“Let Ireland be subject to her own legislation only, and one might venture to say she is free for ever. Her situation and size fit her for that moderate degree of strength and power which is most likely to be permanent.” – Pollock’s Letters, under the signature of “Owen Roe O’Nial.” 1779.
In my last letter I tried to prove that even the most patriotic Irishman would be inclined to underrate the strength of this country.
Among the reasons given were, that we have been for many centuries the victims of dissension and the sport of invaders, and are still provincials. From being accustomed to contemplate the country in this state of feebleness, feud, and slavery, it is an easy transition to conclude that Ireland has not strength of hand, or head, or heart, to become and remain free.
“What has been will be,” is a common proverb – one of those lies wherewith a vulgar analogy imposes on us. We look in past, in present, and we see Ireland couched in her cell, or beating against its bears. Ireland chainless, abroad, fearless, and proud, does not then occur to us.
The chameleon was said to grow to the colour of what it fed on; the mind of man falls into prophesying what it sees: and thus every one too lazy or too dull to imagine aught but what he has witnessed, proclaims the future a reflection of the past, and thinks himself a sage.
Another of my strongest reasons for warning Irishmen that they are prejudiced against Ireland was, that they read their own history in the literature of their tyrants. For ten of us who have read M’Geoghagan, a hundred have read Leland; and for one who has looked into the Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores, a thousand have studied Hume. Thus we judged our fathers by the calumnies of their foes. Like true slaves we gathered up the fragments of insult let fall from the table of our masters, and made them our own. Nor was this confined to history. The exaggeration of England’s strength and glory, in which English rulers and writers indulge – the deprecation of the force and morals of England’s foes (Ireland being in the front), was not strange nor very hateful in an Englishman; but, alas for our fate, we, too, accepted these falsehoods, and a sacred dread of our gaoler, and distrust of ourselves, unfitted us to resist him.
Doubtless there is some compensation for this. Indignation and grief sometimes do the work of pride and joy. ‘Twas a sweet a noble thought of the poet’s to describe Ireland as
“More dear in her sorrow, her gloom, and her showers,
Than the rest of the world in its sunniest hours;”
But he spoke of enthusiast moments, or he spoke of mighty hearts – souls not many, which gather strength from adversity, as the oak from the tempest.
I repeat, then that ‘tis but a just demand that every Irishman who comes to discuss our power of independence should feel that his education, and studies, and conversation, all prejudice him to lean unjustly against the belief of Ireland’s strength; and therefore it is his bounden duty, as an honest judge, to discard all Anglicism – all the peculiarly English notions of England, of Ireland, and of other lands, as they are, and as they were.
He should recollect that he ash not been accustomed to hear the sacred names of Ireland solemnly spoken of in the family circle, or the pulpit, or the forum. Those who sealed their service to Ireland with their life blood are unnamed or calumniated.
Our streets boast many a monument to our oppressors; few, few to our patriots. Where in our avenue rises the fane of Brian? What effigies of the O’Neills frown upon our submission? Where does the image of Sarsfield watch over our poor immunities, or the hand of Tone stretch out as if prompting us to liberty?
We look on our fields – the peasant is hungry in his chill hovel. We look on our towns – and the artisan scares us with his gaunt visage and tottering limbs. We look on our capital – its Custom-house is a museum for miscellaneous trifles, its Exchange a lonely vault, its Castle the eyrie of the invader, its Senate House a den of money-changers! Alas for Ireland! – poor widow, so forlorn, so fair. Alas for Irishmen! – trained up amid all that could remind them of their country’s ruin – amid all that could suggest despair. From the cradle to the grave have generations of them walked without any of those sights or sounds which train men up to be good and valiant citizens – even as the daily incidents of home, from the meal in the morning to the cheery circle at night, train us to be true and joyous as children, as husbands, and as parents. ‘Tis enough to make one weep to see eight millions and a-half of people wandering about the country of their birth without the realities or the ensigns of nationality, justly abhorring the Government that rules them, yet unable to create a Government of their own. Oh! for some spirit to move over the void! Oh! for some potent voice to speak country to the wayward, and hope to the sad, and to say with faith: “Let there be a nation!”
Let none of your readers, whom I have left unconvinced that he has got an alien’s training in his native land, read further. I write not for such a man – he either needs no persuasion, or he is beyond my power. He either is striving to free us, or nothing, but the sight of Ireland reposing safe after victory, will convince him of her power to triumph.
If liberty were the product of material forces, Ireland would be an independent nation. If square miles and population were sure pass-words, we would not be shivering or battling at the door of our own dwelling – a vast people on a rich soil uncombined by nationality.
Reckoning Norway and Hungary as free states (and they are almost so), there are but seven states in Europe superior to Ireland in population, and twenty-one inferior; and of those seven there are but three – France, Russia, and England – governed by central powers.
Prussia has eight Provincial Parliaments, beside Neufchatel. Every Austrian province has its National Assembly. Spain is still, and long may it remain, the Castiles and Aragon, Andulasia, Biscay, and Catalonia. Turkey is broken up into principalities, over most of which the Porte has little control.
I do not mean to assert that the province of Prussia, Austria, and Turkey are well governed, but they have still the forms of nationality. They have what in time will effect the liberation of them all.
We are accustomed to talk of Austrian tyranny and British freedom, yet even Austrian Italy has a Representative Assembly. The power of that Assembly is small, its mode of election servile, and its decrees are subject to be overruled by a despot. Even this is denied us. We are not allowed a national voice. The simplest convention, which could authoritatively speak the People’s wishes, is forbidden. But some of the Austrian states, such as the Tyrol and Transylvania, possess large powers, and exercise them freely; while Hungary has almost emancipated herself from Austria’s yoke. The next European war will perfect her independence, and her neighbours will grow like unto her.
In actual production and revenue, but six states are superior to Ireland, and twenty-two inferior; and in surface twelve are superior, and sixteen inferior.
Many of these inferior states have played great parts in European history.
Placed in the midst of quarrels, and exposed to force (from which our mere position would except us), they held their own by their intrinsic might. Prussia, when it had not a fourth of our population, encountered all the great Continental Powers successfully.
Holland bore up against the greatest empire, save Napoleon’s, in modern times.
Sweden carried her arms from the Rhine to the Moskwa, and was the acknowledged protector of Germany.
Portugal disputed the colonial empire with England, and lost it from corruption.
Greece, one of the smallest of all, cut its way to independence in our own time; and Switzerland is illustrious with five centuries of victory and independence.
The following table is a prima facie proof of our right to be independent; and he who reads it and denies that right, must do so (if he profess to be a reasoner) by pleading that we are fools, fanatics, and cowards, as a counter-weight to our population, revenue and territory. Where’s the slave that will do so?
Italy, Spain, and Greece, and Great Britain, alone (in Europe) have a greater amount of coast than Ireland. France, England, and the United States alone, exceed us in steam navy, which points our road to power significantly enough. There is no attempt at minute accuracy, as the table is meant only for comparison. The revenue is deceptive; for, as the national debt of a country increases, more of the revenue is paid back to the people, and the real revenue is less. Thus France has really a larger revenue than England.
Carrying our view beyond Europe, we find in North America but one nation (the United States) exceeding us in revenue and population. In South America, with its young Titan Republics, no state approaches Ireland in population or revenue. The same is true of the great continent of Africa. Asia, to be sure, bends under three huge empires, China, Russia, and British India; yet scattered through and between those slave empires are crowds of independent tribes and nations, none exceeding, few approaching us in the resources of our treasury, or the number of our fighting men.
Our slavery is due to far different causes than want of mere material power.