From The Nation, February 18, 1843.


DEAR SIR—The very important letter which Lord Powerscourt has taken the trouble to write to Mr O’Connell, all the way from Naples, where, it seems, he at present sojourns, contains a narrative of the persecution of an Irish landlord by the occupiers of the soil, which, I believe will place the relative positions of those two classes of persons in an altogether new light. Landlords have actually been held up, by pestilent agitators and others, as sinning against the people, rather more than sinned against by them. Conservative journals even, from whom better might have been hoped, have taken up this reproach against an amiable and maligned body of men, representing them as grinding their tenants, wringing the last farthing of rent out of the land; and not too solicitous to leave even what will support life in the drudges who till it.

What will be the astonishment of the world to learn that all this blame has alighted in the wrong place—that the landlords are the persecuted party—that the ‘difficulties of their position’ far exceed any imagined grievances which spurious philanthropy has discovered in the tenant’s lot? But, as Lord Powerscourt says, ‘one example is worth fifty assertions,’ and he proceeds to state one case of hardship, in which he is himself, as he assures us, the sufferer.

With the rest of his lordship’s letter I do not concern myself; but the following pathetic tale, related by the noble writer with unaffected simplicity, deserves particular attention.

A tract of land, then, ‘of no great value, but of considerable extent,’ had remained till the year before last undivided between Lord Powerscourt and two neighbouring landlords. It was waste and barren, and the landlords were careless of their rights, if rights they had. The consequence was, that a number of persons, from time to time, squatted on this land; cleared, most probably, from some neighbouring estate, they had betaken themselves to this desert, which no man claimed, where they had the alternative of forcing a scanty living out of the wretched soil, or dying on the heath. Sore toil—digging and delving, late and early—did, at last, reclaim some small territories from the desert domain. Little patches of arable and pasture land at length were visible; ridges of potatoes and strips of thin corn fringed the rocks. ‘It was,’ says Lord Powerscourt, ‘a growing evil.’ Here was a colony which, if not repressed in time, would gain an adverse possession, and become an asylum for ‘any number of vagrants and depredators of the very worst description’—a very natural supposition in his lordship, that where men pay no rent none but desperadoes could have resort! Where that first duty of rent-paying is disregarded, how can any other human virtue take root? Where there are no gale days observed (sacred fasti of a tenant’s year)—where the 1st of May and 1st of November, Lady-day and Michaelmas, come and go, and not a bailiff, not a process-server, appears among the benighted people, to make a distress or serve an ejectment—what a moral and spiritual destitution must prevail! Could any benevolent mind contemplate such a state of things without desiring the means of putting an end to it? Lord Powerscourt could not; but let him tell it himself—

‘With a view to a remedy, I obtained a mutual settlement of boundary between myself and my neighbours, and after this preliminary step, I determined to take measures to assert my title to that part of the land which fell to my share. Now, sir, in doing this, I solemnly affirm that my object was not to injure a hair of the head of these poor persons. I directed that they should each be served with ejectments; but it was only on account of the necessary form of law.’

Doubtless if tracts would have answered the purpose, his lordship would have preferred to distribute tracts.

‘To prevent the possibility of mistake on that head,’ he continues, ‘each ejectment was accompanied by a circular letter from myself—explaining my reasons—asserting my rights as owner of the soil, and calling on them not vexatiously to oppose one whose object was to benefit them I stated that I had neither the wish nor the intention to turn any man out of his holding.

Well, sir, will you believe—will the public believe that these pertinacious persons, not withstanding such obviously benevolent intentions, notwithstanding the paternal circular signed ‘Powerscourt,’ thought there was something unpleasant under the contemporaneous circular signed ‘John Thrustout’—that they actually rejected the advances of the disinterested missionary who sought to establish with them the ‘endearing relation,’ as he calls it, of landlord and tenant, and—took defence to the ejectment.

Lord Powerscourt ‘will not enter into a recapitulation of all the law proceedings that have ensued—I have once or twice been driven either to abandon the thing altogether, or to act more harshly than I should have wished.’ The result may be conjectured—for ‘I was rich,’ says his lordship, ‘and they were poor.’ After last assizes, it appears, he obtained the necessary authority to take possession. He sent a surveyor on the land to measure it, but the surveyor was mobbed—his chains were kicked about as soon as laid, and he had to return without effecting his purpose.

‘But I care little for slander,’ says the noble missionary, ‘and I am determined, whatever I may have to contend with, to assert my rights.

Now, here is a history of paternal advances repulsed, and benevolent intentions thwarted; advances, too, which were made and prosecuted under the malignant misconstruction of the world, for it would be said that the motive for all this crusade was the mean one of making these poor people’s pigs and potato ridges contribute their quota to the Powerscourt rental. Nor can we doubt any of the details; for this is an instance of which Lord Powerscourt can speak with authority, as ‘he is himself the sufferer.’ ‘I give this instance,’ says he, ‘of the difficulties with which the landlords have to contend in Ireland, merely as an example. Personally I complain not.’ Ah, meek and gentle sufferer! How tenderly, even now, in thy winter retreat, pleasant villa or lordly palazza, by the sunny shores of the bay of Naples, does thy soul yearn over these poor squatters! To make them your tenants—to gather them under your landlordly wings—to establish with them indissolubly the endearing relation of a lessor—to free them from the evil company and dissolute habits, which afflict them in their present unprotected state—these are your benignant views, and these you ‘are determined’ to effect. Macte, macte virtute.

And there can be no doubt Lord Powerscourt will be as good as his word. He is rich and they are poor, and they must positively agree to pay rent, and accept him as their liege lord; or else drag their weary limbs to some other squatting place, if, indeed, they can find such before the gripe of starvation draw them to the graves. There, surely, ‘Thrustout’ will cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest.

In the mean time, let us hope my Lord Powerscourt will settle on the lands a well-conducted Protestant tenantry, who will pay him rent with punctuality, and read his tracts with attention.