This chapter will be devoted to the island itself. For many centuries it was happy in its seclusion and separation from the rest of Europe: in these days it necessarily forms a part of the whole mass of Japhetic races; its isolation is no longer possible; and, in the opinion of many, it is destined once again to become a spot illustrious and happy. The consideration of how that lustre and happiness are to come upon it is the only task still left us.
Whoever takes into consideration the advantages it already enjoys, and compares its present situation with that of a hundred years back, cannot fail to be struck with the remarkable change for the better which has taken place between the two periods. Ireland still suffers, and suffers sorely, and the world still speaks with justice of her wrongs; but, in whatever light they may appear to those who love their country, no one can pretend that it still groans under the weight of tyranny which has formed the burden of her history. And, while acknowledging this beneficial change in her condition, they must wonder at the same time how small was the share which the natives themselves had in bringing it about, although their activity never relaxed, and they had great and good men working for their cause. What, in truth, did it?
The first point which claims our attention is how effectually the moral force of what is called liberal thought dealt a death- blow to the penal laws half a century before any of them were erased from the statute book.
Liberal thought may be said to have originated in England, whence it passed over to France, to be disseminated and take root throughout Europe by means of the mighty influence then exercised by the great nation. The chief object which animated the minds of those who first labored for its admission into modern European principles is not for us to consider here. There is no doubt that this chief object was of a loosening and deleterious nature: namely, to ruin Christian faith, to change all the old social and political axioms held by Christendom, and to create a new society imbued with what now goes by the name of modern ideas. It is not necessary to point out the frightful imprudence as well as criminality of many of those who were the pioneers of the movement. We must only take the new principles as a great fact, destined yet to effect a radical change in the ideas of men of all races, a change already begun in Europe.
Liberal thought, we say, originated in England; and it would be easy to show that there it was the result partly of Protestantism, partly of indifferentism, the ultimate consequence of the great principle of private judgment.
This became manifest in Great Britain, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, and, as was previously shown, what is called the British Constitution was the result and outgrowth of deep political thought matured in minds indifferent to religion, of men who were as little Protestants as any thing else. But they were deeply possessed by a sense of conservatism and moderation in the application of the most radical principles, which later on the fiery Gallic mind carried to their final and most disastrous consequences.
But, in whatever garb it may have appeared, liberalism was clearly the essence of the British Constitution, as established after all the civil and dynastic wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The leaders of the English nation happened at the time to be fully wedded to aristocratic ideas, and accordingly they refused to recognize all the consequences of their principles, and to see them carried out to the full.
It was admitted that the king reigned, but did not govern; that the nation governed by its representatives; that those representatives were created by election; that a nation could not be taxed without its free consent; that thought, religious thought chiefly, was free; that toleration, therefore, could admit of no exception in point of religious doctrine; and all the other modern principles which have at length been admitted, though not always observed, as governmental axioms by all European nations.
As long as those axioms were in the close keeping of English patricians, some of their consequences were far from being fully evolved; but certain Frenchmen, Voltaire among others, happening to cross the Straits of Dover, returned with them, and, the wretched government of Louis XV being not only too weak to withstand, but even conniving at, the boldness of the new philosophers, the French language, which was then spoken all over Europe, carried with it from mouth to mouth the new and fascinating doctrine of the emancipation of thought.
None of those writers, indeed, undertook to plead the cause of unfortunate Ireland. Voltaire threw the whole of France into agitation, nay, all Europe, to the wilds of Russia, by taking up the case of the Protestant Calas, who was condemned to death and executed unjustly, as it seems, for the supposed murder of a son who was inclined to embrace Catholicity; but never a word did he speak of the suffering which at that time had settled down over the whole Irish nation solely for the crime of its religious convictions.
Nevertheless, toleration became the catchword with all. It rang out loudly from a thousand French pamphlets and ponderous tomes; it was caught up and echoed back from England; it penetrated the unkindly atmosphere of Russia even, and was silently pondered over under the rule of an unbelieving despot.
It was impossible for Ireland not to derive some benefit from all this. It took a long time, indeed, for emancipation of thought to cross that narrow channel which divided the "sister" islands; for, at the precise period when the doctrine was loudest in France, the most atrocious penal laws were being executed in Ireland, and there seemed no hope for the suffering nation.
But, toward the end of that eventful eighteenth century, the breath of that magic word, toleration, at last was felt on the shores of Erin. When it was in the mouths of all Europe, when English clergymen had thoroughly imbibed the new doctrine, when even Scotch ministers began to thaw under its genial influence, and become "liberal theologians," how could an Irish magistrate think of hanging a friar, or transporting a priest, or imposing a heavy fine on a Catholic who committed the heinous offence of hearing mass, or absenting himself from the services of the Established Church? At last, the "Mass-rock" was no longer the only spot whereon the divine victim of expiation could be offered up; and it soon came to be known that, to by-lanes and obscure houses in the cities numbers of persons flocked on Sundays, presided over by their own Sogarth Aroon. On one occasion, already noticed, the floor of a rickety house, where they were worshipping, gave way, to the killing and maiming of many; thenceforth, Catholics were allowed to assemble in public to the knowledge of all, and, though "discoverers" were still legally entitled to denounce and prosecute them, there was small chance of a verdict against them.
Thus was it owing to a great moral force--whether good or bad is not the question now--that the penal laws first became obsolete; and Irishmen had absolutely nothing whatever to do in the matter. Not a single pamphlet, demanding toleration, and proclaiming the rights of religious freedom, ever, to our knowledge, issued from the Irish press at the time. No book, written by an Irish author, advocating the same, was ever printed clandestinely, as were so many French books, at first appearing in Holland, or covertly in France, with a false title-page.
When the Volunteer movement took place, toleration was in full sway in Ireland. As was seen, the question debated in the Dungannon Convention referred solely to the extension of the elective franchise to Catholics; and, though this was unjustly denied them by the majority of the Volunteers, under the guidance of the leaders of the movement, there was no question of any longer refusing to the native Irish Catholics the right of practising their religion freely. This the moral sense of the century had secured to them.
The attainment of the political franchise was also the result of purely moral force, though it required a much longer time in its acquisition, as it was a question, not merely of a right individual in its nature, as all natural religious rights are, but one affecting external society, and productive of material results of great import.
In this the Irish were not merely passive; they launched themselves heart and soul on the sea of political agitation. From 1810 to 1829, the Catholic Association, which embraced men of all classes of society, was incessant in its clamor for emancipation. The chief object of this association being the political franchise, it was felt by all that, sooner or later, that privilege must be granted. Meanwhile, the secular enemies of Ireland were not idle. Emancipation--that is the political franchise-- they called a "Utopian dream," which they asserted England could not grant. Was it not directly opposed to the coronation-oath, nay, to the English Constitution? The king himself was, and publicly declared himself to be, of this opinion. According to your thorough-bred Englishman, the state would rather spend its last shilling, and sacrifice its last man, than suffer it. How many spoke thus, even up to the very day on which Wellington, changing his mind perforce, at last proposed the measure!
All this opposition was perhaps only to be expected; but the strange thing was that many excellent patriotic Irishmen, Catholics, laymen as well as clerics and prelates, were opposed to the agitation set on foot by O'Connell and his friends; they also thought it a "Utopian dream," likely only to bring new calamities upon their country. They seemed not to see that the refusal of emancipation meant in fact the continuance of the small Protestant minority as the ruling power--the state--in Ireland, which, owing to moral force, was no longer so, save in theory. In fact, already the majority, that is, almost the whole of Ireland, was an immense power. Its members were at liberty to combine openly, to show themselves, to speak, to write, to agitate; they were, in a word, a people, and the Protestant minority no longer really constituted the state.
It is true that the majority of Irishmen had for centuries continued to act unanimously in their resistance to oppression; as was seen, they had been a people from the moment that the English kings and Parliaments strove to coerce their religious faith, and more particularly from the destruction of clanship. They were truly a nation, though without a government of their own, and for the greater part of the time bending under the most intolerable tyranny. Religion had given them one thought and one heart. And now that, owing to the mighty, the irresistible moral force of liberalism, they could no longer be openly persecuted for wishing to remain Catholics, the question arose: Were they still to be absolutely nothing in the state? This was the real demand of the Catholic Association, and every one ought to have seen its importance and the certainty of success.
Nevertheless, a great number of sincere Irishmen did not see the question in this light, and were covertly or openly opposed to the agitation. Ireland appeared to be divided just at a momentous crisis.
The leaders of the association were not themselves altogether agreed as to the best mode of putting their question. Some were for armed opposition, thinking they could beat England in the open field. But the great originator and leader of the movement sternly opposed so mad a proposition. He was for moral force, seeing how clearly and irresistibly, even if unwittingly, it was working for their cause. In spite of all adverse circumstances, although the English party and the English nation stood up en masse against him, although many Irishmen refused to join in the agitation, while some of his best friends wished to risk all in a desperate venture, he stood calm, firm, and so confident of success, that he caused himself to be returned as member for the County Clare to the English Parliament, before even emancipation had given him the right of candidature. It was immediately after this "unconstitutional" election that the boon of emancipation was suddenly granted, contrary to all expectation and probability, and O'Connell proudly took his seat among the representatives of Ireland in the Imperial Parliament.
If this measure was not carried by a purely moral force, it is hard to see how that phrase can be applied to any thing in this world. This is not the place to write a history of that memorable struggle. It is still fresh in the memory of many living men. We merely draw a conclusion from what has happened in our own time, and one which may be said to be a clear inference from the circumstances of the case, and to which no one can offer any serious objection. This conclusion is, the omnipotence of moral force in gaining for Ireland so much of liberty, of political, and social privileges, as was finally granted her.
This victory won for the Irish Catholics the acknowledgment on the part of England that they were a factor in the state. The next question which naturally presented itself was, "What was to be their exact position in the state?"
There are many answers to this, even in modern ideas. In purely democratic countries suffrage is universal, all have a political vote, and the majority is supposed to rule. In countries where the government is oligarchical or aristocratic, rank, wealth, and position, are "privileged;" the great mass is deprived of a vote. Yet, even in those countries, in accordance with the modern idea, blood is not every thing; a certain number of plebeians are admitted to a share in public affairs, and their number is greater or smaller as the struggle, which is always going on between the few and the many, wavers to this side or to that. Thus, in the English Parliament there is often an "electoral" or "reform" question discussed and agitated. But the leaders of the Catholic Association boldly advocated a question prior to those--what at the time was called the repeal of the Union, and is now known as "home-rule."
Must Ireland continue to be governed by laws enacted in England? The number of her special representatives is comparatively so small, her Catholic aspirations meet with such deaf ears in the majority of the members, that, as long as Ireland is without her own Parliament, she cannot be called a free country.
Moreover, according to modern ideas, self-government seems to be admitted as an axiom; all countries have a right to it, under the limitation of constitutional enactments, either in "confederacies" or in "imperial states." Why should Ireland alone be deprived of such a boon?
It is known how O'Connell suddenly grasped the question and mastered it. His first repeal association was suppressed on the instant by a proclamation of the Irish Secretary. O'Connell bowed to the proclamation, and for the first organization substituted another called "the Irish Volunteers for the Repeal of the Union." This met with the same fate as the first. The great agitator then took refuge in "repeal breakfasts," and declared his intention, if the government "thought fit to proclaim down breakfasts, to resort to a political lunch, and, if political luncheon be equally dangerous to the peace of the viceroy, he would have political dinners; if the dinners be proclaimed, we must, said he, like certain sanctified dames, resort to tea and tracts."
The "breakfasts" were suppressed, and O'Connell was arrested. The prosecution, however, was soon abandoned, and for the moment, despairing of success in advocating repeal, he came down to the "Reform party," from which he obtained at first some great advantages for Ireland--the administration of Lord Mulgrave, the best the island had known for centuries, and the appointment of many Catholics to high offices in the state.
It is not necessary to relate the circumstances which finally drove O'Connell back upon his original plan, and the formation, in April, 1840, of the "Loyal National Repeal Association."
Within a short time three million associates were contributing annually to the national fund, and a scene was witnessed which the most devoted lover of Erin could never have anticipated. It would be useless to search the annals of mankind for a more startling exhibition of purely moral force. The causes of its failure will appear causes altogether of a temporary and unexpected character, when we come to examine them.
But the stupendous spectacle itself was enough to impress the beholder with the irresistible effect which it could not fail to produce. A whole nation obedient to the voice of one man! --and that a man who had never been invested with a state dignity, proud only of having once represented a poor Irish county in the English Parliament; who was eminently a man of the people, identified in every way with the people, speaking a language they could all understand, speaking to hundreds of thousands who had come at his call to listen to him: at one time nearly a million of them surrounded him on the hill of Tara.
Had a demagogue stood in his place, how could he have resisted the temptation of using such power to effect a thorough revolution? O'Connell had only to utter the word, and those immense masses of men would have swept the whole island as with a besom of destruction. The impetuosity of the Irish character when placed in such circumstances is well known, and O'Connell knew it better than any man living at the time. He showed himself truly heroic in the constant moderation of his words, even in scenes the most exciting, when a look from him might have lashed the nation into madness.
To bring out more clearly the stamp and greatness of the man, compare his conduct with that of the leaders in the great French Revolution of 1793. Not one of them ever possessed a tithe, not merely of the great Irishman's honesty of purpose, but even of his real authority over the people; yet, what frightful convulsions did they not bring upon the state in the days of their brief popularity? Throughout the whole repeal movement, when millions of people obeyed implicitly one leader, ready to do his will at any moment, there was never a single breach of the peace, never an attempt at outrage, never a threat of retaliation.
The only difficulty is where to bestow the greater admiration, on O'Connell or the people; for, if O'Connell towered almost above humanity in his never-varying moderation, with such a powerful engine in his hands, the people offered a spectacle which would be looked for in vain elsewhere in the history of man, that of a whole nation swayed by the most excited feelings, one in thought, in aims, in the bitter memory of the past, conscious of their irresistible power in the present, yet never yielding to passion, but dispersing quietly after listening to the impassioned harangues of their leader, to return to their homes and resume their ordinary occupations. Any impartial man, who has read history at all, must acknowledge that this spectacle is unexampled, and in itself vindicates the Irish character from the foolish aspersions so lavishly cast upon it, and so thoughtlessly repeated still.
One great fact was brought out by those demonstrations which afterward appeared so barren of result, namely, the existence of a nation full of life and energy, of a surprising vigor, and at the same time governed by stern principles as well as swayed by emotion. It would be idle to pretend that they were a non-entity, save as forming a part of the British Empire, existing on sufferance as it were, merely to add to the greatness and the glory of the English nation. They possessed a life of their own. That life had, as was seen, been instilled into them by their religious convictions alone; it had lain dormant for more than a century; and now it burst forth in the view of the world, to proclaim that the Irish nation still existed. And this wonderful resurrection was due to moral force alone.
Though the Irish people then appeared so different from that humbled, crushed mass of oppressed beings, who, a hundred years before, lay so completely at the mercy of their masters, it was, nevertheless, the same people, and the difference was purely one of circumstances. Had they been allowed in the previous century to manifest their feelings, as a happy change in the state of affairs now permitted them, they would assuredly have acted in exactly the same manner. And this reflection tends to confirm the opinion, several times here expressed, that the Irish people existed all along, and that the most adverse circumstances had never succeeded in destroying it.
Meanwhile, O'Connell was the sovereign of that nation, and one whose power over his subjects was greater than that of any of the kings or emperors who occupied the various thrones of Europe at the time. Later events proved how precarious was the authority of all those who appeared to hold the fate of millions in their hands; the authority of O'Connell alone was deeply rooted in the heart of his nation. From the humble position of a Kerry lawyer, he had gradually risen to the proud preeminence which he occupied in the eyes of Europe, and he owed it solely to that moral force of which he was so sincere an advocate, and which he knew so well how to wield.
But how came all the high hopes then so ardently entertained by the friends of Ireland to be so suddenly dashed to the ground, and O'Connell to die of a broken heart?
It seems, indeed, to be the opinion of Irishmen even, that O'Connell's theory was faulty; that moral force alone could not restore Ireland to her lawful position among nations; that, in fact, he failed by his very moderation, and that the bitterness which clouded his last days was the natural consequence of his false and delusive expectations. Such seems now to be the almost universal opinion.
Yet, in all his wonderful career, only one fault can be brought against him. Yielding, on one occasion, in 1843, to the exuberance of his feelings, "he committed himself to a specific promise that within six months repeal would be an accomplished fact."
This promise, rashly given, and showing no result, is said to have cooled down the enthusiasm of the people, who, from that time, lost confidence in their leader; and to this alone is the utter failure of the great agitation ascribed.
But there is so little of real truth in this assertion that, when, on his well-known imprisonment, after the law lords, in the British House of Peers, declared that the conviction of O'Connell and his colleagues was wrong, he was restored to liberty, the writer just quoted confesses that "overwhelming demonstrations of unchanged affection and personal attachment poured in upon him from his countrymen. Their faith in his devotion to Ireland was increased a hundred-fold."
It is true that the same writer, Mr. A.M. O'Sullivan, adds that "their faith in the efficiency of his policy, or the surety of his promise, was gone;" but to reconcile this phrase with what precedes it, it must not be taken absolutely. The want of faith here spoken of was restricted to the members of a new party, which had been organized chiefly during the imprisonment of the great leader, the "Young Ireland party," the new advocates of physical force against England, composed of the ardent and, most surely, well-intentioned young men, who failed so egregiously a few years later.
This party was the chief cause of O'Connell's failure, coupled with the awful famine which followed soon after, and left the Irish small desire for political agitation with grim Death staring them in the face, and the main question before them one of avoiding starvation and utter ruin.
Both causes, however, were purely of a temporary nature, and the efficacy of moral force remained strong as ever, and, in fact, the only thing possible.
The Young Ireland party could not exist long, as its avowed policy was so rash, so ill-founded, and poorly carried out, that the mere breath of British power was enough to dissipate it hopelessly in a moment. Moreover, it placed itself in open antagonism to the mass of the Catholic clergy, and appeared to have so ill studied the history of the country that its members did not know the real power which religion exercised over their countrymen. They could not but fail, and their futile attempt only served to render worse the condition of the country they were ready to die for.
It would be enough to add here, of other subsequent attempts of the same nature, that no real hope for the complete resurrection of Ireland could be looked to from such abortive and stillborn conspiracies; especially when the alliance entered into by some of them with the revolutionary party of European socialists and atheists is taken into account, men from whom nothing but disorder, anarchy, and crime, can be expected. Thus, those who wish well to the Irish cause have only moral force to fall back upon.
It is needless to do more than mention the passing nature of the frightful calamity of famine and consequent expatriation, which have been sufficiently dwelt upon. The Irish race has passed through ordeals more trying than either of these; it has survived them, and increased in numbers after all previous calamities, as it doubtless will after this last, when God thinks proper to abate in the people the eagerness they still feel for leaving their native country.
All the progress made by Ireland, so far, is due, therefore, solely to the kind action of Divine Providence, which is generally called the "logic of events," aided by men endowed with prudence and energy. It would be superfluous for our purpose to detail at length several other progressive steps made subsequently, which the mad attempt of the party of physical force would have effectually prevented if open tyranny were as easy a thing in these days as it once was. The establishment of the "Encumbered Estates Courts," and the disestablishment of the Irish Protestant Church, are the chief measures alluded to: the first so fruitful of good to Ireland since its adoption, and the second destined to be no less so. It is useless to remark that physical force had nothing to do with their introduction, and that the British statesmen who advocated and carried them through were swayed only by that unseen power which is said by Holy Scripture to "hold the heart of kings in its hands." Let the Irish do their part, and Heaven will continue to smile on them.
Since it is to this unseen power that all the improvement now visible in the condition of the Irish nation is due, it is only natural to expect from it every thing that is still wanting. For we are far from thinking that nothing more is to be done, and that all to be desired has been obtained. That the nation is still dissatisfied, is plain enough; and it must be right in not feeling contented with the various measures for its improvement tendered it so far. The voice of its natural leaders--of the prelates and clergy-proclaims that there are many things to change, and many new measures to be introduced.
The first and foremost of these is a thorough remedy for the disgraceful state of pauperism to which the great majority of the Irish nation is yet reduced. That pauperism was wilfully established, and this national crime of England stands unatoned for still. It would be unjust to say that the policy which produced it is pursued to-day by the English Government; we sincerely believe, on the contrary, that the state of things which has existed for the last two centuries is seriously deplored by many of those who, under God, hold in their keeping the destiny of millions of men. But it is surprising that so many projects, so many attempts at legislation, the writing of so many wise books, discussions so many and so exhaustive of the evil, should all result in leaving the evil almost as it stood.
If we listen to those who know Ireland perfectly, who have either spent their lives in the country, or traversed its surface leisurely and intelligently, it would seem as though the old descriptions of her in the time of her greatest misfortunes would still be appropriate and true.
"No devastated province of the Roman Empire," said Father Lavelle, but yesterday, in his "Irish Landlord," "ever presented half the wretchedness of Ireland. At this day, the mutilated Fellah of Egypt, the savage Hottentot and New-Hollander, the live chattel of Cuba, enjoy a paradise in comparison with the Irish peasant, that is to say, with the bulk of the Irish nation."
But, as this short passage deals only in generalities, and as there may be some suspicion of the warm nature of the writer having given a higher color to his words than was warranted by the facts, let us listen to the less impassioned utterances of travellers who have recently visited the island: let us see the Irish at home in their towns and in the country.
And in a pastoral letter, November 27,1861, he spoke of "tens of thousands of human beings, destitute of all the comforts of life, who are to be met with at every step in all great towns and cities. If you enter the wretched abodes where they live, you will find that they have no fuel, that they are unprovided with beds and other furniture, and that generally they have not a single blanket to protect them from the cold."
Abbe Perraud, after a thorough examination of the subject, wrote, in 1864, in "Ireland under English Rule:"
"The poor quarters of Cork, Limerick, and Drogheda, present the same spectacle as Dublin, and justify the sad proverbial celebrity of `Irish rags.' Dirt, negligence, and want of care, doubtless, go a long way in giving to destitution in Ireland its repulsive and hideous form; but who is unaware that continued and hopeless destitution engenders, as of necessity, listlessness and carelessness, and that, to enter into a struggle with poverty, there must be at least some chance of carrying off the victory?"
A German Protestant, Dr. Julius Rodenberg, writing in 1861, expressed his astonishment at the sight of Ireland's poverty, as he saw it in the streets of Dublin, although he had doubtless read a great deal about it previously. "You are in a country," he says, "whence people emigrate by thousands, while fields, of such an extent and power of production as would support them all, lie fallow."
And with respect to the progress already made, M. de Beaumont had remarked many years before that in Ireland a certain relative progress was quite compatible with the continued existence of pauperism among the lower classes. "One single cause," he remarks, "suffices to explain why the agricultural population becomes poorer, while the prosperity of the rich is on the increase: it is that all improvement in the land is profitable solely to the proprietor, who exacts more rent from the farmer in proportion as he works the land into a better state."
Since M. de Beaumont wrote, the pauperism in the cities has assumed a more wretched and repulsive form, in consequence of the crowding there of poor peasants who had been evicted from their small farms and fled to the nearest city or town with the hope of finding there at least charity.
"For the last ten years," wrote Abbe Perraud, in 1864, "there has been taking place in the large cities an accumulation of poor as fatal to their health as to their morality. They are mostly country people whom eviction has driven from the country, who have been unable to emigrate, and who were unwilling to shut themselves up immediately in the workhouses. The resources they procure for themselves, by doing odd work, are so completely insufficient, that it is impossible to be surprised at their destitution."
Dr. Rodenberg, describing the state of the poor country people crowded in the "Liberties of Dublin," says of the rooms in which they live: "In those holes the most wretched and pitiable laborers imaginable live; they often lie by hundreds together on the bare ground."
Such citations might be sadly multiplied, but those given are sufficient as descriptive of the state of the poor Irish in the cities. Let us now see how the peasants live in the country in many parts of Ireland:
"The ordinary dwelling of the small tenant, of the day-laborer, in that part of Ireland, answers with the utmost precision the description of it twenty years ago given by M. de Beaumont: 'Let the reader picture to himself four walls of dried mud, which the rain easily reduces to its primitive condition; a little thatch or a few cuts of turf form the roof; a rude hole in the roof forms the chimney, and more frequently there is no other issue for the smoke than the door of the dwelling itself. One solitary room holds father, mother, grandfather, and children. No furniture is to be seen; a single litter, usually composed of grass or straw, serves for the whole family. Five or six half- naked children may be seen crouching over a poor fire. In the midst of them lies a filthy pig, the only inhabitant at its ease, because its element is filth itself.'
"Into how many dwellings of this kind have we not ourselves penetrated--especially in the counties of Kerry, Mayo, and Donegal--more than once obliged to stoop down to the ground, in order to penetrate into these cabins, the entrance to which is so low that they look more like the burrows of beasts than dwellings made for man!
"Upon the road from Kilkenny to Grenaugh, in the vicinity of those beautiful lakes, at the entrance of those parks, to which, for extent and richness, neither England nor Scotland can probably offer any thing equal, we have seen other dwellings. A few branches of trees, interlaced and leaning upon the slope in the road, a few cuts of turf, and a few stones picked up in the fields, compose these wretched huts--less spacious, and perhaps less substantial, than that of the American savage."
At the time of Abbe Perraud's visit, a correspondent of the Dublin Saunders News-Letters, who was commissioned to inquire into the condition of the peasants, gave the following reply, which, as the abbe justly remarks, is but the faithful echo of all the descriptions made within the last half-century:
"The inhabitants of Erris appear to be the most wretched of all human beings. Their cabins, their patched and tattered clothes, their broken-down gait--every thing bears witness to their poverty. Their beds consist of a few bits of wood crossed one upon the other, supported by two heaps of stones, and covered with straw; their whole bedclothes a miserable, worn-out quilt, without any blankets . . . . But there is nothing in Ireland like the habitations which the people of the village of Fallmore have made for themselves, who have been evicted by Mr. Palmer. They are composed of masses of granite, picked up on the shore, and roughly laid one by the other. These cabins are so low that a man cannot stand upright in them; so narrow that they can hardly hold three or four persons."
After all, F. Lavelle was guilty of no exaggeration in stating that the hut of the Hottentot was better than that of the Irish peasant. But, in the district of Gweedore, northeast of County Donegal, the state of the peasantry is more deplorably wretched still than in any other part of Ireland. At the time of a celebrated parliamentary inquiry in to the matter in 1858, a Londonderry newspaper stated that "there are in Donegal about four thousand adults, of both sexes, who are obliged to go barefoot during the winter, in the ice and snow--pregnant women and aged people in habitual danger of death from the cold . . . . It is rare to find a man with a calico shirt; but the distress of the women is still greater, if that be possible. There are many hundreds of families in which five or six grown-up women have among them no more than a single dress to go out in . . . . There are about five hundred families who have but one bed each-- in which father, mother, and children, without distinction of age or sex, are crowded pell-mell together."
If from the dwellings and clothing of the peasantry we pass to their food, there is no need of adding any thing to what was said on this point when describing the periodical famines. One detail, however, not yet mentioned, deserves to be recorded:
"In the district of Gweedore," says Abbe Perraud, "our eyes were destined to witness the use of sea-weed. Stepping once into a cabin, in which there was no one but a little girl charged with the care of minding her younger brothers, and getting ready the evening meal, we found upon the fire a pot full of doulamaun ready cooked; we asked to taste it, and some was handed to us on a little platter.
"This weed, when well dressed, produces a kind of viscous juice; it has a brackish taste, and savors strongly of salt water. We were told in the country that the only use of it is to increase, when mixed with potatoes, the mass of aliment given to the stomach. The longer and more difficult the work of the stomach, the less frequent are its calls. It is a kind of compromise with hunger; the people are able neither to suppress it nor to satisfy it; they endeavor to cheat it. We have also been assured that this weed cannot be eaten alone; it must be mixed with vegetables, since of itself it has no nutritive properties whatever."
How long is such a state of things likely to continue? It has already existed long enough to be a disgrace to the much-vaunted benevolence of the nineteenth century. A sure and radical remedy must be found for it; and, as it has been already so long delayed, it should be found the more promptly.
It seems that the tenure of land lies at the bottom of the question, and that respect for what are called "established rights" offers the main difficulty. Those rights, indeed, were founded on the cruellest wrong and the most flagrant injustice; but as possession is "nine points of the English law," and so long a time has passed since the land changed hands, prescription must be admitted and let them be called rights; nor can any man in his senses ask for a violent subversion of society for the sake of righting an old wrong.
But it has ever been a maxim of jurisprudence that summum jus, summa injuria; and this axiom finds its full explanation in the present case, when it is considered that the jus is on the side of a comparatively small number of men, for the most part absentee landlords, while the injuria leans to the great mass of the primitive owners of the soil. The time-honored policy of the English Government, that all the open abuses of landlordism should be watched over and protected with the most jealous care, while, on the other hand, the wretched farmer and cottier is supposed to have no rights to defend and guard, should be abandoned at once and forever, with a firmness that can leave no room for doubt or equivocation, if the restoration of confidence on the part of the Irish is esteemed any thing worth.
But, if for no other motive, at least for the sake of securing peace and order in Ireland, a remedy must be found. There is no reason why the Irish should longer remain a nation of paupers; and, although some may still pretend that the fault and its remedy lie with themselves, unprejudiced men will readily acknowledge that the fault lay first, at least, at England's door --a fact which the London Times has conceded often and proclaimed loudly enough.
Let British statesmen, then, devise proper means for such an end without social commotion, with as little disturbance of private rights as possible; for the object is an imperious necessity. It seems that the latest law enacted with this view is not the measure that was required; is totally inadequate in its provisions, scope, and extent. In such a case it is always open to legislators to introduce a new and more satisfactory measure; and moral force will surely bring this about, provided it is true to itself. We confess to having no scheme of our own to set forth; but Irishmen are free, nay entitled, to speak, to write on, and discuss the subject; and a serious, steady, but lawful agitation of the question will surely find its true and final solution. The last Galway election, notwithstanding the temporary triumph of Judge Keogh, was a beginning in the right direction.
There is no need here of revolution, of what the French call une jaquerie, of arming the populace for the purpose of violently ejecting the great land-owners. No Irishman has ever stood for so calamitous a remedy. The aid of the Internationalists will certainly never be called in by the true children of Erin for any purpose whatever. It seems that the great and holy Pontiff, Pius IX., made this remark to the Prince of Wales, at their last interview at the Vatican, and, according to the report, the prince fully admitted its truth as far, at least, as he, by any outward sign, could show.
The question is one of pure justice, to be settled within the limits of order and law; and surely, when all admit that the evil is so crying, that a remedy must be found, one will be found, which, while it does no real injury to any person, will bring comfort and relief to the most deserving and suffering race of men--the Irish peasantry. We will soon see how.
But the Irishman is not only physically destitute; he is also destitute mentally; and, if the first case calls for a prompt remedy, the second is no less urgent. Pauperism and ignorance were the two terrible engines so long worked by England for the degradation and final destruction of the Irish race. Our readers have seen how persistently was education, of any kind, refused to the natives. The Universities of Dublin and Drogheda in the fourteenth century, the cathedral schools, founded by the Anglo- Normans, in the same age, carefully excluded the Irish from their benefits. And, when the Reformation set in, with its long series of oppressions, no Catholic could share in the new foundations of the Tudors and the Stuarts without first abjuring his religion. Penal statute after penal statute made of all the shifts, to which the Irish were driven in order to educate their children, so many crimes, punishable by death or transportation. That, under such a state of things, they could remain Catholics without becoming idiots is one of the most remarkable instances on record of buoyancy of spirit and soundness of mind on the part of a whole nation.
From the end of the last century the policy of England changed completely in appearance. The foundation and endowment by the state of the great college of Maynooth, destined for the education of the Irish clergy, in 1795, was certainly a step on the right road, and if only primary schools for the people had, at the same time, been spread all over the island on the same principle of true liberality, the old injustice on the matter of education would have been atoned for and remedied, to a great extent.
But the Kildare Peace Society and the Church Education Society, founded in 1839, showed that the antagonism to the Catholic Church in Ireland was far from being dead; nay, was as rife as ever.
Lord Stanley's National Education System, in 1831, at first seemed of a character altogether above Protestant or infidel proselytism. But, the composition of the various boards under that system, and some of the measures adopted, gave evidence clearly and soon enough that the education proposed for the Irish was not in accordance with the true spirit of the nation, so eminently Catholic and religious as it is. Hence, the total failure--for such it is now admitted by all to have been--of that system ought to have opened the eyes of all impartial Englishmen to the necessity of starting from the principle that Ireland is Catholic, and that the Irish are true children of the Catholic Church. But this fact seems not yet recognized or acknowledged by those who rule the nation, since, at this very moment, a bill lies before Parliament against which all the bishops of Ireland have united in raising their voice. The queen's colleges all confess to be a wretched failure.
The injustice of centuries, then, is not, even in these free days, when there is such a talk about educating the masses, repaired by the English Government; and this sad fact seems to militate against the power of moral force. However, it is but right to remember that only those establishments are here spoken of which are supported by state aid, and that complete freedom of education, independent of such assistance, does actually exist in Ireland. Have not the bishops all necessary power to open schools of their own? Have they not even founded a university? Does the state dare to interfere in whatever educational establishments they think proper to set on foot? They are now, in that regard, as free as the Catholic bishops in the United States; and if the degrees granted by the faculties under their control have no value in the eyes of the state, they can easily dispense with a concurrence, which is certainly unjustly denied, but which, even if granted, would not, in the eyes of the Church, increase in the slightest the real value of the diplomas they themselves approve. They can afford to wait for the time when complete justice will be done; meanwhile they are freer than Catholic bishops at this moment are in all Catholic countries of Europe; and the freedom they enjoy is entirely owing to that moral force which, we allege, is sufficient to insure, sooner or later, all the advantages that can be desired. When the present situation of the native Irish, from an educational point of view, is compared with the oppression under which they lay a hundred years ago, one cannot but wonder how so much has been obtained, and the hope, that every thing still wanting is sure to come by the agency of the force that has already won so much, cannot be deemed vain and illusory.
Let not, however, what is here said be construed as advising Ireland to stand still while schemes of education, evidently godless, are concocted, matured, and passed into laws for their special benefit. On the contrary, they must not only continue but increase their efforts to cry them down, till they compel a blind and deaf government to open its eyes and ears to a national want and a national voice. This is what is meant by the use of moral force.
But, can the complete remedy for pauperism and the solid establishment and endowment of truly Catholic schools be expected to come from any hands but those of an Irish Legislature? Can they be hoped for as long as the destiny of Ireland rests in the hands of an Imperial Parliament whose great majority can have no real sympathy with the long-oppressed race? In a word, is home-rule necessary to bring about those two great measures, which seem absolutely indispensable for the complete resurrection of the nation?
Our readers already know that, in our opinion, an Irish Parliament would not be a sure panacea for the evils of the country, particularly those of pauperism and ignorance, even though that Parliament sat in Dublin, and was composed of Irishmen bred and born. The evils would not be struck out promptly and utterly, although many great improvements would immediately follow.
Some of our reasons for being chary of confidence in the success of home-rule have been already given. But we have also insisted on the necessity of leaving the question open, and admitted that Irishmen have a right to discuss it, and take whatever side they may think proper, provided always they stand, as they are standing, within the limits of law and order.
Surely, the Irish have a right to be fairly represented; modern doctrines, as far as they can go, consecrate that right; and, if fair representation is an impossibility in the present state of affairs in Ireland, that state should be so altered as that the Irish nation might obtain all the advantages which a truly representative government bestows.
It is clear that the difficulty consists in the paramount importance of the union--of the empire; and this is not the place to discuss so large a question. It may be said, however, that the union of the British Empire does not and cannot consist in the absorption into one whole of the three integral parts which compose it. England, Scotland, and Ireland, are still three distinct national entities, each inhabited by a peculiar race, and each race cannot, in such a political organization, be in justice ignored, for a mere abstraction called the state.
Certainly the question is a very complicated one; and to offer a dogmatic solution of it would be pretentious. It is better to leave it to a future which is not far distant. What may be insisted on is, that moral force is strong enough to bring about a satisfactory decision, and that to resort to revolution for such a purpose would be as fatal as it is criminal.
A right discussion of the question must make clear the fact that Ireland is entitled to fair dealing as a component part of the empire. Many other political organizations embraced within the vast limits of the British power are allowed to discuss and decide on questions peculiar to themselves, and which they are at full liberty to pronounce upon for themselves by a wise adjustment and concession on the part of the mother-country as necessary to their well-being. Canada is almost entirely independent; the Australian colonies have all their own legislatures; it is the same more or less with all the distant dependencies of England, yet there have been no complaints heard so far of these late concessions threatening the union of the Empire.
But the objection is urged: "If such a concession be made to Ireland, where can you stop? The Scotch may ask the same, and the Welsh; one has as much right to home-rule as the other; where can you draw the line?"
An easy answer to this is, that the Scotch have never asked for home-rule, for the very good reason that they never had to complain of unfair treatment at the hands of the English Government; their special wants and desires having been always duly considered from the moment of their union with England. But the union of Ireland with England is not yet a century old, was brought about perforce, and by chicanery and fraud, and from the moment of its enactment to the present has been loudly protested against by the Irish nation--the nation, that is, which we have followed all through, joined in this instance by numbers of their Protestant fellow-countrymen. A long list of pamphlets and books might be drawn up, as showing the fact that multitudes of Irish writers, not of a revolutionary but of a truly conservative character, who cannot be accused of disloyalty to England, have deplored, protested against, and clamored for the repeal of, the Union of 1800.
Such is not the case with Scotland. But suppose it were, and proofs furnished showing that Scotland is not fairly represented in a Parliament which meets at Westminster, then that country would have just as much right to see itself fairly represented, its special wants satisfied and met, as all the other branches of the great British organization.
Certain it is that the empire cannot be sound when an important, a vital part of its political frame is incurably sore. Let that sore be healed by justice, large, generous, and complete; let Ireland be truly and really represented, in whatever manner her representation may be carried out, and the sudden rise of the little western isle in wealth, contentment, true prosperity, and happiness, will redound to the general good of the whole. As it now stands, its still miserable condition is as great and constant a danger to Great Britain as it is a reproach and a shame upon the maternal government which suffers the child, for whose session it would stake its all, to continue in a state of almost hopeless poverty, materially and intellectually, and to struggle unaided in its efforts to rise.
If home-rule be the measure which is to heal Ireland's wounds, it must be granted, and the voice of reason and right must rise above the stupid clamor which says that it cannot, must not, shall not be granted! Such expressions were common in inflammatory pamphlets which flooded the country on the eve of Catholic Emancipation, in 1829; and possibly many were issued even after the granting of this (from a certain English point of view) suicidal act of justice to Catholics.
But whatever may be the ultimate issue of the home-rule movement, the question of education, which is so closely allied to, as to seem dependent on it, is of such importance that it brooks no delay. Ireland is, as it may be hoped it will ever continue, a truly Catholic nation, and for such education must be special, and cannot be left to the direction of a non-Catholic state, not to use a worse expression. The result of the so-called national system, as exhibited by the Queen's Colleges and the rest, ought to be enough to open the eyes of real statesmen. But non- Catholic legislators need a sense which they do not possess, to appreciate the blunders they must fall into when proposing to touch such delicate interests as spiritual things. Thirty years ago, when those Queen's Colleges and schools were established in Ireland, the Catholic hierarchy raised up their voice to warn the British Government against so rash an attempt; for the very few who appeared willing to give the system a trial had their own doubts and forebodings. The warning, as usual, was not heeded, and the consequence is, that the partisans of the system now confess that their darling scheme has turned out a complete failure. Yet, strange to say, they do not in the least seem to have changed their ideas on the subject. On the contrary, they wish to secularize education more completely than ever, and to extend their project to the whole British Empire; though at this moment the warning comes to them also from the Presbyterians of Scotland, who refuse to submit to the scheme, universal in its scope, of educating the young according to state notions and worldly ideas.
In this the British Government only follows the lead of all European cabinets and legislatures; for this great iniquity is not confined to the British Isles, but is attempted everywhere, with the evident design of taking the government of souls out of the hands to which Jesus Christ confided it--the Church. The Sovereign Pontiff was compelled to protest, and, as is the custom in these days, his protest fell unheeded. It remains to be seen whether men, who call themselves Christians, will consent to see their children educated by secular bodies, which are not only void of all authority over the souls of men, but imbued, as all know, with doctrines the most pernicious and disorganizing. The just complaint made by the Irish hierarchy is unfortunately not restricted to their own body; their complaint is one with that of all the rulers of the Church throughout the world. It seems to us that there is greater hope of establishing a thorough Christian system of education in Ireland than in any other country, because the Irish nation will always take a more determined attitude, and gather in a more compact and united body around her natural leaders, the bishops and priests of God, than any other modern Catholic nation; and, in this age, where there are unanimity and a fixed purpose among any body of men, they cannot fail to result in a victory over all obstacles and opponents.
Of one thing England may be sure, that the Irish bishops would never submit to the project now on foot in England, as to do so would be to fail in their most sacred duty; and the mass of the Irish people is at their back. The Catholic hierarchy is always ready to support the secular power so long as that power remains within its province and does not step out of it to encroach on their unquestionable domain; but, when duty calls on them to resist, the experience of centuries is before the world, in Ireland at least, to show how far they can carry their resistance. In this they will stand united as one man, and it is vain for the English Government to flatter itself that it will find tools among them, should it foist on them the Birmingham scheme.
But a more threatening fact still is the compact union of all Irishmen in support of their bishops, against schemes which have already excited such bitter opposition on their part, and on which they have already pronounced and given their solemn verdict in unmistakable tones. If in our days Irishmen have been so eager to uphold many projects of a doubtful character, because those projects were opposed to England; if they have shown in the most emphatic manner that the memory of the past is still fresh, and that they are not yet prepared to accept the British Government as a friend; if they have seized every occasion, the most trifling as well as the most important, to show that the union with England was distasteful to them--what will be their attitude when the question admits of no doubt, and can give rise to no apprehension in a Christian conscience; when, indeed, they know that they stand where their duty to God bids them, urged at the same time by their natural feelings of opposition to a power which they detest and to which they are irreconcilable? We do not say that we altogether approve of their dogged opposition to England; it is only alluded to as a fact which it would be folly, in treating of questions between England and Ireland, to shut one's eyes to or doubt.
When such is the state of feeling, how can a scheme of godless education hope to succeed, which, after all, requires the consent of fathers and mothers of families? It is only natural to suppose that the English Government, in the event of its success, is scarcely prepared to employ such a numerous, watchful, and determined police as shall march the children off to school every lay by force--to schools which to them would be prisons, presided over by jailers in the shape of instructors. Nevertheless, the scheme now agitated by British statesmen must culminate in some such measure, if they would have their schools attended; and the inference is natural that education viewed from such a stand-point becomes a design criminal and oppressive in its nature, as well as a sheer impossibility in its carrying out. Once again the whole British power would launch itself in vain against the unyielding rock of as stubborn a will as ever animated human beings, as durable and unshrinking almost as the inner rock upon which it is built--Catholic faith.
Much space has already been devoted to the consideration of what are here considered as the two great measures necessary and sufficient for the complete resurrection of the Irish race--the lifting of the load of pauperism under which they have so long labored, and the establishment among them of a sound and thorough Christian education; and that those measures will undoubtedly be carried without any attempt at social convulsions, without any violation of law and order. But, as, unfortunately, many side-issues have been raised in Ireland of very inferior importance, but of a nature almost exclusively to engage the attention of Irishmen, to the great detriment of real progress, it may be well to dwell a little longer on the consequences which must infallibly follow from a higher state of physical comfort and mental culture among them:
The question, then, of increase of physical comfort for Irishmen is one of the utmost importance, and, as the tenure of land is so closely connected with it, not to this question is the term side-issue applied. The land-question should be thoroughly exhausted until the true solution, the real measure, which has not yet appeared, may be brought to the surface and carried out to the full. The land-question in all its bearings lies beyond our competence; not so, certain reasons for believing that the possession of land is necessary for the complete restoration of the nation. Manufactures and commercial pursuits are of secondary importance in a country like Ireland, which is eminently agricultural. This should not be taken to mean that such matters are to be neglected, and the Irish to be discouraged in engaging in them, particularly in their home manufactures; nor in calling for better laws to help them, at least for fair dealing as far as legislation goes. But supposing them completely independent and masters of themselves; supposing not only the repeal of the Union, but even the separation from the British organization effected, how could they hope to compete in manufacturing skill, and science, with the inventive genius of the American, the systematic comprehensiveness of the Englishman, or the artistic taste of the French? Goods are manufactured for the markets of the world, and the Irish are not yet prepared for such extensive enterprises; and, taking the characteristics of the race into consideration, it is doubtful whether they will ever be successful in such ventures.
The same may be said of commerce. When are they likely to have a navy of their own? They are still Celts, and would it be well for them to cease to be Celts? The oceans of the globe are covered with ships bearing the flags of many nations. Suppose them to unfurl a national flag to the breeze, which is saluted, wherever met, by the crafts of other civilized nations, when would it become perceptible among the crowded fleets which already hold possession of the seas? The broad thoroughfares of the ocean know two or three national colors; all the others are so seldom seen, that their presence or absence is alike unnoticed by the world at large. Among these would the Irish be numbered, if they engaged in commerce on their own account, and sailed no longer under British colors.
It is for them, then, to turn their attention to the land, which is their chief source of wealth. Let them buy it up, or gain it by long leases, inch by inch and acre by acre, until not only the bleak bogs and wild mountains of Connaught are again their own, but the rich meadow-lands and smiling wheat-fields of Munster and Leinster. Let their brethren in America and Australia associate with them in this, and thus will they build up again a true Irish yeomanry and nobility--for nobility has a new meaning to-day--more glorious, perhaps, than the old one. Poverty and rags will give place to prosperity and comfort, even in the lowliest cottages, and mirth and glee will be heard again in the country from which they have so long been banished.
Is such a picture a dream, and its realization an impossibility? It is our belief that, to make it a reality, only requires steadiness of purpose, perseverance, energy, and association. Fifty years ago it would certainly have seemed a dream; but matters have advanced within the last half-century, and every thing is now prepared for such a hoped-for consummation.
Unfortunately, a false direction has been given it by the state. The means which will surely defeat this action of the state have been seen. Nevertheless, it works mischievously for the general result; and the money paid by the nation has been and still is squandered for a most unholy purpose, when, if properly applied, it would be so fruitful of good.
Should the government persevere in its project, one course only lies open before all true Irishmen; and that is, to ignore the action of the government, and follow a plan of their own. They have only to do what the Catholics in France would most willingly do if the state allowed them; what Catholics in the United States have been doing for some time, and will have to do for some time longer--not murmur too loudly at the taxes paid by them for educational purposes and used so lavishly by the state without any profit to them; but with steady purpose raise funds which the state cannot touch, devoted to an object with which the state cannot interfere, namely, the solid Christian education of their children under the eyes and chief control of the Church, with competent and truly religious masters.
Let them reflect that until recently education in Christian countries was always imparted by the Church of Christ, and that its secularization is but a work of yesterday; that the effect of that secularization is manifest enough in the mental anarchy which grows more prevalent in Europe every day; that the nation which comes back to the old system, and places again the care of youth in the hands of religious teachers, is sure to obtain a far sounder and more effective education than those who take for teachers of their children men void of faith and remarkable only for a false and superficial polish, which sooner or later will be reckoned by all at its true value, and meet only with well- merited neglect and contempt.
No one will deny that moral training, the first and most important part of education, is far surer and safer in the care of religious teachers than in that of mere laymen, whose morality is often doubtful, and whose reputation is not of the best. With regard to scientific teaching, the mind of the religious is not, to say the least, lowered by the holy obligations which he has contracted: and it is an awkward fact for those who in a breath uphold secular education and abuse the religious, that in former ages the men who excelled in arts and sciences, the geniuses whose works will live as long as the earth, were either themselves monks or the pupils of monks. A list of them would fill many pages, and their names are not unknown to the world.
For the mass of the people, the common level of primary education with which so many are now satisfied may at least be as satisfactory in its results when imparted by religious, male and female, as when under the direction of young men and women who have received every possible diploma which is at the disposal of school commissioners or boards of gentlemen invested with an office, worthy of the gravest attention, but to which they can devote but very little time.
But the subject may be said to have passed beyond discussion. The true and authorized leaders of the Irish in such matters, the Catholic bishops, have already taken the matter into their own hands; and in a very short time have covered the island with their schools, with every prospect of a university. It rests with the government to give or refuse its aid in imparting a true national education to a nation which is Catholic; but, with or without this aid, the Irish will have the means of educating their children rightly; and the culture they receive will favorably compare with that imparted by rival establishments fostered by the state, whose pupils will not know a word even of their own national history, since, in the authorized books, Ireland has no existence other than that of an unworthy subject of the great British Empire.
It was necessary to give prominence to what is here considered as the most effective means of bringing about the great result which engages our attention in this chapter. There are secondary objects which might be treated, but which, in the final working of the divine will, may be insignificant. For, to repeat what has been said before, the restoration of the nation which is now progressing so steadily almost unaided by any action of man, however much he may indulge in agitation, is the work of God, and before long will so manifest itself to all. Meanwhile it is enough to assert in general terms that Ireland is entitled to all those things which render a people happy and contented. That wished-for state is not far off; let them continue to be active in its pursuit. A previous chapter has already touched upon the great means to be employed in bringing this about: association, whose centre should be Ireland, and whose branches should spread wherever Irishmen have established themselves; whose guides should be the clergy, but its chief workers, intelligent and energetic laymen. On this point it is desirable particularly to be rightly understood; it is not our purpose to say that in such a work laymen ought not to cooperate, or even to lead; with the memory of O'Connell before us, such a thing would be impossible; on the contrary, the external working of the whole scheme should be placed in the hands of good, active, and intelligent laymen. They are the proper instruments for carrying on such a work actively and efficaciously; they form, at least numerically, the principal part of the moral power of the nation, and that power should be developed on a larger scale than it has ever yet been. But the first impulse should be given by the moral leaders, rulers of the Church. Let the nation work under the guidance, the leadership of the men who alone stood by them when all else had been lost, who, in fact, by preserving their religion, preserved to them their nationality; let them work under their eyes and with their sanction, and assuredly their labor will not be labor in vain.
What will the final result be of such a cooperation of workers? The formation or rather consolidation of a truly Christian and Catholic people; a most remarkable phenomenon in this wonderful nineteenth century! It would seem that they have thus far been deprived of a government of their own only to win a government at last which shall be, what is so sadly wanted in these days, Christian and Catholic. Modern governments have broken loose from Christianity; they have declared themselves independent of all moral restraint; they have pronounced themselves supreme, each in its own way; and, to be consistent, they have become godless. Donoso Cortes has shown this admirably in his work on "Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism." The sad spectacle which in our age meets the eye of the Christian, is universal; there is no longer a Catholic nation; Christendom has ceased to exist. This is held by the statesmen of to-day to be a vast improvement on the old social system. Medieval barbarism, as they term it, has, according to them, met with just condemnation; and to return to it now, would be to drag an advanced age centuries backward, a horror which no sane man could contemplate.
Undoubtedly there were many abuses under the old regime, which the most sincere Christian regrets, and could not wish to see restored, or again attempted. But, its great feature, the inner link which bound the system together, its unity under the guidance of the universal Church, was the only safeguard for the general happiness of mankind. This admirable unity has been broken into fragments; each part does for itself, and thus the world lies at the mercy of Might, and each nation goes about like "a strong man armed, keeping his house."
Even Heeren, a writer who is strongly Protestant and liberal, is driven to confess in his "History of the Political System of Europe," that the reign of Frederick the Great, in Prussia, was "immediately followed by those great convulsions in states, which gave the ensuing period a character so different from the former. The contemporary world, which lived in it, calls it the revolutionary; but it is yet too early to decide by what name it will be denoted by posterity, after the lapse of a century."
After a brief review of the various states as they existed toward the middle of the last century, he adds: "The efforts of the rulers to obtain unlimited power had overthrown the old national freedom in all the states of the Continent; the assemblies of the states had disappeared, or were reduced to mere forms; nowhere had they been modelled into a true national representation."
He does not see that, in order to obtain that "unlimited power," the rulers had thrown off the yoke of Church authority everywhere, and that Christendom disappeared with the "old national freedom" as soon as the key-stone of the edifice, the papacy, was ejected from its place.
Nevertheless, he was keen enough to perceive it necessary to call in armed force to uphold that usurped power of rulers:
"For the strength of the states no other criterion was known than standing armies. And, in reality, there was scarcely any other. By the perfection which they had attained, and which kept pace almost with the growing power of the princes, the line of partition was gradually drawn between them and the nations; they only were armed; the nations were defenceless."
This great German historian carries his views further still, and confesses that, "if the political supports were in a tottering condition, the moral were no less shattered. The corner-stone of every political system, the sanctity of legitimate possession, without which there would be only one war of all against all, was gone; politicians had already thrown off the mask in Poland; the lust of aggrandizement had prevailed . . . . The indissoluble bond connecting morals and politics being broken, the result was to make egotism the prevailing principle of public as well as private life."
Admirable reflections, doubtless, but incomplete; the Protestantism of the writer not allowing him to perceive that, the only sure defender of morality having been discarded, egotism could not but prevail. Therefore does he complain, being blind to the true cause of the disorder, that "democratic ideas, transported from America to Europe, were spread and cherished in the midst of the monarchical system--ready materials for a conflagration far more formidable than their authors had anticipated, should a burning spark unhappily light upon them. Others had already taken care to profane the religion of the people; and what remains sacred to the people when religion and constitution are profaned?"
This last observation, thrown in at the end of some very sound considerations, would have made them far more striking, had it appeared at their head as the great source of all the catastrophes which ensued. But it requires a Catholic eye to take in the whole truth, and a Catholic tongue to give the right explanation of history, as of all things else.
Many reflections similar to those above quoted have been made by non-Catholic writers, and the defenders of the Church have spoken with clearness and energy throughout. Nevertheless, the evil has continued to grow more universal and more alarming, until, to-day, no principle on which the social fabric can securely stand is acknowledged by those who rule the exterior world. And of what Heeren calls the violation of "the sanctity of legitimate possession," let Poland and many other states speak, nay, those of the Father of the faithful himself, to whose warning voice rulers have now so long persistently turned a deaf ear. Where are now even the fragments of that "corner- stone" of the old "political system?"
Such is the state of affairs, not only in Europe, but generally throughout the world, so that the Catholic Church has at length entered fully upon that stage of her existence when she possesses individual subjects full of tender affection and devotedness, whose number, thank God! increases every day, but not a single State which acknowledges her as its director and teacher.
Ireland may be destined to become the first one which shall acknowledge her, and set an example to the rest. If ever she enjoys self-government, she will surely do so, for Catholic she is to the core, and Catholic she cannot but remain.
When it was said that home-rule would not serve as a sure panacea for all her evils, it will be understood as applying to the actual moment and nothing else. That it would not be a good thing for her ever to enjoy real self-government was never in our mind. Moral force is bringing this nearer to her; and step by step she is learning how to walk without support. Already, she possesses something of political franchise, and enjoys municipal government more truly than Frenchmen do after all their social convulsions.
There are men, Irishmen even, who pretend that she would subside into anarchy if her destiny were confided to her own care. They point to the constant wranglings which have been her bane for centuries, and the "prophet" who wrote the "Battle of Dorking" represents her, as soon as the humiliation of England left her free, struggling painfully in the throes of anarchy. That this general opinion of men with regard to Ireland is but too true, was conceded in another place, yet only so far as concerned interests which were trifling, or, at best, of no high character; that when the object at stake is one of great importance, there was more steadiness, unanimity, energy, and true heroism in the Irish people, than in any other known to history in modern times. And this reflection is certainly borne out by the issues of all the secular struggles of the Irish with Scandinavianism, feudalism, and Protestantism.
Surely is there in them the right material for a nation; and, when the day comes for the country to take in hand, under Providence, her own destiny and work it out, the "prophet" will find himself sadly mistaken when, freed forever from the degradation of pauperism, she is at liberty to raise her thoughts above food and raiment; when her children, lifted by a solid Christian education to the high level of intellectual foresight, shall be able to discuss the great objects of their national interests, with no question of clan and clan; then wrangling will cease, as far as public questions are concerned, and be merely left to matters of minor importance, or private affairs, as with all other nations. But that concentrated energy which has marked the race throughout that long fight of centuries against such overwhelming odds, will still continue as their distinguishing characteristic, but turned now to the question of their own national welfare, and no longer to the aversion of doom.
Then will Europe see what a truly Christian people is, for then there will be no other left; and the superiority of principles, of strength of mind, energy of character, naturally fostered by deep religious convictions, will afford another proof of Montesquieu's reflection, that "the Christian faith, which seems to have for its object only the future life, is likewise the best calculated to make people happy and prosperous during this."
If ever men are brought to acknowledge the fatal error they made in rejecting the sacred safeguard which Christ left them in his Church, it will be by looking on the example of a nation actually existing, governed by the great principles which alone can insure the happiness of the individual and the prosperity of the whole people.
In all the foregoing considerations Ireland has been looked upon as a nation full of vigor and energy; but, as this vital point is denied by some, who bear the reputation of thoughtful writers, it is well to establish it clearly before our minds.
Is Ireland a nation? Some say, No; others, among them Mr. Froude, say she is divided into two nations.
The first of these assertions, that she is not a nation, is in appearance so self-evident and true that it seems folly to deny it. She has no government of her own; her destinies seem to be altogether in the hands of a hostile race, which rules her by a Parliament, where her voice is scarcely heard. She has no army nor navy, no commerce, no treasury, not the lowest prerogative of sovereignty. There is a green flag still somewhere with a harp on it and a crown above the harp, reserved for state occasions, and unfurled now and again, when a show of loyalty and a little enthusiasm is called for; but that flag never waves the Irish to battle, not even when fighting for England. There is no Irish standard-bearer for it, as there was under the Tudors, when the flag of Ulster was seen amid the armies of Elizabeth. The name of Ireland is never mentioned in any treaty with foreign powers; and, when the sovereign of England, Scotland, and Ireland, signs a treaty, a convention, nay, a poor protocol, with any foreign state, the name of Ireland is not to be seen on the parchment, save at its head, among the titles of the monarch. There is no Irish seal even to affix to the document: the country is a national non-entity.
But other men, and wise men too, discover a strange anomaly in this curious country. They hold that it is composed of two distinct nations, and furnish excellent reasons in support of their theory.
They talk in this fashion: "Look at the people; travel the country north and south, and converse with them as you go. What do you find? Unity of feeling, aims, agreement of opinion on all possible subjects? Just the opposite! You find Jacob and Esau on every side struggling in the womb of their mother. The quarrel between Sassenach and Gael still goes on. What two figures can be found more antagonistic than the Orangeman of Ulster and the Milesian of Connaught? Yet they are both children of the same country."
And so deep-grained is the difference between them that, although they have lived side by side for centuries, they are still as hostile to each other as when they first met in battle array. The Danes, after a struggle of a little more than two centuries, gave up the contest and became Celts. Strongbow's Normans soon adopted the manners of the old inhabitants, intermarried with them, and, after a lapse of four centuries, though quarrels often broke out between the one and the other, they were to all intents and purposes Celts, the old race, as it were, absorbing the Norman blood, and always showing itself in the children.
But, when will the children of James's Scotchmen or Cromwell's Covenanters coalesce with the descendants of the Milesians? The longer they dwell together, the farther they seem apart, the more they seem to hate each other; and every 12th of July, 5th of November, 17th of March, or even 15th of August, brings danger of bloodshed and strife to every city, hamlet, and town. Surely, this fact speaks of two nations in the country.
The question here presented is indeed a complicated one, requiring solid distinctions in order to elucidate it; and, strange to say, this last difficulty of the presence of two nations in Ireland offers greater obstacles to the firm establishment of our opinion than the first assertion, so clear and undeniable in appearance, that there is no Irish nation!
If true nationality existed only in the externals of government, in an army, navy, commerce, a public seal and flag, and recognition by foreign powers, further discussion would clearly be useless, and the subject might as well at once be dropped.
But the true idea of a nation embraces much more than this; there is such a thing as a national soul, and all the array of accidents alluded to above constitute only the body, or, more truly, the surroundings. As a writer in the North American Review (vol. cxv., p. 379) has well expressed it, a nation is "a race of men, small or great, whom community of traditions and feeling binds together into a firm, indestructible unity, and whose love of the same past directs their hopes and fears to the same future."
In this sense nationality assuredly belongs to Ireland. More, perhaps, than among any other people on earth, is there for the great bulk of them "community of traditions and feeling," binding them together into "a firm and indestructible unity;" and who shall say that they feel no love for their past, because that past has been clouded with sorrow? Nay, this fact makes the past dearer, and tends all the more to direct their hopes and fears to the same future; a future, indeed, still dim and uncertain, and not to be named with perfect certainty, but wrapped in mists like the morning; yet the faint flush of the dawn is already there that shall pale and die away when the full orb of the sun appears.
The reader may remember what was said of the unanimity so striking in all Irishmen, wherever they may be found; that, though private disputes may be taken up among them with such ardor that their quarrels have become proverbial, when the question refers to their country or their God, in a moment they are united, suddenly transformed into steady friends, ready to shed their blood side by side for the great objects which entirely absorb their natures.
This feeling it is which forms the soul of a nation. Wherever this is to be found, there is an indestructible nationality; wherever it is absent, there is only a dead body, however strong may seem its government, however vast its armies, however high its so-called culture and refinement.
These reflections being kept in view, judicious men will agree that, among Europeans at least, there is scarcely any other nationality so strong and vigorous as the Irish. Their traditional feeling keeps their past ever present to their eyes; their ardent nature hopes ever against hope; misfortunes which would utterly break down and dishearten any other people, leave them still full of bright anticipations, and, as they seem to weep over the cold body of a dear mother--Erin, their country-- they think only of her resurrection.
But are there not two nations among them--two nations radically opposed to each other and incapable of coalescing? Supposing a resurrection of the people, which of the two is to prevail--the numerical majority, or the so far influential minority? In either event, it is fair to suppose a new state of helotism for the one party or the other. Is this the spectacle which the regenerated nation is likely to present?
In speaking of the resurrection of Ireland, the old, massive, compact body of the people, the venerable race, Celtic in its aspirations and tendencies, if not altogether in its origin, has always been kept in view; and that anomalous, foreign excrescence which has so steadily refused to assimilate with the mass, and has until our days remained "encamped" in Ireland, as the Turks are justly said to have remained "encamped" in Europe, has never entered into our reckoning.
The true Irishman has ever been catholic--the word is used in its grammatical and not in its religious sense--in fellowship. The race, as now constituted, is assuredly of mixed origin, and large drafts of foreign population have been added from time to time to the primitive stock, which has always been kind to admit, absorb, and make them finally Celtic. Strongbow's Normans were not the last who submitted to that process; as was seen, many Cromwellians became the fathers, or grandfathers at least, of as sturdy an Irish branch as ever flourished in the strong air of the country.
But a comparatively small body of men has doggedly refused to submit to this process, and continued to this day an English or Lowland Scotch colony on the Irish soil. The future of Ireland does not take them in, for the very simple reason that they are not of her, they do not belong to her, they are as much foreigners to-day as they ever were. Therefore do we admit the existence of two nations, if people are pleased to call them so, in Ireland, but of one nation only have we written. The only question in regard to this second "nation" is: What will become of them in the future? Are they, in their turn, to become helots, after having vainly striven so long to make helots of the others? God forbid! No true Irishman nourishes in his soul such feelings of retaliation or revenge.
Assuredly, they will be prevented from disturbing any longer the public order, and forced at length to respect the majority, or rather, the mass of their countrymen. No one can object to having such a necessary measure imposed upon them. In the many civil discords which, for more than a century and a half, have disgraced the north of Ireland, they have almost invariably been the aggressors. The government openly taking their part for a long time, they had the whole field to themselves, and what use they made of their privilege, and how they improved their opportunity, is known to all. When, at last, the public authorities could no longer pretend to ignore their hateful spirit, and began to show some signs of protecting the hitherto much-abused majority, by forbidding those odious processions to which the others always attached such importance, they gave themselves the airs of a persecuted body of men, and pretended that henceforth their lives, and those of their wives and children, were no longer safe.
The province of Ulster being closed to them as a field of operations, they transferred to Upper Canada the exhibition of their blood-thirsty hatred, and on several occasions the Catholic population of the country had to protect their churches, musket in hand. Even in the United States they have rendered themselves odious to the people by foisting their spirit of strife on a land where they cannot but be strangers, and by staining some of the streets of New York with blood, in order to gratify their senseless animosity.
It is surely time that an end be put to such absurd and dangerous antics, not abroad only, but at home. In the new order of things now dawning upon Ireland, there can no longer be room for them; and the very name of Orangeman must disappear forever from the vocabulary of the new nation, to the joy of all peaceful and law-abiding citizens.
That is all the persecution they need expect. Not only will there be room for them still in the country of their birth, but of course they will have their due share in all the privileges of citizenship. Political distinctions between themselves and the old race will be unknown; social distinctions will be a question for themselves to settle. Should they show the slightest desire of combining with the majority of their countrymen, these latter will be generous enough to forget the past, and perhaps the others may imitate their predecessors, the Danes, the Normans, and even some of their Cromwellian kin, and become, at last, Hibernis hiberniores.
What is said of political and social distinctions will hold good also for religious tenets. Let them, if they choose, continue to stand by their Presbyterian dogmas, provided they do not quarrel with the majority for professing what they love to believe; but that belief must come to an external and public profession. They will often hear the bells of Catholic churches; as they pass outside, if they do not enter, the strains of the glorious music and noble anthems, resounding within, will fall on their ears; they will see the statue of the Blessed Virgin borne through the streets on the 15th of August, amid showers of snowy blossoms, falling from the innocent hands of children; all this they must endure, if it be so hard to endure it; but this is not persecution. Even to their eyes, if their heart be not frozen by a cold belief, the sight will bear some attractions. And if they come to think, that what is oldest in Christianity is the best, and that, after all, Catholicity has something in it which makes life sweet and pleasant, it can scarcely be held a crime in the universal Church to open her arms and receive back to her bosom those wandering and so long obstinate children.
When will all this come to pass? Who can tell? But stranger things than these have already taken place in Ireland, and we are confident that future historians of the race will have to record greater wonders still, and facts more stubborn and difficult of explanation.
At all events, should the inflexible Puritanism of the Scotch colony stand proof against the allurements of a motherly and tender-hearted Church, they must at least become subject to the iron laws of population and absorption. When the public statutes are no longer drawn up for their special benefit, when no new swarms of brethren come to swell their ranks, when they are abandoned to the merciless laws of loss and gain in numbers, then will people soon see on which side is true morality, and by which the ordinances of God are really respected; then will many vapid accusations against the holy Catholic Church of themselves disappear, and the eyes of men will open to the great fact that Ireland must be and remain one in race, feeling, and, above all, in religion. The foreign element will have dwindled to insignificance, if it shall not have utterly disappeared. Indeed, it may be safely predicted that the day will arrive when the announcement of the natural demise of the last Puritan in Ireland will appear in the daily newspapers as a curious piece of intelligence, not devoid of a certain interest.
Though moral force, as the agent of the regeneration of Ireland, has been our theme all through, we would not have our readers infer that Irishmen should adopt the do-nothing policy, and leave to God alone the work of raising them up. The moral force spoken of is that of human beings endowed with activity and determination; steady and persevering in the pursuit of well- organized plans of their own conception.
Let Irishmen lift up their eyes and behold what they might do, did they only appreciate their strength and husband it. Dire calamities, which God designed from the first to convert into blessings, have scattered them over the world, and brought out that power of expansion which was always in their nature, but lay dormant and cramped under the pressure of terrible circumstances. They again show themselves as that old race which three thousand years ago spread itself all over Europe and Asia. They now bear in their hands an emblem which they had not then-- the cross of Christ! And the cross is the sign of universality in time and space. To that sign, since the triumph of the Saviour on the day of his resurrection, is given the rule of the world till the end of time. Now that our globe is known at last, the cross must be planted all over its surface, and in this great work the Irish race is clearly destined to bear a conspicuous part.
In the fulfilment of that divine vocation they are dispersed, and whatever is dispersed is deprived of a great part of its strength. How can the disjecta membra, scattered far and wide by Typhon, become again Osiris? Under the guidance of God, by that great instrument of modern times, the power of association and organization, aided by a steady, energetic will.
Ezekiel has admirably described the process in his thirty- seventh chapter. The Lord must first speak: "Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. . . . Behold, I will send spirit into you, and ye shall live; and I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to grow over you, and will cover you with skin; and I will give you spirit, and ye shall live."
All this seems to be the work of God alone, yet, in the very words of the prophet, the dry bones have their part to perform:
"As I prophesied, there was a noise, a commotion, and the bones came together, each one to his joint."
There is the whole process; it supposes a noise, a commotion, a rising, an assembling together, and a fitting each one into his own joint. They possess an activity of their own, which they must use. And the phenomenon is to take place in the midst of "a vast plain "--two great continents--over the surface of which the "bones" are found on every side, appearing "exceeding dry."
With what a power will that army be invested when it rises up and stands upon its feet! We may form some faint idea of it, when in our large cities any thing occurs to excite the interest and warm up the feeling of that apparently inert Celtic mass. The largest halls constructed cannot contain the multitudes who have only read the announcement of a meeting, a lecture, or a charitable undertaking. Such scenes are witnessed every day along the banks of the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, and the Delaware Rivers; by the shores of Chesapeake Bay; in all the great centres of population dotting the Atlantic coast; in the heart of the continent along the winding course of the Mississippi and Missouri; and already, even in the far West, on the spreading shores of the Pacific Ocean. The same is occurring all over the inhabited portion of Australia and the adjacent islands. What power, then, would be theirs did those "bones" know how to come together each in his own joint!
How is it that we hear of no concerted action among them for their country's sake? Is each man so busy, and lost in his own little sphere of interest and speculation, that he cannot spare a moment's thought for the claims of his native country? Who can say this? Moreover, the best means of promoting their own private interests would be to raise before the eyes of all the status of the country with which they are naturally identified. The truth is, each one waits for another to set the example, the mass being ever ready to follow a lead and show its good-will. Association is needed.
When they turn their eyes to the incessant struggle going on in the mother-country, when they read in their own newspapers the discussions of the Irish press, of the questions debated on the soil most dear to them, and the agitation of the momentous interests pending and awaiting a final decision among their former countrymen, no doubt their feelings are strongly moved; the hopes and fears of their youth, before they left their native shores, are revived with renewed force, and their love for their green island is as ardent as ever.
But is this all? Is it enough that the heart of each one is stirred within him? Is it not for them to see that the influence of their new name, new position, and bettered circumstances, be brought to bear, however far away they may be, upon the great home questions of land-tenure, education, the elective franchise, a native Parliament, commerce, manufactures, and all matters touching on the general welfare of Ireland? If, having become adopted citizens of a new country, they can no longer act as citizens of Erin, they may and ought at least to interest them selves in these matters as far as true loyalty to their adopted country may allow them; and this they can best do by association.
The bonds of a wise organization would give firmness and compactness to the whole moral force of the dispersed nationality. By association, the scattered "dry bones" would be speedily changed into a solid array of living warriors standing upon their feet, and the startling spectacle would astonish the whole world, and win for the race the involuntary respect of all who should witness or hear of it. Nothing would be easier than to set such a thing on foot, for, although so far apart in appearance, the ma- jority of Irish families, from the very fact of emigration, have half of their members at home and half abroad, joined together by an active correspondence and a constant transmission of funds. The managers of the movement would only have to organize for a general object, what already is organized in fact, and direct to the common good what is now done privately.
A word has already been said on the possible management of such an
organization: that the movement should begin at home, in the island;
that its supervision should be left to the true leaders of the
nation; and that all the workings, details, and executive part,
may be safely intrusted to the active members of the association.
The class here designated as leaders of the nation is already known to the reader. The old nobility having been destroyed, there is no other body which truly represent the Irish people to-day save the clergy. This is, no doubt, a misfortune, but none the less a fact. It offers the anomaly of clergymen meddling to a certain extent in politics; but, in Ireland, this is unavoidable.
How does the whole body of the European Catholic clergy understand its position in all those Catholic congresses and unions, which are now, thank God! starting up in all Christian countries? How do the laymen, on their side, appreciate the share they have to take in those various movements? How do they act under the lead of their spiritual advisers? Are any odious distinctions ever known in those associations? Can any misunderstanding arise among men animated with a true love for religion? And why should not the same be true of Ireland, among a people so full of love for country? This is what is meant when the terms leaders and followers, clergy and laity, are here used.
Another consideration will show still more forcibly the importance of the great measure here proposed. One circumstance must have struck those who read the detailed reports of the Catholic congresses mentioned above--the sudden appearance of a large array of laymen, illustrious by their birth, wealth, political power, or literary attainments; but, for the most part, not so well known for their deep attachment to the cause of the Church. A new channel of activity was suddenly opened up to them; they threw themselves into it, and became the bold champions of a cause to which, undoubtedly, they had been individually attached, but of which they now became the public men. And there is little doubt that many young men, lukewarm before, and perhaps with nothing more than the remembrance of the Christian education they had once received, suddenly revived in spirit and made a solemn profession of a cause which, perhaps, they would not have had the courage openly to advocate, did not the number and names of the first originators of the movement encourage them to join in it heart and soul.
Now, it is said, perhaps too truly, that the warm religious feeling which has been all along claimed as the most striking characteristic of the Irish race, is no longer shared alike by all classes of Irish Catholics; that, too often, when individuals among them rise in the social scale, and reach a step in the social ladder from which they imagine that they can look down upon the despised mass below, they no longer feel that deep reverence for their religion which had characterized their youth, and, after all, are not very different from the mass of non-Catholics among whom they prefer to move. This class of men has been well described by Moore in his own person, in various passages of his "Irish Gentleman in search of a Religion."
The fact is, indeed, too true; but what is the chief cause of it? One of the most active means of bringing about such a result we take to be the complete isolation in which young men of the class referred to find themselves in their own sphere of life. There is, in fact, no motive for displaying their attachment to their religion, and no respectable means of doing so. They do not feel their souls moved by sufficient proselytic ardor to induce them, of their own accord, to originate any thing of that kind, and the generality of them have, probably, not received from Nature the talents requisite to make them leaders in any cause whatever. No one around them moves in that direction; hence their apathy and consequent lukewarmness in the practice and outward profession of their faith.
But change all the surroundings; present them an influential body to which it is an honor to belong--a body marching openly under the banner of the true Church of Christ and of their country, bound together as of old--and then will it be seen whether or not they indeed are the degenerate sons of martyred ancestors they now appear to be.
It is indeed very remarkable that, of all countries, Ireland seems to make the least show in those Catholic unions and congresses now so widely spread throughout Europe. The reason for this, perhaps, is, that there seemed less cause for their existence in Ireland than elsewhere. But, as, in Ireland, their object would not only embrace the interests of religion, but likewise those of the country itself, it seems natural to think that there they are particularly wanted.
Let the leaders of the nation, then, bestir themselves. Long ages of oppression unfortunately have rendered them somewhat timid and seemingly afraid of jeopardizing the important interests confided to their care. Let them lift up their eyes and see that the time for timidity has passed away: the enemy is reckless and open in his attacks; their resistance must be equally undisguised and fearless. The people themselves understand this and occasionally display a boldness which shows that the old heroism still lives in them; but they want leaders, and, if the right ones are not fast to take hold of them, they may fall into the hands of wrong-headed guides. Let the true guides look out and see how broad are the lines which divide the good from the evil, and that victory is sure to the stout of heart, when backed by the serried masses of a united people.
The principle of association and the machinery of organization must be applied to all subjects connected with the resurrection of the country. What has been done so effectually for the cause of temperance must be done likewise for education, for the purchase or tenure of land, for the development of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, for the true representation of the nation, for free municipal government, for the securing of a truly Irish yeomanry and gentry, for a thousand objects on which the future welfare of the nation depends. All classes of society, persons of every age and of either sex, yes, women and children, ought to be induced to take an interest in what concerns all alike. Every possible occasion should be taken advantage of to insure the attainment of the ultimate object. When such a work is really entered upon in earnest, the results will be astonishing.
This is the complete development of moral force, and, until all these means have had fair trial, no one can say that moral force has been fully tried and has failed.
Such a system would, we firmly believe, result in the ultimate restoration of Ireland's rights and would surely culminate in her final resurrection at no distant date. That the Irish would enter with spirit into those various associations has been sufficiently demonstrated by previous examples, particularly under O'Connell; and it is impossible to see how surer, greater, and speedier results could be obtained by any amount of physical force of which Ireland is capable. What array of physical force can the Irish muster to compete at all with their powerful rivals, situated as they are with the chains of centuries still binding them down, for, though the shackles may be actually removed, their effect is still there. The very statement of the terms, Ireland versus England, is enough to show the hopelessness of such a combat. It is a very easy thing to magnify the old heroism of the Irish, and cast opprobrium on the present bearers of the name, as did several newspaper writers recently, for not displaying the "pluck" of their ancestors who fought against Elizabeth, Cromwell, and William of Orange. It is forgotten that circumstances have altered considerably since those days when the Irish possessed a regular army led by experienced generals: restore those circumstances, and the Irish of to-day might outdo their ancestors; at all events, there is no reason for supposing that they would be inferior. However, there is such a thing as impossibility, and any attempt of such a nature, with such surroundings, must be deemed by all sensible men not merely rashness, but folly.
In concluding these pages, the author begs to be allowed a word as to their general character, in reply to a dogmatic and comprehensive criticism which it is easy to foresee will be passed on them. It will undoubtedly be asserted that an undue prominence has been given to the religious side of the Irish question, while its many political aspects have been left in the background. This charge will be laid at the door of the clerical and religious character of the writer, and may give rise to the notion that the view here taken of the subject is not the right one, but a radical failure.
The answer to this objection is, in brief, that no one can treat seriously and properly of the Irish race without taking a religious view of it. Whoever adopts a different method of treating the matter would, in our opinion, go completely astray; would take in only a few side-views; would, in fact, pretend to have made a serious study of it, which he offered to the public as such, while ignoring the chief and almost only feature.
The Irish is a religious race, and nothing else. It seems that such was its character thousands of years ago, even when pagan. At the time when Hanno was sent by the Carthaginian senate beyond the Pillars of Hercules to explore the western coast of Africa, toward the south--of which voyage the short narrative is still left us--Himilco, brother to Hanno, was similarly commissioned to form settlements on the European coast, toward the north. The account of this latter expedition, which was extant in the time of Pliny the Elder, is unfortunately lost; but, in the poem of R. Festus Avienus, entitled "Ora Maritima," there are copious extracts from it, in which, at least, the sense of the original is preserved. Avienus, after speaking of the "Insulae OEstrimnides," which Heeren thinks must be the Scilly Islands, goes on to say:
"Ast hinc duobus in Sacram (sic insulam Dixere prisci) solibus cursus rati est. Haec inter undas multam caespitem jacet, Eamque late gens Hibernorum colit."
The passage runs almost into literal English as follows:
"Thence in two days, a good ship in sailing Reaches the Holy Isle(1)--so was she called of old-- That in the sea nestles, whose turf exuberant The race of Hibernians tills."
(1 Dr. Lingard, evidently perplexed by this expression, asks himself, "What might its origin have been?" and suggests that the name of Ierne--the same as Erin--having been given to Ireland by the ancients, and the Greek iepa--holy-- bearing a great resemblance to it, Avienus might have thus fallen into a very natural mistake of confounding the one with the other. But, in the first place, Himilco's report was certainly not written in Greek, but in Phoenician, and Avienus seems merely to have translated that report. Moreover, the word iepa begins with a very strong aspirate, equivalent to a consonant, while there are few vowels softer in any language than the first in Erin or Ierne. Heeren does not attempt such an explanation, but concedes that the Carthaginians, as well as the Phoenicians before them, called Ireland the Holy Isle.)
In the time of Himilco, therefore, five hundred years before Christ, Ireland was called the Holy Isle, a title she had received long before: Sic insulam discere prisci. In what that holiness may have consisted precisely, it is impossible now to say; all we know is, that foreign navigators, who were acquainted with the world as far as it was then known, whose ships had visited the harbors of all nations, could find no more apt expression to describe the island than to say that, morally, it was "a holy spot," and physically "a fair green meadow," or, as her children to this day call her, "the green gem of the sea."
But we have better means of judging in what the holiness of the people consisted after the establishment of Christianity in their midst; and the description of it given in the fourth chapter of this book, taken from the most trustworthy documents, shows how well deserved was the title the island bore.
From that day forth the religious type was clearly impressed on the nation, and has ever remained deeply engraven in its character. The race was never distinguished for its fondness for trade, for its manufactures, for depth of policy, for worldly enlightenment; its annals speak of no lust of conquest among its people; the brilliant achievements of foreign invasion, the high political and social aspirations which generally give lustre to the national life of many a people, belong not to them. But religious feeling, firm adherence to faith, invincible attachment to the form of Christianity they had received from St. Patrick, formed at all times their striking characteristics.
From the day when their faith was first attacked by the Tudors did it chiefly blaze forth into a special splendor, which these pages have striven faintly to represent. Before taking up the pen to write, after the serious study of documents, only one great feature struck us--that of a deep religious conviction; and, after having seen what some writers have had to say recently, the same feature strikes us still. We will not deny that this fact moved us to write, and the task was the more grateful, probably, because of our own personal religious character; but we are confident that any layman, whatever might be his talent and disposition for describing worldly scenes, who took up Irish history, could find nothing else in it of real importance to render the annals of the race attractive to the common run of readers.
And is not religion more capable of giving a people true greatness and real heroism than any worldly excellence? Men of sound judgment will always find at least as much interest attached to the history of the first Maccabees as to that of Epaminondas; and the self-sacrifice of the Vendean Cathelineau, with his "beads" and his "sacred heart," will always appear to an impartial judge of human character more truly admirable than that of any general or marshal of the first Napoleon. Religious heroism, having for object something far above even the purest patriotic fervor, can inspire deeds more truly worthy of human admiration than this, the highest natural feeling of the human heart; and, for a Christian, the most inspiring pages of history are those which tell of the superhuman exertions of devoted knights to wrest the sepulchre of our Lord from the polluted hands of the Moslem.
But religion did not confine her influence over Irishmen to the bravery which she breathed into them on the battle-field. Religion truly constituted their inner life in all the vicissitudes of their national existence; it was the only support left them in the darkest period of their annals, during the whole of the last century; and, when the dawn came at last with the flush of hope, religion was the only halo which surrounded them. Their emigration even, their exodus chiefly, was in fact the sublime outpouring of a crucified nation, carrying the cross as their last religious emblem, and planting it in the wilds of far-distant continents as their only escutcheon, and the sure sign which should apprise travellers of the existence of Irishmen in the deserts of North America and Australia.
Truly, those men are very ignorant of the Irish character who would abstract the religious feature from it, and paint the nation as they would any other European people, whose great aim in these modern days seems to be to forget the first fervor of their Christian origin. With the Irish this cannot be. The vivid warmth of their cradle has not yet cooled down; and, if it would be indeed ridiculous to represent the English of the nineteenth century as the pious subjects of Alfred or Edward, it would be equally foolish to depict the Irish of to-day as the worldlings and godless of France, Italy, or Spain. The Irish patriot could not be like them, without deserting his standard and the colors for which his race has fought. The nation to which he has the honor of belonging is still Christian to the core; and, if some few have really repudiated the love of the religion they took in at their mother's knee, the only means left them of remaining Irishmen, at least in appearance, is not to parade their total lack of this, the chief characteristic of their race.