From the Examiner, April 29, 1848.
To hear the loud and ever louder voice of poor Ireland for many years back, it must be clear there is but one thing wanting to make that Island happy; total disseverance from this Island; perfect and complete Repeal of the Union, as it is called. If, some night, the Union could but be completely shorn asunder, repealed and annihilated for ever, the next morning Ireland, with no England henceforth to molest her, would awake and find herself happy. The Claddagh fishermen would straightway go out and catch herring, no gun-brig now needed to keep them from quarrelling, no Quaker deputation to furnish them with nets. Falsity of word, of thought, and of deed, that morning, would become veracity; futility success; loud mad bluster would become sane talk, transacted at a moderate pitch of voice, in small quantity and for practicable objects. Then should we see ragged sluggardism darn its rags, and everywhere hasten to become industrious energy, ardent patient manfulness, and successful skill; Conciliation and Confederation halls had suddenly become a double Sanhedrim of heroic sages; Jarlath a mount of Gospel prophecy, John of Tuam an Irish Paraclete; and generally over the face of that Island, first flower of the earth and first gem of the sea, there would be visible the valiant diligence of human souls, ardent, patient, manfully strong; and there would rise towards Heaven that worship which is the welcomest and the eternally blessed, the sound of wisdom where there was speech, and manifoldly the inarticulate hum likewise of wisdom (which means patient cunning of hand and valiant strength of heart) where there was work. Then were the finest peasantry in the world, indeed a fine peasantry; and Ireland, first flower of the earth, a place that might at least cease to bother its neighbours, borrowing potatoes from them! A consummation devoutly to be wished.
In truth, Ireland awakening that morning, with England totally dissevered from her, would be a mighty pretty “nation,” likely to take a high figure among the nations of the world. M. Ledru Rollin could not desire a better Republic than you had here, just getting under way; a Republic ready to fraternise with him to all lengths (so long as he did not starve it as the wicked Lord John Russell does), and sure to be a great favourite with her French sister. American Jonathan too, I fancy his love for that nation and that nation’s love for him, on further practical acquaintance. “Considerable water privileges, I guess; good land lots; a d—d deal of white Chactaws, though;—a country we could improve, I guess!” Yes, Jonathan; I have no doubt you could. “We would improve you,” says Jonathan to the Canadian Habitans, “oh, we would improve you off the face of the earth!”
All this looks very mad on the part of the Sister Island; and yet, alas, such is the state of Ireland and of Irish life, it has to be owned they are not the worst citizens who with mad sincerity proclaim “Repeal of the Union” just now, and purchase pikes and rifles to procure it with, at the expense of insurrection and at all other expenses, that of their own lives included. Nor the worst Irish citizens they; no, a still worse sort are those, not hitherto attackable by any Attorney-General, who sit still in the middle of all that and say “Peace, peace” to it all, as if it were or could be peace. Ireland in the quiet chronic state, is still more hideous than Ireland in the critical, even insurrectionary state. No, that is not peace; that of a governing class glittering in foreign capitals, or at home sitting idly in its drawing-rooms, in its hunting-saddles, like a class quite unconcerned with governing, concerned only to get the rents and wages of governing, and the governable un-governed millions sunk meanwhile in dark cabins, in ignorance, sloth, confusion, superstition, and putrid ignominy, dying the hunger-death, or what is worse, living the hunger-life, in degradation below that of dogs. A human dog-kennel five millions strong, is that a thing to be quiet over? The maddest John of Tuam, uttering in his afflictive ghastly dialect (a dialect very ghastly, made up of extinct Romish cant, and inextinguishable Irish self-conceit, and rage, and ignorant unreason) his brimstone denunciations, is a mild phenomenon compared with some others that say nothing.
That Lord John Russell should feed the Irish people, that in every hungry Irish mouth Lord John Russell should have a spoon with cooked victuals ready, this is the enlarged Gospel according to him of Tuam. One of the maddest Gospels; yet not wholly without a tincture of meaning at the bottom of it. John of Tuam does at least say, there is no peace, there can be no peace till this alter;—John speaks true, so far, though in a rabid manner, and like an Irish Gospel Comforter. Not a hypocrite; or if so, one whose hypocrisis has grown with the very blood of him; who is a sacrosanct theological play-actor to the very backbone; and prophesies, since he must prophesy, through the organs of a solemn mountebank and consecrated drug-vendor,—patented by the Holy Father himself to vend Romish quack drugs, doing a little, too, in Repeal nostrums, and now reduced by just rage, as we say, to prophesy; a situation enough of itself to drive one half rabid!
Meanwhile, it is evident, the sober part of the world begins to get somewhat weary of all that.
Several indolent members of Parliament, and many indolent members of society on this side of the water, are beginning to testify their willingness, for their part, to gratify the Irish populations by conceding the demand for Repeal. Since Ireland wants but this to her happiness, say they, why not allow her to be happy? Of happiness for England, or us, in this sublime union with the sister island, God knows there has been no overplus; our share in the said happiness would sell at a light figure in any market. To have our land overrun with hordes of hungry white savages, covered with dirt and rags, full of noise, falsity, and turbulence, deranging every relation between rich and poor, feeding the gibbets all along our western coasts, submerging our populations into the depths of dirt, savagery, and human degradation; here is no great share of blessedness that we should covet it, and go forth in arms to vindicate it. Nor are the gentry of Ireland, such as we find them, with formidable whiskers, and questionable outfit on the spiritual or economical side, drinking punch, fortune-hunting, or playing roulette at Brighton, Leamington, or other places of resort, such an entrancingly beautiful addition to our own washed classes that we would go to war for retaining possession of them. If the gods took all these classes bodily home, and left us wholly bereaved of them for ever and a day, it is a fixed popular belief here, this poor Island could rub on very much as before. The rents of Ireland spent in England,—alas, not even the spending of the rents fascinates us. The rents, it is to be observed, are spent, not given away, not a sixpence of them given,—nay quite the contrary; part of the account, as many poor tradesmen’s books, and in debtors’ prisons several whiskered gentlemen, can testify, is often left unpaid:—rents all spent, we say; laid out in the purchase of things marketable, eatable, enjoyable; the vital fact clearly being, that so long as England has things for sale in the market, she will (through the kindness of the gods) find purchasers, Irish or Non-Irish, and even purchasers that will pay her the whole account without need of imprisonment, it is to be hoped!
Certainly, since the first invention of speech, there never was in the heart of any class of human beings a more egregious misunderstanding, than this of the felicity the English nation derives, has derived, or is likely for some time yet to derive, from union with the sister island. Not by drinking, cannibal-like, the blood and fat of Ireland, has England supported herself hitherto in this universe, but by quite other sustenances and exertions. England were a lean nation otherwise. Not with any ecstasy of hope or of remembrance does England contemplate this divine happiness of union with the sister island. England’s happiness from that connexion would sell at a small figure. In fact, if poor Bull had not a skin thicker than the shield of Ajax, and a practical patience without example among mankind, he would, reading the Gospel-messages of Jarlath, the debates of Confederation and Conciliation halls, and sorrowfully thinking of his many millions thrown into the black gulf of turbulent hunger, his ten last year, when he could ill spare it,—blaze up wholly into unquenchable indignation, of temperature not measurable by Fahrenheit, and lose command of himself for some time!
Natural enough that several careless members of Parliament, and many careless members of society, should express themselves prepared to concede the Repeal of the Union, and make Ireland happy. Nay, I venture to say, in spite of the present extenuated state of finance, and pressure of the income tax, and unspeakable pressures and extenuations of every kind,—could any projecting Warner of the long range be found who would undertake to unanchor the Island of Ireland, and sail fairly away with it, and with all its populations and possessions to the last torn hat that stops a window-pane, and anchor them safe again at a distance, say of 3,000 miles from us,—funds to any amount would be subscribed here for putting into immediate activity such Warner of the long range. Funds? Our railways have cost us 150 millions; but what were all railways, for convenience of England, in comparison to this unanchoring of Ireland from the side of her? If it depended on funds, such Warner of the long range might have funds in sufficiency. To make the National Debt an even milliard of pounds sterling, which gives 200 and odd millions to the Warner operation,—this, heavy as it is, I should think one of the best investments of capital; and do not doubt it would be cheerfully raised in this country for such an object.
The sadder is the reflection that such operation is impossible, for ever forbidden by the laws of gravitation and terrestrial cohesion; and, alas, that without such operation, Repeal of the Union is also impossible. Impossible this too, my poor English and Irish friends; forbidden, this too, by the laws of the universe just at present, and not to be thought of in these current centuries. I grieve to say it; but so the matter is; flatly forbidden by the laws of the universe in these current centuries, and not to be ventured upon as an investment by any person whose capital of money, logic, rhetoric, wind-eloquence, influence, courage, strength, old soda-water bottles, or other animal or spiritual possession is precious to him. In fact, if capital seek investment in such matters, let it rather invest itself in the Warner operation first. That is the preliminary operation, and will be the handsomer. There it will bring mere destruction of itself; arithmetical zero on the day of settlement, and not frightful minus quantities.
For, alas! poor English and Irish friends, do you not see these three things, more or less clear even in your own poor dim imaginations?
- That Ireland is inhabited by seven or eight millions, who unfortunately speak a partially intelligible dialect of the English language, and having a white skin and European features, cannot be prevented from circulating among us at discretion, and to all manner of lengths and breadths.
- That the Island of Ireland stretches for a length of some 300 miles parallel to that of Britain, with an Irish Channel everywhere bridged over by ships, steamers, herring-busses, boats and bomb-ketches, length of said bridge varying from six hours to one hour; so that, for practical purposes, it lies as if in contact, divided only by a strait ditch, and till the Warner operation be completed, cannot by human art be fenced out from us, but is unfortunately we till then.
- That the stern Destinies have laid upon England a terrible job of labour in these centuries, and will inexorably (as their wont is) have it done; a job of labour terrible to look upon, extending superficially to the Indies and the Antipodes over all countries, and in depth, one knows not how deep; for it is not cotton-spinning and commercing merely; it is (as begins to be visible) governing, regulating, which in these days will mean conquering dragons and world-wide chimeras, and climbing as high as the zenith to snatch fire from the gods, and diving as deep as the nadir to fling devils in chains: – and it has been laid upon the poor English people, all this; a heavier, terribler job of labour than any people has been saddled with in these generations! Conquering Anarchy; which is not conquerable except by weapons gained in Heaven’s armoury, and used in battles against Orcus;—so that we may say of him that conquers it, as the Italians were wont to say of Dante: Eccovi l’uom ch’é stato all’ inferno! Truer this than you suppose.
Under which circumstances, consider whether on any terms England can have her house cut in two, and a foreign nation, with contradictory tendencies and perpetual controversy, lodged in her back-parlour itself? Not in any measure conceivable by the liveliest imagination that will be candid! England’s heavy job of work, inexorably needful to be done, cannot go on at all, unless her back-parlour too belong to herself; with foreign controversies, parliamentary eloquences, with American sympathisers, Parisian émeutiers, Ledru-Rollins, and a world just now fallen into bottomless anarchy, parading incessantly through her back-parlour, no nation can go on with any work. I put it to Conciliation Hall itself, to any Irish Confederation that will be candid. The candid Irish Confederation admits that such is really the fact; that England’s work will be effectually stopped by this occupation of her back-parlour; and furthermore that they, the Irish Confederation, mean it so—mean to stop England’s work appointed her by the so-called Destinies and Divine Providences. They, the Irish Confederation, and finest peasantry in the world, armed with pikes, will stop all that; and prove that it is not Divine Providence at all, but Diabolical Accident, and a thing which they, the finest peasantry in the world, can stop. And so they will make the experiment, it seems; and certainly, if the finest peasantry can conquer and exterminate the poor nation of England, they will bar the way to her Progress through the Ages, relieve her of her terrible job of work, repeal the Union, and do several other surprising things. So stands the controversy at present.
If the darkness of human creatures, in a state of just or unjust frenzy, were not known to be miraculous, surely we might pause stupent over such a reading of the Heavenly omens on the part of any creature. The chance Ireland has, with her finest peasantry, to bar the way of England through the Ages, seems small in the extreme.
Lord Morpeth tries to demonstrate that Ireland herself will be ruined without the Union; that if it really would make Ireland happy, he would concede the Repeal with pleasure; but that it will not, and therefore he cannot. I go farther than his lordship, and say that though it made Ireland never so happy, it could not be conceded even in that impossible contingency. Ireland and her happiness, it should with all clearness be made known to unreasonable noisy men, is a small matter compared with Britain’s and Ireland’s nobleness, or conformity to the eternal law—wherein alone can ‘happiness’ either for Britain or Ireland be found. Ireland very much misunderstands her own importance at present. Ireland looks at herself on the map in the population returns, and finding a big blot there, rashly supposes she is an immense element in the sum of British Power. Which is much the reverse of the fact. Deduct what we may call Teutonic Ireland, Ulster and the other analogous regions; leave only the Ireland that clamours for Repeal at present, and in spite of its size on the map and in the population returns, we must say that its value hitherto approaches amazingly to zero, so far as Britain is concerned. Not out of the Tipperary regions did the artillery that has subdued the world, and its anarchies and its devils and wild dog-kennels, proceed hitherto. No, it was out of other regions than Tipperary, by other equipments than are commonest in Tipperary, that England built up her social Constitutions, wrote her Literature, planted her Americas, subdued her Indias, spun her Cotton-webs, and got along with her enormous job of work so far. This is true, and Tipperary ought to know this, and even will be made to know it,—by terrible schooling, if mild will not serve.
For it behoves men to know what is fact in their position; only by rigorously conforming to that can they have the Universe on their side, and achieve any prosperity whatever. With fact against you, with the whole Universe and the Eternal Laws against you, what prosperity can you achieve? Monster meetings, O’Connell eloquence, and Mullaghmast caps, cannot change the state of the fact, cannot alter the Laws of the Universe; not a whit; the Universe remains precisely what it was before the Mullaghmast cap took shape among the headgear of men.
Ireland counts some seven, or five, or three, millions of the finest repealing peasantry; but it ought to remember that the British Empire already enumerates as its subjects some hundred-and-fifty millions. To such extent have the gods appointed it to rule in this Planet at this date. There is no denying it. Over so many mortals does Great Britain at this epoch of time preside, and is bound by laws deeper than any written ones to see well how it will care for them. That is her task among the Nations; a heavy and tremendous, but a great and glorious one: to which not I and some public Journalists and Clerks in Downing Street, but the mute voice of the Eternal itself is calling her: to do that task is the supreme of all duties for her, and by the help of God and of all good citizens, to every one of whom it is of awful divine import withal, she will try to do it. If Tipperary choose to obstruct England in this terrible enterprise, Tipperary, I can see, will learn better, or meet a doom that makes me shudder. Conquer England; bar the way of England? About as rationally might a violent tempered starved rat, extenuated into frenzy, attempt to bar the way of a rhinoceros. The frantic extenuated smaller animal cannot bar the way of the other: can but bite the heels of the other, provoke the other, till it lift its broad hoof, squelch the frantic smaller animal, and pass inevitably on.
Let Irish Patriots seek some other remedy than repealing the Union; let all men cease to talk or speculate on that, since once for all it cannot be done. In no conceivable circumstances could or durst a British minister propose to concede such a thing: the British minister that proposed it would deserve to be impeached as a traitor to his high post, and to lose his worthless head. Nay, if, in the present cowardly humour of most ministers and governing persons, and loud insane babble of anarchic men, a traitorous minister did consent to help himself over the evil hour by yielding to it, and conceding its mad demand,—even he, whether he saved his traitorous head or lost it, would have done nothing towards the Repeal of the Union. A law higher than that of Parliament, as we have said, an Eternal Law proclaims the Union unrepealable in these centuries. England’s work, whatever her ministers be, till all her citizens likewise cease, requires to be done. While a British citizen is left, there is left a protestor against our country being occupied by foreigners, a repealer of the Repeal. Not while British men walk erect in this Island can Ledru Rollins, American sympathisers, Parisian organisateurs, and an anarchic canaille, be left at rifle-practice and parliamentary eloquence in the other. Never, in my opinion; clearly never. And so, even were Repeal conceded, Repeal would at all moments, by night and by day, cry irrepressibly to be revoked; and one day would get itself revoked,—perhaps in a final way that time! The rhinoceros is long suffering, thick of skin, entirely indisposed to severe methods at present; but the frantic smaller animal should not drive him quite to extremities either, but bethink himself a little.
True, most true, the wretched Irish populations have enough to complain of, and the worst traitors against their country are they who lie quiet in such a putrid lazar-house; but it is not England alone, as they will find, that has done or does them mischief; not England alone or even chiefly, as they will find. Nor indeed are their woes peculiar, or even specifically different from our own. We too in this Island have our woes; governing classes that do not in the least govern, and working classes that cannot longer do without governing: woes, almost grown unbearable, and precisely in a less degree those of Ireland are in a greater. But we study to bear our woes till they can be got articulated in feasible proposals: we do not think, to rush out into the street and knock men down with our shillelagh will be the way of healing them. We have decided by an immense majority to endure our woes, and wait for feasible proposals; to reserve barricades, insurrections, revolutionary pikes to the very last extremity. Considerable constitutional and social improvements have been made in this Island; really very considerable; which all Europe is now rushing pell-mell, in a very ominous way, to imitate, as the one secret of national well-being. Considerable social improvements;—but what is remarkable, by pikes and insurrection not one of them hitherto. No, our Civil War itself proceeded according to Act of Parliament: let all things, even death and battle, be done decently, done in order! By feasible proposals, and determination silently made up, wrought out in long dark silent struggles into conformity with the laws of fact, and unalterable as the same,—by those nobler methods, and not by insurrectionary pikes and street barricades, has England got along hitherto; and hopes that henceforth too they may suffice her. In which nobler methods we earnestly invite all Irish reformers to join us, promising them that no feasible proposal of theirs but shall be one of ours too, and that in fact our adventure and theirs, whether it have to persuade Repeal into silence or trample it into annihilation , is one and the same.
So that the case stands thus. Ireland, at this moment and for a good while back, has been admitted and is practically invited to become British; to right its wrongs along with ours, to fight its battles by our side, and take share in that huge destiny along with us, if it will and can. Will it; can it? One does not know. The Cherokees, Sioux, and Chactaws, had a like invitation given them, in the new Continents two centuries ago. “Can you, will you, O noble Chactaws, looking through superficial entanglements, estrangements, irritating temptations, into the heart of the matter, join with us in this heavy job of work we Yankee Englanders have got to do here? Will you learn to plough the ground, to do carpentry, and live peaceably, supporting yourselves in obedience to those above you? If so, you shall be of us, we say, and the gods say. If not,”!—Alas! the answer was in the negative; the Chactaws would not, could not; and accordingly the Chactaws, ‘in spite of 200 acts of legislation in their favour at divers times,’ are extinct; cut off by the inexorable gods. It is a lesson taught everywhere; everywhere, in these days of Aborigines Protection Societies and Exeter-Hall babble, deserving to be well learned . Noisy, turbulent, irreclaimable savagery cannot be ‘protected;’ it is doomed to become reclaimable, or to disappear. The Celts of Connemara, and other repealing finest peasantry, are white and not black; but it is not the colour of the skin that determines the savagery of a man. He is a savage, who, in his sullen stupidity, in his chronic rage and misery, cannot know the facts of this world when he sees them; whom suffering does not teach but only madden; who blames all men and all things except the one only that can be blamed with advantage, namely himself; who believes, on the Hill of Tara or elsewhere, what is palpably untrue, being himself unluckily a liar, and the truth, or any sense of the truth, not in him; who curses, instead of thinks and considers;—brandishes his tomahawk against the laws of nature, and prevails therein as we may fancy, and can see! Fruitless futile insurrections, continual sanguinary broils and riots that make his dwelling place a horror to mankind, mark his progress generation after generation; and if no beneficent hand will chain him into wholesome slavery, and, with whip on back or otherwise, try to tame him, and get some work out of him,—Nature herself, intent to have her world tilled, has no resource but to exterminate him, as she has done the wolves and various other obstinately free creatures before now! These are hard words, but they are true.