding the Irish Question is, no doubt, largely due to the fact that those in intimate touch with the actual conditions are so dominated by vehement and passionate conviction that reason is not only at a discount but is fatal to the acquisition of popular influence. Of course the power of knowledge and thought, though kept in the background, is not really eliminated. But it is in the circumstances not unnatural that most of us should fall into the error of attributing to the influence of prominent individuals or organisations the events and conditions which the superficial observer regards as the creation of the hour, but which are in reality the outcome of a slow and continuous process of evolution. I remember as a boy being captivated by that charming corrective to this view of historical development, Buckle's History of Civilization, which in recent years has often recurred to my mind, despite the fact that many of his theories are now somewhat discredited. Buckle, if I remember right, almost eliminates the personal factor in the life of nations. According to his theory, it would not have made much difference to modern civilisation if Napoleon had happened, as was so near being the case, to be born a British instead of a French subject. It would also have followed that if O'Connell had limited his activities to his professional work, or if Parnell had chanced to hate Ireland as bitterly as he hated England, we should have been, politically, very much where we are to-day. The student of Irish affairs should, of course, avoid the extreme views of historical causation; but in the search for the truth he will, I think, be well advised to attach less significance to the influence of prominent personality than is the practice of the ordinary observer in Ireland.
The warning I have to offer, I think, will be justified by a reflection upon the history of the panaceas which we have been offered, and upon our present state. To those of my British readers who honestly desire to understand the Irish Question, I would say, let them eschew the sweeping generalisations by which Irish intelligence is commonly outraged. I may pass by the explanation which rests upon the cheap attribution of racial inferiority with the simple reply that our inferior race has much of the superior blood in its veins; yet the Irish problem is just as acute in districts where the English blood predominates as where the people are 'mere Irish.' If this view be disputed, the matter is not worth arguing about, because we cannot be born again. But there are three other common explanations of the Irish difficulty, any one of which taken by itself only leads away from the truth. I refer, I need hardly say, to the familiar assertions that the origin of the evil is political, that it is religious, or that it is neither one nor the other, but economic. In Irish history, no doubt, we may find, under any of these heads, cause enough for much of our present wrong-goings. But I am profoundly convinced that each of the simple explanations to which I have just alluded--the racial, the political, the religious, the economic--is based upon reasoning from imperfect knowledge of the facts of Irish life. The cause and cure of Irish ills are not chiefly political, broaden or narrow our conception of politics as we will; they are not chiefly religious, whatever be the effect of Roman Catholic influence upon the practical side of the people's life; they are not chiefly economic, be the actual poverty of the people and the potential wealth of the country what they may. The Irish Question is a broad and deeply interesting human problem which has baffled generation after generation of a great and virile race, who complacently attribute their incapacity to master it to Irish perversity, and pass on, leaving it unsolved by Anglo-Saxons, and therefore insoluble!