By delusive hopes are here meant some of the various schemes in which Irishmen have indulged and still indulge with the view of bettering their country. This chapter will aim at showing that, for the resurrection of Ireland, the reconstruction of her past is impossible; parliamentary independence or "home rule," insufficient, physical force and violent revolution, in conjunction with European radicals particularly, is as unholy as it is impracticable.
The resurrection of the Irish nation began with the end of last century. As, to use their own beautiful expression, "'Tis always the darkest the hour before day," so the gloom had never settled down so darkly over the land, when light began to dawn, and the first symptoms of returning life to flicker over the face of the, to all seeming, dead nation. Its coming has been best described in the "History of the Catholic Association" by Wyse. On reading his account, it is impossible not to be struck with the very small share that men have had in this movement; it was purely a natural process directed by a merciful God. As with all natural processes, it began by an almost imperceptible movement among a few disconnected atoms, which, by seeming accident approaching and coming into contact, begin to form groups, which gather other groups toward them in ever-increasing numbers, thus giving shape to an organism which defines itself after a time, to be finally developed into a strong and healthy being. This process differed essentially from those revolutionary uprisings which have since occurred in other nations, to the total change in the constitution and form of the latter, without any corresponding benefit arising from them.
Before entering upon the full investigation of this uprising, it may be well to dispel some false notions too prevalent, even in our days, among men who are animated with the very best intentions, who wish well to the Irish cause, but who seem to fail in grasp in the right idea of the question. Reconstruction, say they, is impossible-at least as far as the past history of the country goes. Where are her leaders, her chieftains, her nobility? Feudalism broke the clans, persecution put an effectual stop to the labors of genealogists and bards. Where, to-day, are the O'Neill, the O'Brien, the O'Donnell, and the rest? Until new leaders are found, offshoots, if possible, of the old families, more faithful and trustworthy than those who so far have volunteered to guide their countrymen, how is it possible to expect a people such as the Irish have always been, to assume once more a corporate existence, and enjoy a truly national government?
The question of nobility is certainly an important one for the Irish--nay, for all peoples. Up to quite recently, profound thinkers never imagined it possible for a people to enjoy peace and happiness save under the guidance of those then held to be natural guides with aristocratic blood in their veins, who were destined by God himself to rule the masses. We are far from falling in with the fashion, so common nowadays, of deriding those ideas. Men like Joseph de Maistre, who was certainly an upholder of the theory, and who could not suppose a nation to exist without a superior class appointed by Providence to guide those whose blood was less pure, have a right to be listened to with respect, and none of their deliberate opinions should be treated with levity.
And, in truth, no nobility ever existed more worthy of the title, as far as the origin of its power went, than the Irish. Its last days were spent, like those of true heroes, fighting for their country and their God. It is a remarkable fact that they, the truest, were the first of the aristocratic classes to fall. After them, all the aristocracies of Europe, with the exception perhaps of the English, which still exists at least in name, gradually saw their power wrested from them, so that, to-day, it may be said with truth that the "noble" blood has lost its prerogative of rule.
Various are the theories on these superior classes; a few words on some of them may be as appropriate as interesting.
Of all those advanced, Vico's are the least defensible, though they seem to rest on a deep knowledge of antiquity. No Christian can accept his view of a universal savage state of society after the Flood; and his explanation of the origin of aristocratic races, and of the plebeians, their slaves, is purely the work of imagination, however well read in classic lore may have been the author of "Scienza Nuova." To suppose with him that the primeval "nobles" reached the first stage of civilization by inventing language, agriculture, and religion, and by imposing the yoke of servitude on the "brutes" who were not yet possessed of the first characteristics of humanity, is revolting to reason, and contradictory to all sound philosophy and knowledge of history. His aristocracy is a brutal institution which he does well to doom to extinction as soon as the plebs is sufficiently instructed and powerful enough to seize upon the reins of government, before it, in its turn, is brought under by the progressive march of monarchy, with which his system culminates.
The feudal ideas concerning "noble" blood rested on an entirely different basis. The feudal monarch is but the first of the nobles, and the possession of land is the true prerogative and charter of nobility. The inferior classes being excluded from that privilege, are also excluded from all political rights, and are nothing more nor less than the conquered races which were first reduced to slavery. Christianity was the only power which effected a change, and a deep one, in the relations of these two classes to each other; the rigorous application of the system by the Northmen being entirely opposed to the elementary teachings of our holy religion.
From the change thus brought about resulted the Christian idea of aristocratic and monarchical government which had the support of some gifted writers of the last and present centuries. It was in fact a return to the old system realized by Charlemagne in the great empire of which he was the founder--a system whose glorious march was interrupted by the invasion of feudalism in its severest form, which, according to what was before said, came down from Scandinavia in the time of Charlemagne's immediate successors. Under the regime of the noble emperor, the Church, the Aristocracy, and the People, formed three Estates, each with its due share in the government. This mode of administering public affairs became general in Europe, and stood for nearly a thousand years.
But is it the particular form of government necessary for the happiness of a nation, as it was held to be by some powerful minds? If it is, then are we born, indeed, in unhappy times; for the corner-stone of the edifice, the aristocratic idea, has crumbled away, and is apparently gone forever.
Any one, looking at Europe as it stands to-day, must feel constrained to admit that its history for the last hundred years may be summed up in the one phrase: admission of the middle classes of society to the chief seat of government. Russia now makes the solitary exception to this rule; for in England, which seems the most feudal of all nations, the middle classes have attained to a high position, and, through their special representatives, have often taken the chief lead in public affairs, ever since the Revolution of 1688, a lead which is now uncontested. And as individuals of the middle class are often admitted into the ranks of the aristocracy, it would indeed be a hard thing to find purely "noble" blood in the vast majority of aristocratic families now existing in Great Britain.
The history of the gradual decline of what is called the nobility in the various states of Europe would require volumes. In many instances it would certainly be found to have been richly merited, in France particularly, perhaps, where the corruption of that class was one of the chief causes which led to the first French Revolution.
But in Ireland the original idea of nobility was different from that entertained elsewhere; the action of the institution on the people at large was peculiar in its character; and if, in early times, those rude chieftains were often guilty of acts of violence and outrage against religion and morality, they atoned for this by that last long struggle of theirs, so nobly waged in defence of both. But the destruction of the order was final and complete, and seems to have left no hope of resurrection.
In our first chapter, when treating of the clan system, the origin of chieftainship among the Celts was referred back to the family: all the chieftains, or nobles, were each the head of a sept or tribe, which is the nearest approach to a family; all the clansmen were related by blood to the chieftain. The order of nobility among the Celts was therefore natural and not artificial; being neither the result of some conventional understanding nor of brute force. Nature was with them the parent of nobility and chieftainship; and the ennobling, or raising a person by mere human power to the dignity of noble, was unknown to them: a state of things peculiar to the race.
In Vico's system, aristocracy sprang from physical force or skill; consequently, nobility was founded on no natural right, although the author does his best to prove the contrary, chiefly by ascribing to the aristocratic class the discovery or invention of right (jus) which thus becomes a mere derivative of force.
In feudalism, pure and unmixed, after it had penetrated farther south, under the lead of the Scandinavians, nobility was derived from conquest and armed force. It is true that, by this system, the viking, monarch, or sovereign lord, was the one who distributed the territory, won from conquered nations, among his faithful followers, and thus land and its consequence, nobility, were apparently the award of merit; but the merit in question being equivalent to success in battle, it again resolved itself into armed force. In fact, the power of feudalism proper rested in the army; the chief nobles were duces or combats (dukes or counts), the inferior nobles were equites (knights) and milites (men-at-arms). All power and title began and ended with force of arms, which was the only foundation of right: jus captionis et possessionis--the right of taking and of keeping.
Eventually feudal ideas underwent considerable change among the aristocracy of Christendom, by the gradual spread of Christian manners; and the first establishment of nobility by Charlemagne, which was anterior to pure feudalism, afterward revived, and lasted a thousand years. Then it was conferred by the monarch on merit of any kind, and it was understood that those whom superior authority had raised to the dignity had won their title by their deeds, which were sufficient to prove their noble blood, and that they were empowered to transmit the title to their posterity. The idea was a grand one, and gave proof of its vast political and social usefulness in the immense benefits which it brought upon Europe during so many ages. Unfortunately, the inroad of the Scandinavians, following closely on the death of its great founder, introduced feudalism as better known to us, interfered with the institution which Charlemagne had established in such admirable equipoise, and added to it many barbarous adjuncts, which for a long time entered into the idea of nobility itself. Thus the titles of feudal lords were retained--duce, comites, equites, milites--with, all the paraphernalia of brute force which the harsh mind of northern despotism had made divine. Thus was the holding of landed property allowed to the nobles alone; the great mass of the population being composed of men--ascripti glebae-- who were incapable from their position of rising in the social scale; so that all were duly impressed with the idea that the mass of the people had been conquered and reduced, if not to slavery, to what greatly resembled it--serfdom. From this order of things arose that fruitful source of all modern revolutions, the division of Europe into two great classes antagonistic to each other and separated by an almost impassable gulf--the lords and the "villeins."
To be sure, the supreme lord had the power to raise even a villein to the rank of noble, after he had proved his superior elevation of mind by heroic achievements; but what superhuman exertions did not those achievements call for; what a concourse of fortuitous circumstances rarely occurring, so as to render almost illusory the hope of rising held out by the feudal theory! The Church alone opened her highest grades to all indiscriminately; and, in her, true merit was really an assurance of advance.
Further details are not needed. The difference between the idea of the nobility entertained in Celtic countries, and that held by the rest of Europe, is already in favor of the former.
For this reason the action of the Irish aristocracy on the people at large was happily altogether free from those causes of irritation so common in feudal countries. A close intimacy and personal devotion naturally existed between the chieftain of a clan and his men--an intimacy manifested by the free manners of the humblest among them, and that ease of social intercourse between all classes of people, which was a matter of so much surprise to the Norman barons at their primitive invasion.
At first sight, the Celtic system appears, in one respect at least, inferior to that which prevailed throughout the rest of Europe: the simple clansmen could never indulge in the hope of attaining to the chieftainship, being naturally excluded from that high office. Only the actual members of the chieftain's own family could hope to succeed him after his death, by election, and take the lead of the sept; thus nobility was entirely exclusive, and regulated by the very laws of Nature. The office was really not transferable, and no degree of exertion, of whatever nature, could win it for any person born out of the one family. But the difference was scarcely one in fact; and we know how illusory, often was that ambition which the system of merit inspired in the man born of an inferior class in other races than the Celtic. The broad assertion, that no man could rise from the condition in which he happened to be born, remains true for nearly all cases.
But, on the other hand, there were motives of ambition besides that of becoming chieftain, or entering on the road thereto, by being admitted into the ranks of the nobility, which lay open to the Celt; and if the desire of a mere clansman to become a chieftain lay within the bounds of possibility, the social state of Celtic countries would have been broken up and become intolerable, and society would have been dissolved into its primitive elements. Two considerations of importance:
The whole of Irish history teaches one lesson, or, rather, impresses one fact: that every member of a clan took as much pride in the sept to which he belonged, and labored as zealously for its head, as he could have done had the advantage turned all to himself. The peculiar features engendered by the system were such that each man identified himself with the whole tribe and particularly with its leader; and this is easily understood, as we see the same sort of feeling existing to-day among families. It is in the very essence of natural ties to merge the individual in the community to which he belongs, as in questions which affect the whole family to merge self in the whole, to forget one's own identity, to be ready for any sacrifice, particularly when the sacrifice is called forth in defence of a beloved parent.
To judge by the ancient annals of Ireland which are accessible, this was undoubtedly the sentiment pervading Celtic clans, and it is easy to conceive how, under such conditions, ambitious thoughts of the chieftainship or nobility could not well enter there. Moreover, we repeat, had such ambitious thoughts been within the compass of realization, the whole system would have been destroyed.
The greatest source of quarrels, feuds, wars, and general calamities among the Irish people, was the insane aspiration among the inferior members of a chieftain's family after supreme power. The institution of Tanist, or heir-apparent, particularly, which was general for all offices, from the highest to the lowest, was a constant source of trouble and contention to septs which, without it, would have remained united and in harmony. Montalembert has well said that it seems as if an incurable fatality accompanied the Irish everywhere, and condemned nearly all the highest among them to have their blood shed either by others or by their own hand, and that few indeed are those renowned chieftains and kings who died quietly in their beds. Their annals are filled throughout with tales of blood; and, when we know of their strong attachment to religion, of their tenderheartedness for women, children, old and feeble men, it is hard to conceive how they came to shed blood so often, and show themselves proof against the simplest claims of humanity.
But the difficulty is sufficiently explained by their own annals and the state of society under which they lived. The Tanistry was the great source of all those evils. The position of a chieftain was so honorable, so influential, and powerful, that all natural sentiments, even those of family affection, were often extinguished by the insane ambition of attaining to it, in those whom Nature had set on the road toward it.
It looks like a contradiction, yet nothing is so well established as their deep affection for their near relatives and the fury engendered against their nearest of kin when allured by the prospect of the chieftainship. What the case might have been, had all the inferior clansmen been influenced by the same motive, one shudders to think. Happily the possibility of such a position was denied them, and thus were they spared all the crime and horrors which it entailed. Let us now turn to the fall of the Irish nobility, in order to see how that fall was final and decisive, leaving little or no room for the hope of their resurrection.
The great wars of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth upon the island often drove some of the Irish chieftains to quit their country for a time; a thing scarcely ever known before, where the Pale was so contracted and the power of the English kings so limited. But those first voyages of Irish lords to foreign countries had generally no other destination than England itself, whither they sometimes repaired to justify themselves in the presence of the sovereign against the imputations of their enemies, or to pay court to him for the purpose of obtaining some coveted object. Occasionally their children were brought up at the English court, either with the view of instilling Protestantism into their artless minds, or to make them friends of England, so that many of them thus became king's or queen's men. In this manner the Irish nobility first came to look out beyond their own country.
When, as events went on, some great family was crushed or nearly so, as were the Kildares by Henry Tudor and the Geraldines by Elizabeth, the outraged nobility began to think of foreign alliances, and cast their eyes abroad over Spain, Belgium, or France, above all toward Rome, which was the centre of their religion, attachment to which was one of their chief crimes, where the Holy Father was ever ready to encourage and receive them with open arms, Thus history tells us of the narrow escape of young Gerald Desmond.
He was still a child of twelve years, and the sole survivor of the historic house of Kildare, when his life was sought after with an eagerness which resembled that of Herod, but the devotion of his clansmen defeated all attempts at his capture. "Alternately the guest of his aunts, married to the daughter of the chief of Offaly and Donegal, the sympathy everywhere felt for him lead to a confederacy between the northern and southern chieftains, which had long been felt wanting, and never could be accomplished. A loose league was formed, including the O'Neills of both branches, O'Donnell, O'Brien, the Earl of Desmond, and the chiefs of Moylurg and Breffni. The child, object of so much natural and chivalrous affection, was harbored for a time in Munster; then transported, through Connaught, into Donegal; and finally, after four years, in which he engaged more the minds of the statesmen than any other individual under the rank of royalty, he was safely landed in France."-(A. M. O'Sullivan.)
But the intercourse between the Irish nobility and foreign powers was chiefly increased during the reign of Elizabeth, when by the great league of the Desmond Geraldines in the south, which was followed by that of the O'Neills and O'Donnells in the north, they entered into open treaty with the Popes and the Kings of Spain; and, when reverses came, no other resource was left to the outlawed chieftains than flight to the Continent, where they abode till the storm blew over, sometimes for the remainder of their lives.
James Fitzmaurice stayed a long time in Italy, where, on hearing of the imprisonment of his cousins, the Desmonds, he planned the first great league in defence of religion, no longer for the purpose only of righting family wrongs, but of waging a holy war which might draw the cooperation of all the Catholic powers.
These few details are here furnished, because they mark a new starting-point in the history of the race, when the nobility of the land first went abroad to live with a view of finding allies for the Irish cause; while the Irish at home looked anxiously to their chieftains abroad to return to them with the promised succor.
A few words on the policy exercised toward the Irish nobility by Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and James I., at the beginning of his reign, will give us a sufficiently clear insight into the means adopted for the gradual attack upon them, which resulted first in their partial subjugation, finally in their total destruction. Those monarchs thought that, to reduce Ireland to an English colony, all they had to do was to destroy the chieftains, and the subjugation of the country was complete. They were strengthened in this opinion by the outbreak of Protestantism, which had deprived the lower classes not only of their material comfort and religious consolations, but of all the immunities and liberties which the middle ages had left to them. While the mass of the nation was not only denied all political influence, but even all right to any consideration whatsoever on the part of the state, when the highest nobles were cowering at the feet of royalty, utterly at the mercy of the Tudor despots, how could the plebs of England and Ireland dare show its front even to testify to mere existence?
The English monarchs were aware that the spirit of the Irish nobles was not broken like that of their English vassals; and they resolved on bringing the proud lords of the Pale and the chieftains of the old race to a like submission with their own nobles. But of the common clansmen they made no more account than of the English rabble, and herein lay their great mistake. Subsequent history proved that the national leaders of the Irish race might be utterly annihilated, and yet the Irish question remain as great a difficulty as ever, owing to the stubborn, though sometimes passive resistance of the peasantry. But at that time such a thing was not contemplated.
All the cunning of diplomacy, all the artifice of the law, finally all the material resources of England, were called in, one after the other, or together, to achieve that great object of the policy of the Tudors and of the first Stuart. It is not necessary to go over what every person conversant with the history of the time knows by heart; it is only proper to indicate, as briefly as possible, the gradual results of that crafty and stern policy.
The Geraldine war ended with the total destruction of the Catholic Anglo-Irish nobles of the south, whose place was filled by the younger sons of Protestant nobles from England. With the Geraldines, or shortly after them, fell the O'Sullivans of Beare, the McGeohegans, the O'Driscolls, and O'Connors of Kerry, whom Spain and Portugal received.
Then the whole efforts of Elizabeth were turned to the destruction of the native chieftains of the north. She failed; and the war resulted in a peace which left their lands and the open practice of their religion to the Ulster chiefs.
But James I., though he seemed willing to abide by the articles of the treaty, was driven by hard pressure to employ deceit, fraud, intimidation, and force, to bring the northern nobility into his power, and "the flight of the earls" was the consequence.
From this date the "Irish exiles" began in good earnest, originally consisting, for the most part, of families belonging to the first blood of the land, with minor chiefs and captains in their retinue. Many letters written at the time, which have been preserved, as well as reports of spies and informers, dispatched to the court of England from Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France, and Italy, give us an insight into the life led by those noblemen in foreign countries. They were sometimes supported by the sovereigns who received them; but at others neglected and reduced to shifts for a living.
The "flight" itself and all its details are given by the Rev. C.
Sir John Davies took an English view of the subject when he wrote, about that time, to Lord Salisbury: "We are glad to see the day wherein the countenance and majesty of the law and civil government hath banished Tyrone out of Ireland, which the best army in Europe, and the expense of two million pounds sterling, did not bring to pass. And we hope his Majesty's government will work a greater miracle in this kingdom than ever St. Patrick did; for St. Patrick did only banish the poisonous worms, but suffered the men full of poison to inhabit the land still; but his Majesty's blessed genius will banish all those generations of vipers out of it, and make it, ere it be long, a right fortunate island."
Davies's prophecy ought to have been accomplished long ago, for it is long since all the Irish nobility, "those generations of vipers," has been destroyed; yet the poor island is still far from being "right fortunate."
The chief means employed at the time to encompass the destruction of the nobles was the infamous revelations of spies and informers. The existence of these agents has long been known to all; but the extent of their workings was not suspected even until the state papers and the correspondence of political men, and holders of offices at the time, came to be examined by writers desirous of investigating the whole truth.
It was then found that every man in the English Government, beginning from the highest, the king's ministers, through the Lords-Lieutenants and Chief-Justices of Ireland, down to the lowest officials, one and all kept in their pay men of all ranks of life, who, at the bidding of their employers, were ready to circumvent the victims of an odious policy, and under the guise of friendship, interest, common acquaintance, to discover, and even, if needed, to invent facts and circumstances which might be turned against them, or against any other persons obnoxious to England, with the view of destroying them. So that, to England in Europe, and to Elizabeth in England, belongs the dubious honor of having invented that great agent of modern governments--the secret police.
But the operations of those informers were not confined to England and Ireland alone, although those two kingdoms may be said to have literally swarmed with them; all foreign countries were made the scenes of their infamous machinations, wherever in fact the Irish nobles or English Catholics fled for refuge from persecution. At the courts of Spain and Rome they were to be found; in Brussels and Louvain, in Paris and Rheims, as well as in the by-lanes of London and the lowest quarters of Dublin. The ecclesiastical establishments particularly, which were founded by the Irish Catholics for the education of their priesthood, were infested with them: they found means to penetrate into their most secluded recesses, and sometimes the vilest and most shameful hypocrisy was resorted to in order to gain admittance into those holy cloisters devoted to science and virtue.
All the great houses and hotels in foreign countries, where the banished nobility of Ireland passed the tedious hours, months, and years, of their exile, were the places easiest of access to those base tools of the English Government.
On the reports furnished by these men the British policy was based, and the nobility and gentry still left in the island fell into the meshes so cautiously spread around them. How many of their number were cast into the Tower of London or the Castle of Dublin, on the mere word of these pests of society! How many, suddenly warned of the treachery intended, had to fly in haste lest they should fall into the hands of their enemies! We know that the first "flight of the earls" was brought about by such means as these, but our readers would be mistaken in imagining that that was an exceptional case, scarcely ever repeated. It was in reality the ordinary way of getting rid of this hated race of Irishmen.
The great misfortune was that, even among the Irish themselves, nay, among friars and priests belonging to the race, the English Government sometimes, though Heaven be thanked! rarely, found ready tools and most useful informers. Mean and sordid souls are to be found everywhere; our Lord himself was betrayed by an apostle, while giving him the kiss of peace; but among the Irish, people this class was confined to a few needy adventurers, sometimes to men who, from some personal grievance, real or imaginary, were blinded by the spirit of revenge to deliver those whose destruction they thirsted for into the hands of their common enemies, to their own eternal shame and perdition. The common people were too noble-hearted ever to join in such infamy, and to those who would have tempted them with gold to betray the men concealed by them, the response was ever ready: "The King of England is not rich enough to buy me!"
Thus, piecemeal, as it were, during the reign of Elizabeth and James I., and a part, at least, of that of Charles I., numbers of the Irish nobles were imprisoned or slain at home, or compelled to go into exile.
Nor, when James I., going lower in the social scale, began to dispossess the ordinary people, the clansmen, the tenants of Ulster, in order to make room for his Scotch Presbyterians, was, the war on the nobility discontinued on that account. The most prominent and, in its results, universal feature of his reign, was the breaking up of the clans all over the island, whereby he effected a complete change in the social state of the country. But the most efficacious means of bringing that result about was the total destruction of the nobility and gentry. The crafty monarch knew that so long as the Irish could see and converse with their natural chieftains and lords, so long would it be impossible to extinguish or abate, in the slightest degree, the clan-spirit. It was only when the key-stone which held their social edifice together-the head of the sept-had disappeared, that the whole fabric would tumble into ruins.
After a long trial of this policy of treachery and craft, came Cromwell to complete the work with violence and brutal force. There still remained in the island a great number of noble families, and the ollamhs and genealogists kept clear the rolls of the respective pedigrees. There is no doubt, at the time of Cromwell's war of extermination, even when the English Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, that all the Irish septs still knew where to find their lawful natural chiefs, who, if no longer on the island, were at the head of some regiment in Flanders, France, Austria, or Spain. But, as time went on, the Irish brigades naturally came to identify themselves more and more with the countries into whose service they had passed, and where they had taken up their permanent abode; while in the island itself, force came to degrade what was left of the nobles, and to annihilate forever the national state institutions preserved by the genealogists and bards.
One of the features which most forcibly strikes the reader of the history of those times is, what took place all over the island when the English Parliament issued that celebrated proclamation in which it was declared that "it was not their intention to extirpate this whole nation."-(October 11, 1652.)
By that time the chief officers of Cromwell's army had already taken possession of a great number of the castles and estates of the nobility who had not left the country. The rest had fallen into the hands of the adventurers of 1641, who had advanced money for the purpose of raising a private army to conquer lands for themselves; while the body of Cromwell's troops looked on, awaiting the small pittance of a few hundred acres; which was to be their share of the spoil. Here is the strange and awe- inspiring picture of the conquered island in the seventeenth century:
The nobles, who had survived the fighting and defeat, were allowed to remain a short time until their transportation to Connaught. But, driven away from their mansions, where the new "landlords"-the word then came into use for the first time-- occupied what had been their apartments, they had to live in some ruinous out-buildings, and to till with their own hands a few roods of land for the support of their perishing families. A few garans (dray-horses), and a few cows and sheep, were the only aid in labor and production left to them. They were allowed, by sufferance; to raise some small crops of grain and roots, but all their time had to be occupied in purely manual labor.
Such is the image which fixes itself indelibly on the memory of any one who reads attentively the common occurrences of those days. It was a picture presented in every province of the island; in the most distant mountain-fastnesses as well as in the still smiling plains of the lowlands.
The nobles were, as a class, utterly destroyed; few of them fell to the inferior rank of yeomen; while the mass of the people-- was at once plunged to the dead level of common peasants and laborers. If some of the former class still retained a few faithful servants, their help was required for the drudgery about the farm or the miserable dwelling. None of them could be spared to keep up "the glory of the house." Would it not have been bitter irony to talk to this remnant of pedigree and their long line of ancestors? And would their enemies, who were now their masters, have countenanced the proscribed offices of files and shanachies, when laws against them specially had been so long enacted if not enforced? Now was the exact time for the rigid execution of those laws so evidently designed for the transformation of the freeborn natives into feudal serfs.
Hence, when the bitter day at last came, which was to deprive them of even the sight of the hereditary territory of the family, which was to transplant them to Connaught-among countrymen, indeed, but none the less strangers to them, whose presence could not fail to be unwelcome, and bring disturbance, confusion, and disorder-how, in such a case, could they hope to retain or revive their prestige as the old lords of the country? It is said that, for this, many of the Munster chieftains preferred to go into exile to Spain, or even to the islands of America, rather than take up their abode in Connaught, where they were sure to find bitter enemies in the old inhabitants of that desolate province.
This state of things knew no change, except with a very few of the Anglo-Irish, when Charles II. came to the throne, after the death of the Protector. He was in truth merely the executor of the great Act of Settlement, and carried into effect what had been enacted by the Parliament which had brought his father to the block, and driven himself into exile.
He only restored their estates to a few families of "innocent papists." Such was the phrase applied to them in derision, doubtless. The generality of the old families continued to sink deeper and deeper in degradation, and the forgetfulness of all they had once been.
It took the greater part of a century, from 1607 to 1689, to effect the almost total disappearance of the Irish nobility. As Colonel Myles Byrne, in his "Irish at Home and Abroad," says: "Few facts in history are more surprising than the rapidity and completeness of the fall of the Irish families stricken down by the penal laws. Reduced to beggary at once, and with habits acquired in affluence, surrounded only by contemporaries similarly crushed, or by the despoilers revelling and rioting in possession of their forfeited lands, friendless and unpitied, regarded as 'suspects' from the reasons for discontent so abundantly furnished them, they seemed struck with stupor, and utterly incapable of any effort to rise out of the abyss into which they had been precipitated. Dispirited, heart-broken, unmanned, they suffered the little personal property left them to melt away; and, on its exhaustion, were compelled to resort to the most humiliating means to prolong existence, and to accept for their helpless offspring the humblest condition which promised them a maintenance. A 'trade' was the general resort sought for the son of the chief of a clan, landholder, or gentleman.
"This gave rise to Swift's observation to Pope: 'If you would seek the gentry of Ireland, you must look for them on the coal- quay or in the liberty.'
"Thus, in my youth, 'the Devoy,' the head of one of the most powerful and distinguished of our septs, was a blacksmith, I have often seen a mechanic, named James Dungan, who was said to be a descendant of James Dungan, Earl of Limerick; and 'the Chevers' (Lord Mount Leinster) was the clerk of Mrs. Byrnes, who carried on the business of a rope-maker.
"Maddened and embittered by humiliation and suffering, renouncing all hope of recovering their stolen lands, those victims of 'bills of discovery,' or of confiscation, burned or destroyed, or threw aside, as worse than useless, the records of their former possessions, the proofs of their former respectability, and seemed, in fact, desirous to efface all evidence of it. I know one case in which the title-deeds of an estate were searched for an important occasion, and in which it appeared that they had been given to tailors to cut into strips or measures for purposes of their trade.
"A claim was set up to a dormant peerage, and a relation of mine having been applied to for information in support of it, he said: 'You are positively in remainder; but you are in the condition of the descendants of many Irish families, whose great difficulty is to prove who was their grandfather.'"
The reader is naturally struck, when the sudden appearance of James II. on the island presents to his eyes another Irish army, and a new Irish nation, fighting again for God and the king, but with few of the old names among those who then appeared on the scene. The leaders throughout the three years' struggle, which decided the ultimate fate of the country, for the most part have names unknown to Ireland, and unassociated with its former history, so completely had the aristocracy of the island perished and disappeared.
It may be well imagined, then, that, after the passage of another century of woe such as was described in the last chapter, it would be impossible to reconstruct the genealogies of the old families who might be entitled to lead the rising generation. Some few names are still advanced as entitled to the hereditary honors of once noble families, and thus we still hear of pretensions to title of "the O'Brien," "the O'Donaghue," and a few others. That such pretensions are acknowledged by the generality of the nation, it would be questionable to assert.
To think, then, of reconstructing the Irish nation out of its former elements, as they once existed, would be an idle dream. Those elements are dissolved and forever destroyed, and all that the nation can do with respect to its past is to preserve in pious remembrance the former race of men who once shed down such a glory over Irish annals. It was a happy and patriotic thought of the antiquarian societies of the island to investigate the old national records; to illustrate, explain, and bring them before the public in a language intelligible to the present generation. It is doubtful if in any other country the aristocracy fell with a heroism and glory so pure and unalloyed. Among all modern nations, as was said previously, the old class of noblemen has either passed out of sight, or is fast disappearing from living history. Ireland, then, does not stand alone in that respect. She was the first to lose her nobility, and she lost it more utterly than any other nation. But in the variety of movements, complications, revolutions, which now go to form the daily current of events in Europe, where do we find the nobles regarded as a power, as an element calculated to restore or even to preserve? The "noblemen" are well enough satisfied nowadays, if they are not persecuted, proscribed, or destroyed; if they are enabled to take their stand amid the crowd of men of inferior rank and share in the affairs of their country; content to see their names once so exclusively glorious, set on a par with those of plebeians, to lead the modernized peoples into the new paths whither they are rapidly drifting. Nay, so low have the mighty fallen, that even dethroned kings and princes sometimes ask to be admitted as simple citizens in the countries which they or their ancestors once ruled.
Here the thought will naturally occur: If the phenomenon is universal with respect to the position allotted now to men of "noble blood"--since it is evident that for those nations which feel no veneration for it a future history is designed, and that future is to be utterly independent of such an idea--then Ireland is no worse off than any other country in that regard, nay, the veneration for noble blood perhaps exists, in its right sense, now in her bosom alone, and, though no longer available for any purpose, is still an element of conservatism worthy of preservation and far from despicable.
Therefore, when we number among false hopes the one entertained by a few Irishmen whose thoughts still cling fondly to the past, and who would fain reconstruct it, it is not with the intention of treating those aspirations slightingly, which we ought to honor and would share, were there only the faintest possibility of calling again to life what we cannot but consider passed away forever.
The desire for a separate Irish Parliament is certainly a national aspiration, it may even be called a right; for the people of the island can justly complain of being at the mercy of a rival nation, of which they are supposed to form a part, and are consequently heavily taxed for the support of it without any adequate return. The day may not be far distant when this wish of theirs will have to be complied with, as were so many other rights once as strenuously denied.
Nevertheless it is our opinion, and we say it advisedly, there is no reason for believing that this would prove a universal panacea for Ireland's woes, sure to bring health, happiness, and prosperity to the nation, uniting in itself all blessings, all future success, all germs of greatness; nor is there reason to believe that with it the resurrection of the nation is assured, as without it, it would remain dead.
To speak still more clearly--the representation of a people by its deputies being according to modern ideas an element of free constitution for all nations, and Ireland having for so long a time enjoyed a privilege very similar to it under her own national monarchs, our object cannot be understood to depreciate a political institution which seems to have become a necessity of the times, owing to the eager aspiration of all minds and hearts toward it. But we think it a delusion to imagine that, by its possession, national happiness is necessarily and fully secured.
Whatever may be the general experience of parliamentary rule, its record for Ireland is a sad one. The old Feis of the nation are not here alluded to; they had very little in common with modern Parliaments, being merely assemblies of the chief heads of clans, to which were added in Christian times the prelates of the Church. Neither is the "General Assembly," which was intrusted with legislative and executive powers by the Confederation of Kilkenny, alluded to; this could not be reproduced to-day exactly as it then existed.
The Parliament here meant is such as presents itself at once to the mind of a man of the nineteenth century, with its members of both Houses elected by the people, as in America, or those of the Upper House in the nomination of the crown; its opposing parties often degenerating into mere factions; its views limited to material progress, and its aims and aspirations altogether worldly; deeply imbued with the modern ideas of liberalism, yet knowing very little, if any thing, of true liberty; often following the lead of a few talented members, whose real merits are seldom an index of conscience and sense of right.
Such a liberal institution as this, which, if proposed to-day for Ireland by the English Government, would be hailed with unbounded joy by all ranks of people in that country, would nevertheless be no sure harbinger of happiness to the nation, and, to repeat what was said above, the record of such an institution in Ireland is a sad one.
There is no need of entering upon a history of Irish Parliaments. If an impartial and fair-minded author were to take up such a work, it might serve to open the eyes of many, and show them that it is after all better to rely on Divine Providence than on such an aid to national prosperity.
Dr. Madden, in his "Connection of Ireland with England," conclusively shows that the right of a free and independent Parliament similar to that of England was granted to Ireland by King John at the very beginning of the "Conquest." Such a Parliament was granted to the handful of Anglo-Normans, who were already busy in building their castles for the purpose of reducing the whole mass of the clans to feudal slavery after having deprived them of all their free national assemblies and customs. For nearly four hundred years the Irish Parliaments, when not completely subjected to English control, as they finally were by "Poyning's Act," were mere legislative machines devised for the purpose of subduing, cowing, and finally rooting out every thing Irish in the land. The language of Sir John Davies was very clear on this subject.
This being such a well-known fact to-day, it seems strange that a writer who is so well informed, so acute and discerning, and so thoroughly Catholic, as Dr. Madden undoubtedly is, should attach such great importance to the institution of Parliament as first granted by the English monarchs. They had in their eye only the small English colony settled on the island, with all their feudal customs, and no thought of granting liberty to the mass of the nation. The case of Molyneux, which is so often quoted and praised by Irish writers, should be set aside and forgotten by any man animated by a true love for Irish prosperity. It was merely a revival of the old parties of English by blood and English by birth, without a single thought of the rights of Irishmen. It was a case of siding with one English party against another, both aiming at making Ireland a colony of England, the while the unfortunate country was crushed between them, certain in either case to be the victim. The native race had nothing to say or do in the matter, beyond assisting at the spectacle of their enemies wrangling among themselves.
The same remarks will apply to the pamphlets of Dr. Lucas, which created so much interest at the time, and which Dr. Madden quotes at such length. Lucas, it will be remembered, was a violent anti-Catholic, and consequently anti-Irish partisan.
Yet the Catholic Association made all the use they could of the arguments of Molyneux and Lucas, because these possessed some vestige of the national spirit, inasmuch as they spoke for Ireland, whose very name was hated by the opposite party; and at that time the Association was perfectly right: but matters have altered since then.
It is certainly strange that, when serious attempts were made by Henry VIII. to introduce Protestantism into Ireland, not only were Anglo-Irish Catholics summoned to Parliament, but even native chieftains also, some of whom spoke nothing but Irish, so that their speeches required translating.
But, as was previously shown, this was nothing more nor less than a crafty device to make genuine Irishmen unconsciously confirm, by what was called their vote, former decrees in which the Act of Supremacy had been passed; to make it appear that they had abjured their religion, and were now good Protestants; and, worse still, to set in the statute-book, as acknowledged by all, the law of spiritual supremacy vested in the king, of abjuration of papal authority, of submission to all decrees passed in England with the purpose of effecting an entire change in the religion of the nation.
To such vile uses was the machinery of Parliament reduced. Thenceforth it became an engine for the issuing of decrees of persecution. Catholic members occasionally appeared in it when a lull in the execution of the laws occurred, and they could take their seats without being guilty of apostasy. But, by making close boroughs of his Protestant colonies, James I. secured, once for all, the majority of representatives on the side of the Protestants, and, as a natural consequence, nothing more grinding, sharp, piercing, and strong, could be imagined than this engine of law called the Irish Parliament, as it existed under the Stuarts. "Nothing" would be incorrect: there was something worse; it came in with the Revolution of 1688, and its results have been witnessed in a previous chapter.
Owing to the various oaths imposed upon members in the time of William of Orange, no Catholic could any longer sit in the Irish Parliament without abjuring his faith. And, thence-forth, the state institution sitting in Dublin became more than ever a persecuting and debasing power, intent only on making, altering, improving, and enforcing laws designed for the complete degradation of the people.
There came, however, a period of eighteen years, called "the Rise of the Irish Nation" by Sir Jonah Barrington. It would be a pleasure to set this down as a real exception to the whole previous or later history of Ireland; but such pleasure cannot be indulged in.
At the period referred to France had embraced the cause of the North American colonies of Great Britain, and the English vessels were not the only ones upon the seas. Large French fleets were conveying troops to their new allies, and in 1779 the English Government sent warning to Ireland that American or French privateers were to be expected on the Irish coast, and no troops could be dispatched for the protection of the island. Then arose the great volunteer movement. Every Irishman entitled to bear arms enrolled himself in some regiment raised with the ostensible design of opposing a hostile landing, but really intended by the patriots to force the repeal of Poyning's Act from England, to obtain for the Parliament in Dublin real independence of English dictation.
The result is well known. One hundred thousand Irishmen were soon under arms, who not only took the field as soldiers, and formed themselves into regiments of infantry, troops of horse, and artillery, but, strange to say, as citizens, sent delegates to conventions, and demanded with a loud voice that England should not only grant free trade to the sister isle, but likewise invest the Irish Parliament with independent powers.
This political open-air contest lasted two years, and, on the receipt of the news that the British army had capitulated at Yorktown, and that the American War had come to a successful termination on the side of the colonists, the Ulster volunteers decided to hold a national convention of delegates from every city in the province. On Friday, February 15, 1782, the meeting took place at Dungannon, County Tyrone, and there the delegates swore allegiance to a new and as yet unwritten charter, refusing to acknowledge "the claim of any body of men, other than the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, to make laws to bind this kingdom."
The same resolution was adopted in successive meetings of volunteer delegates, municipal corporations, and citizens generally, all over the island.
The English Government could not resist the pressure. After some attempt at temporizing and delaying the concession, on April 15, 1782, by the firmness of Grattan and his supporters in the Dublin House of Commons, the great measure was finally carried unanimously:
"That the kingdom of Ireland is a distinct kingdom, with a Parliament of her own, the sole legislature thereof; that there is no body of men competent to make laws to bind the nation, but the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, nor any Parliament which has any authority or power of any sort whatever in this country, save only the Parliament of Ireland; that we humbly conceive that in this right the very essence of our liberty exists, a right which we, on the part of all the people of Ireland, do claim as their birthright, and which we cannot yield but with our lives." The italics are our own.
"The news," says Sir Jonah Barrington, "soon spread through the nation; every city, town, or village, in Ireland blazed with the emblems of exultation, and resounded with the shouts of triumph."
Within a month the whole had been accepted by the new British administration. "The visionary and impracticable idea had become an accomplished fact; the splendid phantom had become a glorious reality; the heptarchy-the old Irish constitution-had not been restored; yet Ireland had won complete legislative independence."
Thus does the kind-hearted author of the "Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation" commemorate the great event. It is a pity that it so soon ended, as it deserved to end, in smoke; for the "unanimous vote" of the Dublin House of Commons was not sincere, but intended to exclude from the benefit of the newly-acquired liberty the great mass of the people; that is, all Catholics, without exception.
Already, during the volunteer excitement, Catholics had looked on at the movement with pleasure and hope that, at least, some relaxation of the barbarous code enacted against them might ensue. Unable to take an active part in the movement, the laws not allowing them to bear arms and enlist, they willingly brought such muskets as they possessed to give to their Protestant neighbors. When the final burst of enthusiasm came at the news that a free and independant Parliament was to meet at Dublin, surely they were justified in expecting that, at last, their natural and civil rights might be restored them in an age so enlightened. They had heard too of the success of the American colonies in winning those rights for all in their happy country, beyond the Atlantic; and we may be sure that not a few of them had heard how, at the conclusion of the War of Independence, the chief officers of the American army had gone in state with their French allies to the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, there to join in thanksgiving to the Almighty, before a Catholic altar. Moreover, they had Grattan and many of the volunteers on their side.
The all-comprehensive phrase, too, had been inserted in the resolution so unanimously carried, and made law by the British Government: "We humbly conceive that, in this right, the very essence of our liberty consists, a right which we, on the part of all the people of Ireland, do claim as their birthright, and which we cannot yield but with our lives."
Was it possible for the originators and successful promoters of this great change in the government of the nation to interpret such a phrase in a restricted sense? Did not the Irish Catholics, the great bulk of the people, form a part, at least, of "all in Ireland?" One would imagine so: yet what followed soon after showed the preposterousness of such an idea.
The new Parliament met; several measures favorable to the trade and manufactures of the island had been carried; but it was soon found that the electoral law, as it stood, failed to correspond with the altered circumstances of the time. The legislative body was returned by an antiquated electoral system which could not be said to represent the nation. Boroughs and seats were openly and literally owned by particular families or private persons; the voting constituency sometimes not numbering more than a dozen. As a matter of fact, less than one hundred persons owned seats or boroughs capable of constituting a majority in the Commons!
As everywhere else in revolutionary times, the question of parliamentary reform was not debated in the Parliament only; every man in the nation, each in his own sphere, took part in the stormy contest which began to rage all over the island. The volunteers were still in their glory. Flushed with victory, they did not cease from their political agitations. In September, 1783, they met once more in convention at Dungannon, the specific object of which, Dr. Madden tells us, was parliamentary reform, and they then determined "to hold another grand national convention of volunteer delegates in Dublin, in the month of November following."
In that extraordinary assembly, the question of the rights of Catholics was naturally brought up, and, to his honor be it said, the Protestant Bishop of Derry proposed to extend the elective franchise to them.
That some fanatics would oppose this motion was only to be expected; and it would have caused no surprise to find the opposition confined to a number of men of inferior station, still deeply imbued with narrow Protestant ideas. But when the leaders of the movement for national independence, Lord Charlemont and Mr. Flood, appeared in the ranks of the determined opponents of the proposition, it was cause for wonder indeed. It was chiefly owing to the exertions and influence of Lord Charlemont that the efforts of the revolution had been finally turned to the side of freedom; while Flood was a greater nationalist than Grattan himself, whose eloquence was so memorable in the last momentous debates of the Irish House of Commons. Flood carried his patriotism so far as to suspect the British Government of not being sincere in its concessions, when Grattan thought that "nothing dishonorable and disgraceful ought to be supposed in motives until facts render them suspicious."
Nevertheless, it was Charlemont and Flood who stood firm for the exclusion of Catholics from the franchise demanded for them by a Protestant bishop; and Flood's plan was the one finally adopted.
In order to make a stronger impression on the public mind, a number of delegates, who were also members of Parliament, proceeded, on November 29th, directly from the convention to the House of Commons, some of them dressed in their volunteer uniforms, for the purpose of supporting the plan of Mr. Flood to exclude the Catholics from the franchise.
In the midst of the tumult, the bill of reform failed, seventy- seven voting for, and one hundred and fifty against it. There was therefore no change in the Parliament, and Catholics remained in their old position, in consequence of the blunders of the chiefs of the volunteer movement for independence.
It is true that, at the same time, the whole volunteer movement itself fell to the ground. From that moment it dragged on a doomed life. "One would have thought," says Dr. Madden, "there was national vigor in it for more than an existence of fifteen years, and power to effect more than an ephemeral independence which lasted only eighteen years."
But the Catholics had their eyes opened; they saw that the day of resurrection was not yet come for them. It was not to be brought about by any Irish Parliament. So far, therefore, we were right in stating that the parliamentary record for Ireland is a sad one. It should be said, however, that, from that time, many Protestants, like the Bishop of Derry, Grattan, and others, have always been firm in their demand for freedom to all, and have remained the stanchest supporters of Catholic rights. What we have hitherto called James I's Ulster colony, thus was reduced to the Orange party; and, in that sense, the volunteer movement was a real and permanent benefit to the country. There is no need to mention the names of many distinguished Protestants of our own times, whose whole life has been devoted by act, or speech, or both, to the service of all. All honor to them!
But it is alleged that the Irish Legislature, as framed by the Constitution of 1782, gave to the country an uninterrupted flow of prosperity for eighteen years, and hence the volunteer movement was of great benefit to the race, at least temporarily. We will present the case in the strongest light possible contrary to our own opinion, and for this we can do no better than borrow the arguments of Mr. W.J. O'N. Daunt, in his pamphlet on the "Irish Question" (1869):
"Accustomed as we are," he says, "since the Union-in 1800-to the national distress and chronic disturbance attested by the Devon Commissions, Famine Reports, and other official sources of information, there seems something scarcely credible in the account of Irish pre-Union prosperity-a prosperity which contrasted so strongly with the condition of Ireland under a Parliament which is called 'Imperial,' but which is essentially and overwhelmingly English. But the accounts are given on unimpeachable authority.
"Mr. Jebb, member for Callan in the Irish Parliament, thus speaks of the advance of the country in prosperity, in a pamphlet published in 1798:
"'In the course of fifteen years, our commerce, our agriculture, and our manufactures, have swelled to an amount that the most sanguine friends of Ireland would not have dared to prognosticate.'
"The bankers of Dublin, tolerably competent witnesses, held a meeting on the 18th of December, 1798, at which they resolved, 'that, since the renunciation of Great Britain, in 1782, to legislate for Ireland, the commerce and prosperity of this kingdom have eminently increased.'
"The Dublin Guild of Merchants did the same on the 14th of January, 1797."
But this testimony and that of others whom we could quote was the testimony of men opposed to the "Union." Let us look at a few admissions made by the supporters of that measure:
"First comes its author, Mr. Pitt, who, in his speech in the English House of Commons, January 31, 1799, having alluded to the prosperous condition of Irish commerce in 1785, goes on to say: 'But how stands the case now? The trade is at this time infinitely more advantageous to Ireland.'
"Lord Clare, one of Mr. Pitt's chief instruments in effecting the Union, published, in 1798, a pamphlet containing, as quoted by Grattan, the following account of Irish progress subsequently to 1782: 'There is not a nation on the habitable globe which has advanced in cultivation and commerce, in agriculture and manufactures, with the same rapidity in the same period.'
"Finally, Mr. Secretary Coke, in a Unionist pamphlet, said at that time: 'We have had the experience of these twenty years; for it is universally admitted that no country in the world ever made such rapid advances as Ireland has done in these respects.'"
All this was undoubtedly true; and it is not our intention to admire what was called the Union, nor to advocate it. Those of the various writers cited, who spoke so dogmatically in the above passages, had in their minds only material and external prosperity, and that even of only one class of citizens. Those who wish well to Ireland cannot be satisfied with this.
Not a single name of the favorers or opposers of the Union, here quoted as witnesses, is Celtic. It would be interesting to know what the Celts of the island, that is, the greater part of its inhabitants, thought at the time, not of the Union, but of their own Parliament, and how much of this great material prosperity fell to their portion.
Surely they were all opposed to a Union which for a variety of reasons had grown odious in their sight; but, did they, could they, approve of the acts of their Legislature prior to the Union with England? Were they satisfied with those tokens of prosperity in favor of a class which had systematically oppressed them? Even granting that they were Christian enough not to feel envy at the success of their Protestant fellow- countrymen, did they not, and were they not right to, rue the day which, by an act of that same Legislature, shut them off as a body from all those advantages.
For it must be remembered that it was at the instigation of many of those volunteers who had been so ready to receive the muskets from their Catholic neighbors, for the purpose of striking a blow for liberty, that none of the penal statutes were repealed, and the Irish Catholics continued to groan, at least as far as the law went, under the fearful oppressions of which the last chapter furnished a feeble sketch. Hence, to speak in their presence of their commerce, of their manufactures, of their agriculture, of the increase of their wealth, and so on, was a bitter mockery, which they could not but resent in their inmost soul.
Was the cause of all their miseries removed by such a free and independent Parliament? Where could be the agricultural prosperity of a people which was not entitled, legally, to own an inch of their soil, or lease more than two acres of it? How could they engage in prosperous trade when, at the suit of a "discoverer," they were liable to be compelled to hand over to him the surplus of a paltry income? How could they even contemplate engaging in any manufactures, when the laws reduced them to the frightful state of pauperism which we have shudderingly glanced at? And those laws were preserved, and retained on the statute-book, by the very men who vaunted of the prosperity of Ireland!
It cannot, then, be too strongly reasserted that the social position of Ireland had experienced no change whatever, and that the separation of classes, spoken of with such well-merited rebuke by Edmund Burke, still stood unaltered:
"They divided the nation into two distinct parties, without common interest, sympathy, or connection. One of these bodies was to possess all the franchises, all the property, all the education; the other was to be composed of drawers of water and cutters of turf for them.
Every measure was pleasing and popular just in proportion as it tended to harass and ruin a set of people who were looked upon as enemies to God and man; and, indeed, as a race of bigoted savages, who were a disgrace to human nature itself.
"To render humanity fit to be insulted, it was fit that it should be degraded."
And, even supposing the prosperity of which so much talk was made to have been universal, so that all had a real share in it, how long would it have remained so, if the Irish Parliament had continued to exist, and not become merged in the English, or, as it was termed, Imperial Legislature? How long could the two separated bodies, sitting, the one in Dublin, the other in Westminster, have acted in concert, without breaking out into violent and mutual recrimination, with all its attendant evils?
The difficulty showed itself at the very outset, and when the first question of the relative status of both Legislatures arose.
Mr. Fox, the great Liberal minister of the king, endeavored to solve this difficulty by making a distinction between internal and external legislation: Ireland was never to be interfered with in her Parliament, with respect to her internal questions, while the English legislative body possessed the right to step in in all measures regarding external legislation. This seems very much like what is now proposed by home-rule.
Here is the answer given to this in the tribune of Dublin by Mr. Walsh: "With respect to the fine-spun distinction of the English minister between the internal and external legislation, it seems to me the most absurd position, and at the same time the most ridiculous one, that possibly could be laid down, when applied to an independent people.
"Ireland is independent, or she is not; if she is independent, no power on earth can make laws to bind her, internally or externally, but the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland."
Mr. Walsh, a very influential member of the Irish House of Commons, saw, as doubtless did many others, cause of disturbance already for the mutual tranquillity of the two nations. And, indeed, his fears soon showed themselves only too well grounded. Dr. Madden tells the story;
"A month had scarcely elapsed since the opening of the new Irish Parliament in 1782, before Lord Abingdon, in the British House of Peers, moved for leave to bring in a declaratory bill, to reassert the right of England to legislate externally for Ireland, in matters appertaining to the commerce of the latter. A similar motion was made in the British House of Commons by Sir George Young.
"One clause of Lord Abingdon's bill stated that Queen Elizabeth, having formerly forbade the King of France to build more ships than he then had, without her leave first obtained, it is enacted that no kingdoms, as above stated, Ireland as well as others, should presume to build a navy or any ships-of-war, without leave from the Lord High Admiral of England."
It is easy to foresee the pretty quarrel preparing. Once again, then, it may be asserted that the record of Irish Parliaments is a sad one.
But could more have been expected of it? Is the scope of measures, within the capabilities of any legislative assembly of modern times, comprehensive enough to embrace every thing of importance to a Catholic people, such as the Irish nation has ever been?
This order has passed away, and no one thinks to-day of reviving those time-honored institutions, however much political writers may be inclined to favor despotism on the one hand, or anarchy on the other. What, then, is the origin of the modern Parliament? It grew into being in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, emanating as it were, slowly, out of the decomposition of the old Parliaments; the aristocracy, and the Church chiefly, losing more and more the influence once belonging to them, which, in old times, made them paramount in those state deliberations. This is one of the chief features of the newly-modelled British Constitution, which is of very recent growth, and became fixed and settled only after the downfall of the Stuart dynasty, receiving additional modifications in the contest of parties under the Brunswick and Hanover lines of kings.
It is, consequently, an altogether British growth of recent date, particularly well adapted for England, whose prosperity since its establishment has ever been on the increase. But it is very doubtful whether other countries have derived equal benefit from its adoption.
Toward the end of last century, some few Frenchmen of note attempted, with Mounier at their head, to reproduce a feeble copy of it in France. Their failure is too well known to the world: how their English ideas were scouted by the people, while a far more radical revolution swept away every vestige of the old French Constitution, without substituting in its stead any thing save crude and infidel ideas, which resulted in anarchy.
The lamentable failure of the first attempt was no discouragement to other political theorists; and the century has witnessed and still witnesses every day essays at English legislation, as embodied in the constitution of its Parliaments chiefly, all over Europe; and all, as sanguine writers would have us believe, to serve as the stepping-stone for the "Universal Republic," which is to regenerate the world.
The great questions in all those assemblies are of material interests, material prosperity, material projects. Of the moral well-being of the people seldom or never a word is heard; and, whenever a moral question does come up for discussion, the vagueness of the theories advanced and discussed, the indecision of the measures proposed, the want of unity in the views developed, show how unfit are modern legislators for even touching on what concerns the soul of man. The legislators themselves feel that their character is far from being a sacred one, and that the spiritual element is not comprehended in their world. And they are certainly right.
Even the measures of external policy are not universally successful in securing the material well-being of the people. In France, at least, the various legislatures which have succeeded one another have perhaps been productive of as much harm in that regard as the liberty of the press and freedom of public discussion, which have always had and always will have their ardent advocates, and the existence of which is compatible with public order in some countries, but not in others.
The same, with certain reservations, is true of the Spanish- American republics, Brazil, and now of Spain, Italy, and other European nations. The legislative machine which is found to work so well in England, and what were or still are her colonies, seems to get out of order in climates and among nations unaccustomed to it, even as far as material prosperity is concerned.
But it is neither our object to write a history of Parliaments, nor absolutely to condemn those modern institutions by the few words devoted to them. All we wish to insist upon is, that all the evils of nations are not cured by them, and that they should not be taken as in themselves absolutely desirable and all- sufficient.
As to their probable fate in the future, their modern dress is not yet two centuries old, and the seeds of decay already appear in many places. A few questions are sufficient to demonstrate this: Can a Parliament, as understood to-day, last for any length of time and work successfully, when composed for a great part of corrupt legislators who have been returned by corrupt electors? Has not the progress of corruption on both sides, elected and electors, been of late alarmingly on the increase? What space of time is requisite for legislation to come to a stand-still, and prove to modern nations the impossibility of carrying on even material affairs with such corrupt machinery? It requires no great foresight to reply to these questions.
And yet it is on this tottering institution that the Ireland of our days has set her hope. She imagines that, this once gained, prosperity and happiness are insure; that, without it, she cannot but be discontented, as she is and must be if she possesses any feeling. And such is the anomaly of her position that, with this conviction firmly set before us, we believe she is right in demanding home-rule, and that by insisting upon it she will eventually attain it; yet are we convinced that, having obtained it, her evils will not be cured, nor her happiness served. We prize her highly enough to think her worthy of something better, which "something" we are sure God keeps in reserve for her.
Suppose her earnest wish granted, and a home Parliament given her. Suppose even the old question of her relations with the English Legislature determined. A great difficulty has been settled satisfactorily, though it is difficult to see how this may come about. But supposing the questions for her discussion and free-determination being clearly defined, home-rule becomes possible without exciting the opposition of the rival Parliament of Great Britain.
What is likely to be the composition of her state institution? and what the programme of its labors?
In the composition of her two Houses, if she have two, the Catholics will not be excluded as they were in 1782; a great change certainly, and fraught no doubt with great benefit to the country. But will the English element cease to predominate? The native race has been kept so long in a state of bondage that few members of it certainly will take a leading part in the discussions. How many even will be allowed to influence the election of members by their votes or their capacity? Universal suffrage can scarcely be anticipated, perhaps even it would not be desirable. The question is certainly a doubtful one. Of one thing are we certain regarding the composition of an Irish Parliament: it would not really represent the nation.
For the nation is Catholic to the core; the sufferings of more than two centuries have made religion dearer to her than life; all she has been, all she is to-day, may be summed up in one word--Catholic. Nothing has been left her but this proud and noble title, which of all others her enemies would have wrested from her. The nation exists to-day, independently of parliamentary enactments, in spite of the numberless parliamentary decrees of former times; she is living, active, working, and doing wonders, which shall come under notice. See how busy she has been since first allowed to do. Her altars, her religious houses, her asylums, every thing holy that was in ruins--all have been restored.
Not satisfied with working so energetically on her own soil, she has crossed over to England, where the great and unexpected Catholic revival, which has struck such awe and fear into the hearts of sectarians, is in great measure due to her.
Cross the broad Atlantic, and even the vast Southern Ocean, and the contemplation of Irish activity in North America, Australia, and all the English colonies, the intense vitality displayed by this so long down-trodden people is amazing. But all this activity, all this vitality, is employed in establishing on a firm and indestructible basis everywhere the holy Catholic Church.
Looking on all this, say then whether Ireland is truly Catholic, whether the nation is any thing but Catholic.
But can her new Parliament be Catholic?
No! No one imagines such a thing possible; no one thinks, no one dreams of it. It is clear, then, that it cannot represent the nation.
Who will go to compose it? Men who will discard-such is the modern expression-discard their creed, and leave it at the door. Nothing better can be expected. It is true that the bitter feeling engendered for so long a time by religious questions is not likely to show itself again; or though, to speak more correctly, a religious question never was raised in Ireland, the whole people being one on that subject; but it may be hoped that the bitter persecution against every thing Catholic is not likely to recur, whatever may be the composing elements of the new Houses of Parliament.
In the impossibility of even guessing at the probable opinions of the men who are to have the future fate of Ireland in their hands, it may be fairly predicted that, within their legislative halls, religious and consequently moral questions will only be approached in the spirit of liberalism. Probably, the only thing attempted will be the rendering of the people externally happy and prosperous, supposing the majority of the members animated by true patriotic principles; and indeed the aspirations of all who wish well to Ireland are limited to external or material prosperity; and, for our own part, we do not consider this of slight moment. But is this all that the Irish people require?
They have been brought so low in the scale of humanity that every thing has to be accomplished to bring about their resurrection; and the "every thing" is comprised in substituting flesh-meat for potatoes and good warm clothing for rags. Whoever says that the Irish people can be contented with such a restoration as this, knows little of their noble nature, and has never read their heart.
Assuredly, they have a right to those worldly blessings of which they have been so long deprived; and we would not be understood as saying that one of the primary objects of good government is not to confer those material blessings on the people; nay, it is our belief that, when a whole nation has been so long subjected to all the evils which not only render this life miserable, but absolutely intolerable, it is incumbent on those intrusted with the direction of affairs to remedy those evils instantly, and endeavor to make the people forget their misfortunes by, at least, the enjoyments of this life's ordinary comforts. Forgetfulness of the past can be obtained by no other means. And this is a very simple, but, at the same time, very satisfactory answer to the question so often put and so often replied to in such a variety of ways, "Why is Ireland discontented?"
But, while admitting the truth, nay, the necessity of all this, the government of a Catholic people has not fulfilled its whole duty when it has exerted itself to the utmost to procure, and finally succeeded in procuring, the temporal happiness of the nation. In addition to this, it must consult its moral and religious wants, or a great part of its duty remains neglected.
This, indeed, does not nowadays occur to the minds of the majority of men, who have, it would appear, agreed among themselves to consider it an axiom of government that the rulers of a people should have no other object in view than the material comfort and welfare of the masses. They do not reflect that the wants of a nation must be satisfied in their entirety, and that its moral and religious needs are of no less importance, to say the least, than the temporal. This is evident in all those countries where, in imitation of England, or at her instigation, parliamentary governments are now in operation-- countries which include not only Europe, without excepting Greece and her chief islands, but Southern Africa at the Cape, America, North and South, Australia, and the, large islands of Jamaica, Tasmania, New Zealand, and several groups of Polynesia, preparing Asia for the boon which, probably, is destined to show itself in Japan first, spreading thence all over the largest continent of the world.
Wherever modern Parliaments flourish, there material interests alone are consulted. This is a new feature of Japhetism; and God alone knows how long nations will be satisfied with such a state of things!
But if non-Catholic nations thus limit their aspirations, there is all the more reason why a Catholic people cannot imitate them in such a course, particularly if that people has for centuries submitted to every evil of this life in order to preserve its religion, showing that, in its eyes, religious blessings rank far above all imaginable material advantages; and we all know such to be the case for Ireland.
But, it may be asked, what are those religious wants which must be satisfied, and how are we to know them? The answer, to a Catholic, is plain, and nothing is easier of recognition. What the spiritual guides of the nation consider of paramount importance and of absolute necessity, is of that character, and the government which neglects to listen to remonstrances coming from such a quarter, shows thereby that it is ignorant of, or slights, its plain duty. Ever since the load of tyranny, which weighed down the Irish people, has been removed, if not entirely, at least suffered a very appreciable reduction, since the rulers of the Church in that unhappy country have been able to lift up their voice, and proclaimed what they considered of supreme importance to those under their charge, is it not a strange truth that their voice has never ceased remonstrating, and that, at this very moment, it is as loud in protestation as ever? When has it been listened to as it should be? Is it likely to meet more regard if Ireland obtains home-rule? It grieves us to say that the only answer which can be given to this last question is still an emphatic "No!"
And for the very simple reason, already given, that Ireland cannot have a truly Catholic Parliament, and that all the great measures which would occupy the attention of the Catholic members, in the event of their meeting at Dublin, would be shemes for the advancement of manufactures, trade, the construction of ships, tenant-right laws, etc.; all very excellent things in their way, and to which Ireland has an undoubted right, which will be strongly contested, and in the struggle for which she may again be worsted; which, even if she obtains, will not enable her to compete with England, and which, after and above all, do not correspond to the heart-beat of the nation--the restoration complete and entire of the Catholic Church all over her broad land.
It may be well to remark that the broad assertion just laid down involves no reprisals against the rights of the minority. That minority, backed by the English Government, has enjoyed nearly three centuries of oppression and tyranny, has taxed human ingenuity to the utmost for the purpose of concocting schemes of destruction against the majority: it has failed. The majority, which at last breathes freely, can well afford not to raise a finger in retaliation, and to leave what is called freedom of conscience to those who so long refused it. The result may be left to the operation of natural laws and the holy workings of Providence. But their religious rights ought, at east, to be secured to them entire; the rights of their Church to be left forever perfectly free and untrammelled.
But, how much has been done against this, even of late? Why has a Protestant university so many privileges, while a similar Catholic institution is refused recognition? To answer what purpose have the Queen's Colleges been established? The Catholic bishops certainly possess rights with regard to the education of their flocks; with what persistence have not those rights been either attacked or circumvented! If the Protestant Establishment has been finally abolished, have not its ministers obtained by the very act of abolition concessions which give them still great weight, morally and materially, in the scale opposed to Catholic proselytism, nay, preservation? Is it not a stain even yet, if not in the eye of the law, at least in that of the English colonized in Ireland, to be a "Roman Catholic?" Is "souperism" so completely dead that it never can revive? How many means are still left in the hands of the Protestant minority to vex, annoy, and impoverish the supposed free majority?
Whoever considers the matter seriously cannot but acknowledge that in Ireland there exists still a vast amount of open or silent opposition to the Church of the majority, and a Church which the majority loves with such deep affection that, so long as the least remnant of the old oppression remains, so long must Ireland remain discontented.
And it is more than doubtful whether home-rule would be a sufficient remedy for such a state of things, owing to the fact, already insisted upon, that the new Parliament could not be a Catholic Parliament.
The reader may easily perceive what was meant by saying that the entire restoration of the Catholic Church in the island does not suppose the consequent extirpation of heresy; but it clearly supposes the perfectly free exercise of all her rights by the Church. Nothing short of this can satisfy the Irish people.
To a Catholic, who has either witnessed or heard of the frightful evils brought on modern nations by the doctrine of the right of insurrection, of armed force, of open rebellion, against real or fancied wrong, that doctrine cannot but be loathsome and detestable.
True, there is for nations, as for individuals, something resembling the right of self-defence. No Catholic theologian can assert that a people is bound to bow under the yoke of tyranny, when it can shake that tyranny off; and it is this truth which affords a pretext to many advocates of what is called the right of insurrection. Moreover, there is no doubt that, in the case of Ireland particularly, the Irish had for many centuries a legitimate government of their own, and when attacked by foreigners, who landed on their shores under whatever pretext, they had a perfect right, nay, it was the duty of the heads of clans, the provincial kings and princes, to protect the whole nation, and the part of it intrusted to their special care in particular, against open or covert foes. The name of "rebels" was given them by the invaders, with no shadow of possible pretext, and the name was as justly resented as it was unjustly applied.
Under the Stuart dynasty the state of the case is still more clear: for then they were fighting on the side of the English sovereigns to whom they had submitted; and, in waging war against the enemies of their king and country, they were not only enforcing their right, but performing a highly-meritorious and in some cases heroic duty. Yet the name of "rebels" was again applied to them, and its penalty inflicted upon them, as has been seen.
After their complete subjugation, the right of retaliating on their oppressors, even if justifiable in theory, was often illusory and indefensible in fact, because of the impossibility of successful resistance; and the secret associations known under the names of "Tories," "Rapparees," "White Boys," "Ribbonmen," were, with the exception of the first, condemned by the Church.
But in modern times the right of insurrection cannot possibly be defended, if, as can scarcely be avoided, the cause of a Catholic nation is linked with the various revolutionary societies and conspiracies which disgrace modern Europe, endanger society, and have all been condemned by the sovereign Pontiff.
An extensive discussion of both cases--the stubborn resistance made after the fall of the Stuarts, and some of the attempts at independence of later times--would show at once the difference between the two cases, and prevent thinking men from ranking the "Tories" of ancient times with the avowed revolutionists of our days. Mr. Prendergast has given a fair sketch of the former in the second edition of his "Cromwellian Settlement."
The reader who may peruse this very interesting account can notice a remarkable coincidence; one, however, which to our knowledge has not yet been pointed out: the very scenes enacted in Ireland, during the long resistance offered to oppression after the downfall of the Stuart dynasty, were reenacted in France during the Reign of Terror, and for some time after, throughout the districts which had risen in insurrection against the tyranny of the Convention, and both cases were certainly examples of right warring against might.
In fact, to a person acquainted with the history of the violent changes which, during the last century, modern theories, metaphysical systems, and, above all, the working of secret societies, have caused, the reading of the history of England and Ireland, from the Reformation down, offers new sources of interest, by showing how the last frightful convulsion in France was merely a copy of the first in England, at least as far as the means employed in each go, if not in the ultimate object.
In England the revolution was begun by the monarch himself, with a view of rendering his power more absolute and universal by the rejection of the papal supremacy, and, consequently, the destruction of the Catholic Church. In France the revolution was begun by the leaders of the middle classes, who made use of the immense power given them by the secret societies which then flourished, and the influence of an unbridled press, to destroy royalty and aristocracy, that they might themselves obtain the supreme power and rule the country. The object of the two revolutions was therefore widely different; but the means employed in bringing them about, when considered in detail, are found to have been perfectly identical.
In both countries, on the side of the revolutionary party or of the National Assembly, various oaths were imposed and enforced, troops dispatched, battles fought, devastating bands ravaged the country while in a state of insurrection, the same barbarous orders in La Vendee as in Ireland, so that the language even employed in the second case is an exact counterpart of that in the first. There is destruction resolved upon; then the authorities desisting and resolving on a change of policy, though with a rigid continuance of the police measures, including in both cases "domiciliary visits," inquests by commissioners, courts-martial in the first case, revolutionary tribunals in the second--consequent wholesale executions on both sides. There were the decrees of confiscation carried out with the utmost barbarity, resulting in sudden changes of fortune, the class that was aristocratic being often reduced to beggary, while its wealth was enjoyed by the new men of the middle classes. The peasants derive very little benefit from the revolution in France--none whatever, or rather the very reverse of benefit, in Ireland. And, to go into the minutest details, there are the same informers, spies, troops of armed police, or adventurers on the hunt to discover, prosecute, and destroy the last remnants of the insurgents in France as well as in Ireland.
In considering the religious side of the question, the parallel would be found still more striking, as the proscribed ministers of religion were of the same faith in France as in the British Isles, while the means adopted for their destruction were exactly similar.
On the side of the insurgents the same comparison holds good. In both cases there is the first refusal to obey unjust decrees, the same stubborn opposition to more stringent acts of legislature, the emigration of the aristocratic classes, the devotedness of the clergy, with here and there an unfortunate exception, the same mode of concealment resorted to--false doors, traps, secret closets, disguise, etc.; the flying to the country and concealment in woods, caves, hills, or mountains; and, when the burden grows intolerable, and open resistance, even without hope of success, becomes inevitable, there are the same resources, method of organization, attack, call to arms, call to Heaven, the same heroism: yes, and the same approval of religion and admiration of all noble hearts throughout the world.
The only difference consists in the fact that in France the struggle lasted a few years only; in Ireland, centuries. In France the fury of the revolution soon spent itself in horrors; in Ireland the sternness of the persecuting power stood grim and unrelaxing for ages, adding decree to decree, army to army. In France, numerous hunters of priests and of "brigands," as they were called, flourished only for a short decade of years; in Ireland similar hunters of priests and of "Tories" carried on their infamous trade for more than a century.
In the case of the latter country, too, the confiscation was much more thorough and permanent, the emigration complete and final; but, in both cases, the Catholic religion outlived the storm, and lifted up her head more gloriously than ever as soon as its fury had abated.
Finally, to come to the point, which calls now more immediately for attention, if the campaigns of Owen Roe O'Neill, of Brunswick, and Sarsfield, were the models of the great insurrection of La Vendee and Brittany, the bands of "Tories" and "rebels," scattered through Ireland at the time of the Cromwellian settlement, gave an example for the "Chouan" raids which in France followed the blasted hopes of the royalists.
How ought both cases to be considered with reference to the general rules of morality? How were they considered at the time by religious and conscientious men?
There is no doubt that excesses were committed by Tories in Ireland, and Chouans in France, which every Christian must condemn; but there can also be little doubt that such of them as were not deranged by passion, but allowed their inborn religious feelings to speak even in those dreadful times, were restrained, either by their own consciences or by the advice of the men of God whom they consulted, from committing many crimes which would otherwise have resulted from their unfortunate position. All this, however, resolves itself into a consideration of individual cases which cannot here be taken into account.
Our only question is the cause of both Tories and Chouans in the abstract. From the beginning it was clearly a desperate cause, and, admitting that the motive which prompted it was generous, honorable, and praiseworthy, nothing could be expected to ensue from its advocacy but accumulated disaster and greater misfortunes still. Of either case, then, abstractly considered, religion cannot speak with favor.
But, when an impartial and fair-minded man takes into consideration all the circumstances of both cases, particularly of that presented in Ireland, as given by Mr. Prendergast, with all the glaring injustice, atrocious proceedings, and barbarous cruelty of the opposing party taken into account, who will dare say that men, driven to madness by such an accumulation of misery and torture, were really accountable before God for all the consequences resulting from their wretched position?
In the words quoted by the author of the "Cromwellian Settlement:" "Had they not a right to live on their own soil? were they obliged in conscience to go to a foreign country, with the indelible mark left on them by an atrocious and originally illegitimate government?" And, if the simple act of remaining in their country, to which they had undoubtedly a right, forced them to live as outlaws, and adopt a course of predatory warfare, otherwise unjustifiable, but in their circumstances the only one possible for them, to whom could the fault be ascribed? Are they to be judged harshly as criminals and felons, worthy only of the miserable end to which all of them, sooner or later, were doomed? Is all the reproach and abuse to be lavished on them, and not a breath of it to fall on those who made them what they were? Who of us could say whether, if placed in the same position, he would not have considered the life they led, and the inevitable death they faced, as the only path of duty and honor?
We are thoroughly convinced that the first Irish "Tories" deemed it their right to make themselves the avengers of Ireland's wrongs, and consider themselves as true patriots and the heroic defenders of their country, and that many honorable and conscientious men then living agreed with them. And the people, who always sided with and aided them, had after all certainly a right to their opinion as the only true representatives of the country left in those unfortunate times.
Thus far we have considered the right of resistance on the part of the old "Tories;" we now come to what has been called the second case--the right of insurrection advocated by modern revolutionists, chiefly when connected with the unlawful organizations so widely spread to-day. This, indeed, is the great delusive hope of to-day, which must be gone into more thoroughly, in order to show that Ireland, instead of encouraging among her children the slightest attachment to the modern revolutionary spirit, ought to insist on their all, if faithful to the noble principles of their forefathers, opposing it, as indeed the great mass of the nation has opposed it, strenuously, though it has met with the almost constant support of England, who has spread it broadcast to suit her own purposes. Ireland's hope must come from another quarter.
Let us look clearly at the origin and nature of this revolutionary spirit, so different from the lawful right of resistance always advocated by the great Catholic theologians.
The nature of this spirit is to produce violent changes in government and society by violent means; and it originated in first weakening and then destroying the power of the Popes over Christendom. Two words only need be said on both these interesting topics--words which, we hope, may be clear and convincing.
The very word revolutionary indicates violence; and it is so understood by all who use it with a knowledge of its meaning. A revolutionary proceeding in a state, is one which is sanctioned neither by the law nor the constitution, but is rapidly carried on for any purpose whatever. Violence has always been used in the various revolutions of modern times, and, when people talk of a peaceful revolution, it is at once understood that the term is not used in its ordinary significance.
On this point, probably, all are agreed; and, therefore, there is no need of further explanation. On the other hand, many will be inclined to controvert the second proposition; and, therefore, its unquestionable truth must be shown.
That the position held by the Popes at the head of Christendom for many ages was of paramount influence, and that to them, in fact, is due the existence of the state of Europe, known as Christendom, is now admitted almost by all since the investigations of learned and painstaking historians, Protestants as well Catholics, have been given to the world. But had the Popes any particular line of policy, and did they favor one kind of government more than another? This is a very fair question, and well worthy of consideration.
Any kind of government is good only according to the circumstances of the nation subjected to it. What may suit one people would not give happiness to another, and democratic, aristocratic, or monarchical governments, have each their respective uses, so that none of them can be condemned or approved absolutely. No one will ever be able to show that the Roman Pontiffs held any exclusive theory on this subject, and adopted a stern policy from which they did not recede.
But a positive line of policy they did hold to, namely, the insuring the stability of society by securing the stability of governments.
Whoever reads the life of Gregory VII side by side with that of William the Conqueror, is at first astonished to find Hildebrand, who, though not yet Pope, was already powerful in the counsels of the Papacy, favoring the Norman king, although William eventually proved far from grateful. But, when the reader comes to inquire what can have moved the great monk to take up this line of action, he will find that a deep political motive lay at the bottom of it, which throws a flood of light over the policy of the Popes and the history of Europe during the middle ages. He finds Hildebrand persuaded that William of Normandy possessed the true hereditary right to the crown of England, and the policy of the Popes was already in favor of hereditary right in kingdoms, thereby to insure the stability of dynasties, and consequently that of society itself.
Harold, son of Godwin, belonged in no way to the royal race of Anglo-Saxon kings. The Dukes of Normandy had contracted alliances by marriage with the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, and were thought to be more nearly related to Edward the Confessor than Harold, whose only title was derived from his sister.
What had been the state of Europe up to that time? Since the establishment and conversion of the northern races, a constant change of rulers, an ever-recurring moving of territorial limit, and consequently an endless disturbance in all that secures the stability of rights, was common everywhere: in England, under the heptarchy; in France, under the Carlovingians; in the various states of Germany; everywhere, except, perhaps, in a part of Italy, where small republics were springing up from municipal communes, which were better adapted to the wants of the people.
The great evils of those times were owing to these perpetual changes, which all came from the undefined rights of succession to power, as left by Charlemagne; a striking proof that a monarch may be a man of genius, a great and acceptable ruler, and still fail to see the consequences to future times of the legacy he leaves them in the incomplete institutions of his own time. Well has Bossuet said, that "human wisdom is always short of something."
Those rapid, and, to us, wonderful partitions of empires and kingdoms; those loose and ill-defined rules of succession in Germany, France, England, and elsewhere; productive of revolution at the death of every sovereign, and often during every reign, showed the Popes that hereditary rights ought to be clear and fixed, and confined to one person in each nation. From that period, date the long lines of the Capetians in France, the Plantagenets in England; while rights of a similar kind are introduced into Spain and Portugal; likewise into the various states of Northern Germany, or Scandinavia; and Southern Italy, or Norman Sicily--the rest of Italy and Germany are placed on a different footing, the empire and the popedom being both elective.
Such was the grand policy of the Popes inaugurated by Hildebrand, which came out in all its strong features, at the same time, under his powerful influence. Such was the policy which insured the stability of Europe for upward of six hundred years; a set of views to which a word only can be devoted here, but on which volumes would not be thrown away.
In consequence of it, for six hundred years dynasties seldom changed; the territorial limits of each great division of Europe remained, on the whole, settled; and an order of society ensued, of such a nature that any father of a family might rest assured of the state of his children and grandchildren after him.
In this respect, therefore, as in many others, the papacy was the key-stone of Christendom.
But as soon as Protestantism came to contest, not only the temporal, but even the spiritual supremacy of the Popes; when, taking advantage of the trouble of the Church, the so-called Catholic sovereigns, while pretending to render all honor to the spiritual supremacy of the sovereign Pontiffs, refused to acknowledge in them any right of lifting their warning voice, and calling on the powers of the world to obey the great and unchangeable laws of religion and justice, then did the long- established stability of Europe begin to give way, while the whole continent entered upon its long era of revolution, which is still in full way, and, as yet, is far from having produced its last consequences.
England, the most guilty, was the first to feel the effect of the shock. The Tudors flattered themselves that, by throwing aside what they called the yoke of Rome, they had vastly increased their power, and so they did for the moment, while the dynasty that succeeds them sees rebellion triumphant, and the head of a king fall beneath the axe of an executioner.
She is said to have benefited, nevertheless, by her great revolution, and by the subsequent introduction of a new dynasty. She has certainly chanted a loud paean of triumph, and at this moment is still exultant over the effects of her modern policy, from the momentary success of the new ideas she has disseminated through the world, and above all from that immense spread of parliamentary governments which have sprung into existence everywhere under her guidance, and mainly through her agency.
And the cause of her triumph was that, after a few years of commotion, she seemed to have obtained a kind of stability which was a sufficiently good copy of the old order under the Popes, and won for her apparently the gratitude of mankind; but that stability is altogether illogical, and cannot long stand. There is an old, though now trite, saying to the effect that when you "sow the wind you must reap the whirlwind," and no one can fail to see the speedy realization of the truth of this adage on her part. Over the full tide of her prosperity there is a mighty, irresistible, and inevitable storm visibly gathering. At last she has come to nearly the same state of mental anarchy which she has been so powerful to spread in Europe. After reading "Lothair," the work of one of her great statesmen, all intelligent readers must exclaim, "Babylon! how hast thou fallen! " Within a few years, possibly, nothing will remain of her former greatness but a few shreds, and men will witness another of those awful examples of a mighty empire falling in the midst of the highest seeming prosperity.
When a nation has no longer any fixed principle to go by, when the minds of her leaders are at sea on all great religious and moral questions, when the people openly deny the right of the few to rule, when a fabric, raised altogether on aristocracy, finds the substratum giving way, and democratic ideas seated even upon the summit of the edifice, there must be, as is said, "a rattling of old bones," and a shaking of the skeleton of what was a body.
How long, then, will the mock stability established by the deep wisdom of England's renowned statesmen have stood? A century or two of dazzling material prosperity succeeded by long ages of woe, such as the writer of the "Battle of Dorking," with all his imagination, could not find power enough to describe; for no Prussian, or any other foreign army, will bring that catastrophe about, but the breath of popular fury.
But our purpose is not to utter prophecies--rather to rehearse facts already accomplished.
England, then, was the first to feel the shock of the earthquake which was to overthrow the old stability of Europe. It is known how Germany has ever since been a scene of continual wars, dynastic changes, and territorial confusion. What evils have not the wars of the present century brought upon her! Yet, owing to the phlegmatic disposition, one might call it the stolidity of the majority of Germans, the disturbances have been so far external, and the lower masses of society have scarcely been agitated, except by the first rude explosion of Protestantism, and the sudden patriotic enthusiasm of young plebeians, in 1814. But mark the suddenness with which, in 1848, all the thrones of Germany fell at once under the mere breath of what is called "the people!" It is almost a trite thing to say that, where religion no longer exists, there no longer is security or peace. Impartial travellers, Americans chiefly, have observed of late that, in certain parts of France, there is, in truth, very little religious feeling; while in all Protestant Germany, particularly in that belonging to Prussia, there is none at all. How long, then, is the "new Germanic Empire," so loudly trumpeted at Versailles, and afterward so gloriously celebrated at Berlin, without the intervention of any religion whatever, likely to stand? How long? Can it exist till the end of this century? He would be a bold prophet who could confidently say, "Yes."
As to France, formerly the steadiest of all nations, so deeply attached to her dynasty of eight hundred years, although some of her kings were little worthy true affection; many of whose citizens have been born in houses a thousand years old, from families whose names went back to the darkness of heroic times; which was once so retentive of her old memories, living in her traditions, her former deeds of glory, even in the monuments raised in honor of her kings, her great captains, her illustrious citizens; which was chiefly devoted to her time- honored religion, mindful that she was born on the day of the baptism of Clovis; that she grew up during the Crusades; that a virgin sent by Heaven saved her from the yoke of the stranger; that, on attaining her full maturity, it was religion which chiefly ennobled her; and that her greatest poets, orators, literary men, respected and honored religion as the basis of the state, and, by their immortal masterpieces, threw a halo around Catholicism--France, which still retains in her external appearance something of her old steadiness and immutability, so that to the eye of a stranger, who sees her for the first time, solidity is the word which comes naturally to his mind, as expressive of every thing around him, has only the look of what she was in her days of greatness, and on the surface of the earth there is not to-day a more unsteady, shaky, insecure spot, scarcely worthy of being chosen by a nomad Tartar as a place wherein to pitch his tent for the night, and hurry off at the first appearance of the rising sun on the morrow. Can the shifting sands of Libya, the ever-shaking volcanic mountains of equatorial America, the rapidly-forming coral islands of the southern seas, give an idea of that fickleness, constant agitation, and unceasing clamor for change, which have made France a by-word in our days? Who of her children can be sure that the house he is building for himself will ever be the dwelling of his son; that the city he lives in to-day will tomorrow acknowledge him as a member of its community? Who can be certain that the constitution of the whole state may not change in the night, and he wake the next day to find himself an outlaw and a fugitive?
It is a lamentable fact that for the last hundred years a great nation has been reduced to such a state of insecurity, that no one dares to think of the future, though all have repudiated the past, and thus every thing is reduced for them to the present fleeting moment.
And what is likely to be the future destiny of a nation of forty million souls, when their present state is such, and such the uncertainty of their dearest interests? They are unwilling to quit the soil; for they have lost all power of expansion by sending colonies to foreign shores; it is difficult for them to take a real interest in their own soil, for the great moving spring of interest is broken up by the total want of security. May God open their eyes to their former folly; for the folly was all of their own making! They have allowed themselves to be thus thoroughly imbued with this revolutionary spirit--the first revolution they hailed with enthusiasm; when they saw it become stained with frightful horrors, they paused a moment, and were on the point of acknowledging their error; but scribblers and sophists came to show them that it failed in being a glorious and happy one only because it was not complete; another and then another, and another yet, would finish the work and make them a great nation. Thus have they become altogether a revolutionary people; and they must abide by the consequences, unless they come at last to change their mind.
But the worst has not been said. This terrible example, instead of proving a warning to nations, has, on the contrary, drawn nearly all of them into the same boiling vortex. England and France have led the whole European world captive: people ask for a government different to the one they have; revolution is the consequence, and, with the entry of the revolutionary spirit, good-by to all stability and security. Let Italy and Spain bear witness if this is not so.
And the great phenomenon of the age is the collecting of all those revolutionary particles into one compact mass, arranged and preordained by some master-spirits of evil, who would be leaders not of a state or nation only, but of a universal republic embracing first Europe, and then the world. So we hear to-day of the Internationalists receiving in their "congresses" deputies not only from all the great European centres, not only from both ends of America, which is now Europeanized, but from South Africa, from Australia, New Zealand, from countries which a few years back were still in quiet possession of a comparatively few aborigines.
To come back, then, to the point from which we started, it is in this revolutionary spirit, in those conspiracies for revolutions to come, that some Irishmen set their hopes for the regeneration of their country. It would be well to remind them of the sayings of our Lord: "Can men gather grapes from thorns?" "By their fruits ye shall know them."
Let the Irish who are truly devoted to their country reflect well on the kind of men they would have as allies. What has Ireland in common with these men? If they know Ireland at all, they detest her because of her Catholicism; and, if Ireland knows them, she cannot but distrust and abominate them.
It has seemed a decree of kind Providence that all attempts at rebellion on her part undertaken with the hope of such help, have so far not only been miserable failures, but most disgracefully miscarried and been spent in air, leaving only ridicule and contempt for the originators of and partakers in the plots.
If the vast and unholy scheme which is certainly being organized, and which is spreading its fatal branches in all directions, should ever succeed, it could not but result in the most frightful despotism ever contemplated by men. Ireland in such an event would be the infinitesimal part of a chaotic system worthy of Antichrist for head.
But we are confident that such a scheme cannot succeed and come to be realized, unless indeed it enter for a short period into the designs of an avenging God, who has promised not to destroy mankind again by another flood, but assured us by St. Peter that he will purify it by fire.
As a mere design of man, intended for the regeneration of humanity and the new creation of an abnormal order of things, it cannot possibly succeed, because it is opposed to the nature of men, among whom as a whole there can be no perfect unity of external government and internal organization, owing to the infinite variety of which we spoke at the beginning, which is as strong in human beings as elsewhere. No other body than the Catholic Church can hope to adapt itself to all human races, and govern by the same rules all the children of Adam. The decree issued of old from the mouth of God is final, and will last as long as the earth itself. It is contained in Moses' Canticle:
"When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he appointed the bounds of each people, according to the number of the children of Israel," or, as the Hebrew text has it, "He fixed the limits of each people." On this passage Aben Ezra remarks that interpreters understand the text as alluding to the dispersion of nations (Genesis xi.). Those interpreters, were clearly right, although only Jewish rabbies.
When God deprived man of the unity of language, he took away at the same time the possibility of unity of institutions and government; and it will be as hard for men to defeat that design of Providence as for Julian the apostate to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, of which our Saviour had declared that there should not remain "a stone upon a stone."
But, though the monstrous scheme cannot ultimately succeed, it can and will produce untold evils to human society. By alluring workmen and other people of the lower class, it draws into the intricate folds of conspiracy, dark projects, and universal disorder, an immense array of human beings, whom the revolutionary spirit had not yet, or at least had scarcely, touched; it undermines and disturbs society in its lowest depths and widest-spread foundations, since the lower class always has been and still is the most numerous, including by far the great majority of men. It consequently renders the stability of order more difficult, if not absolutely impossible; it opens up a new era of revolutions, more disastrous than any yet known; for, as has already been remarked, and it should be well borne in mind, in order that the whole extent of the evil in prospect may be seen, so far, all the agitations in Europe, all the convulsions which have rendered our age so unlike any previous one, and productive of so many calamities, private as well as public, have been almost exclusively confined to the middle classes, and should be considered only as a reaction of the simple bourgeoisie against the aristocratic class. Those agitations and convulsions are only the necessary consequence of the secular opposition, existing from the ninth and tenth centuries and those immediately following, between the strictly feudal nobility, which arrogated to itself all prerogatives and rights, and the more numerous class of burghers, set on the lower step of the social ladder. These latter wanted, not so much to get up to the level of their superiors, as to bring them down to their own, and even precipitate them into the abyss of nothingness below. They have almost succeeded; and the prestige of noble blood has passed away, perhaps forever, in spite of Vico's well- known theory. But the now triumphant burgher in his turn sees the dim mass, lost in the darkness and indistinctness of the lowest pool of humanity, rising up grim and horrible out of the abyss, hungry and fierce and not to be pacified, to threaten the new-modelled aristocracy of money with a worse fate than that it inflicted upon the old nobility.
And, to render the prospect more appalling, the chief means, which so eminently aided the bourgeoisie to take their position, namely, the wide-spread influence of secret societies, whose workings even lately have astonished the world by the facile and apparently inexplicable revolutions effected in a few days, are now in the full possession of the lower classes, who, no longer rude and unintelligent, but possessed of leaders of experience and knowledge, can also powerfully work those mighty engines of destruction.
In the presence of those past, present, and coming revolutions, the face of heaven entirely clouded, the presence of God absolutely ignored, his rights over mankind denied, the designs of his Providence openly derided, and man, pretending to decide his own destiny by his own unaided efforts, scornfully rejecting any obligation to a superior power, not looking on high for assistance, but taking only for his guide his pretended wisdom, his unbounded pride, and his raging passions; such is now our world.
Is Ireland to launch herself on that surging sea of wild impulse, in whose depths lies destruction and whose waves never kiss a peaceful coast? When she claimed and exercised a policy of her own, she wisely persisted in not mixing herself up with the troubles of Europe, content to enjoy happiness in her own way, on her ocean-bound island, she thanked God that no portion of her little territory touched any part of the Continent of Europe, stretching out vainly toward her shores. So she stood when, under God, she was mistress of her own destiny. If ever she thought of Europe, it was only to send her missionaries to its help, or to receive foreign youth in her large schools which were open to all, where wisdom was imparted without restriction and without price. But to follow the lead of European theorists and vendors of so-called wisdom and science; to originate new schemes of pretended knowledge, or place herself in the wake of bold adventurers on the sea of modern inventions, she was ever steadfast in her refusal.
And now that her autonomy is almost once again within her grasp, now that she can carve out a destiny of her own, would she hand over the guidance of herself to men who know nothing of her, who have only heard of her through the reports of her enemies, and who will scarcely look at her if she is foolish enough to ask to be admitted within their ranks?
Every one who wishes well to Ireland ought to thank God that so far few indeed, if any, of her children have ever joined in the plots and conspiracies of modern times, and that in this last scheme just referred to, not one of them, probably, has fully engaged himself. In the late horrors of the Paris Commune, no Irish name could be shown to have been implicated, and, when the contrary was asserted, a simple denial was sufficient to set the question at rest. Let them so continue to refrain from sullying their national honor by following the lead of men with whom they have nothing in common.
After all, the great thing which the Irish desire is, with the entire possession of their rights, to enjoy that peace and security in their own island, which they relish so keenly when they find it on foreign shores. But no peace or security is possible with the attempt to subvert all human society by wild and impracticable theories, in which human and divine laws are alike set at naught. Further words are unnecessary on this subject, as the simple good sense and deep religious feeling of the Irish will easily preserve them from yielding to such temptation.
Yet, a last consideration seems worthy of note. When, later on, we present our views, and explain by what means we consider that the happiness of the Irish nation may be secured, and its mission fulfilled, a more fitting opportunity will be presented of speaking of the ways by which Providence has already led them through former difficulties, and the consideration of those holy designs and past favors may enable us better to understand what may be hoped and attempted in the future.
Here it is enough to observe that, in whatever progress the Irish have made of late in obtaining a certain amount of their rights, insurrection, revolution, plots, and the working of secret societies condemned by the Church, have absolutely gone for nothing, and the little of it all, in which Irishmen have indulged, really formed one of the main obstacles to the enjoyment of what they had already obtained, and to the securing of a greater amount for the future.
There is no doubt that revolutions abroad and dangers at home have been the greatest inducements to England to relax her grasp and change her tyrannical policy toward Ireland. The success of the revolt of the North American colonies was the main cause of the volunteer movement of 1782, and of the concessions then temporarily granted. The fearful upheaval of revolutionary France, which filled the English heart with a wholesome dread, was also a great means of obtaining for Ireland the concession of being no longer treated as though it were a lair of wild beasts or a nest of outlaws. The act of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 was certainly granted in view of immediate revolutions ready to burst forth, one of which did explode in France in the year following. But, in all those outbursts of popular fury, Ireland never joined; and if she found in them new ground for hope, if she awaited anxiously the anticipated result turning in her favor, she never took any active part whatever in them. She only relied on God, who always knows how to draw good from evil; she, however, profited by them, and saw her shackles fall off of themselves, and herself brought back, step by step, to liberty.
But so soon as any body of Irishmen entered into a scheme of a similar nature, imitating the secret plottings and deeds of European revolutionists, Ireland never gained a single inch of ground, nor reaped the slightest advantage from such attempts. On the contrary, ridicule, contempt, increase of burdens, penalties, and harsh treatment, were the only result which ever came from them, and, worst of all, no one pitied the victims of all those foolish enterprises. There is no need of entering here into details. The first of those attempts failed long ago; the last is still on record, and cannot be yet said to belong to past history.