“Be valiant still, be valiant still,
Be stout, and be bold, and be valiant still;
There’s right in the cause, and might in the will
Of the bonny, bonny lad that is valiant still.” – Scotch Ballad.
In my last letter I tried to prove, from the latest statistics, that “if liberty were the product of material forces, Ireland would be an independent nation.” Throughout America, Asia, and Africa, there are but four independent nations exceeding us in revenue and fighting men, though these continents contain many hundreds of free – perfectly free nations.
“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.
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.”
Thus the world has but ten states superior in revenue, and eleven superior in fighting men, to Ireland.
Suffer me to follow on this comparison of the chief statistics of Ireland, and of other states living or dead.
The great majority of states in all ages have been inferior to Ireland in dimensions and numbers. Each of the clans and tribes, wherein the ruder nations lived, rarely equalled the population of our smallest county; and the coolest of all political philosophers – a statesman who had outlived revolutions, who had ordered a young nation, and prepared constitutions under which millions live and die – Thomas Jefferson – came to the conclusion that village or clan government was the noblest and happy of any. I may differ from him, but his words demand respect; nor does he speak alone.
Take the next stage, and you find that the republics of Phoenicia, Etruria, Asia Minor, and Greece, created the arts which have most strengthened the hand of man – the sciences which have crowned his intellect – the poetry which has spiritualized his habits – the philosophy that judges his virtue – the history which subjects the past to his uses – and the examples which trouble the depths of his soul as with the hand of heaven.
Yet the largest of these was not a tenth of the size of Ireland. Most of them had not more territory than the liberties of one of our large towns.
Nor are the old empires of Upper Asia, nor the conquering republics of Carthage and Rome, examples entirely to the contrary. Their greatest triumphs were won when the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, were little clans – when Carthage was a seaport with a few colonial dependencies, and when Rome found room in Italy.
So marked is the power of small states, resulting from their unity and energy – from their “great living and high thinking,” that Taylor says,
“If it were not that general intelligence, and a better knowledge of the science of government, and more skill in war, ordinarily come in with extended empire to supply the place of personal enthusiasm, the history of nations would present, in a perpetual series, what, in fact, it has often presented – the destruction or subjugation of the larger social bodies by the smaller.”
Recall, too, the thousand states which have covered Europe since cruel Rome fell. Take up the histories of the Imperial and Spanish free towns – look at the canvass and marble, the perishable matter moulded by the immortal mind of Italy and Flanders – gaze upon the hardy and intelligent commerce of Venice, Wisby, Hamburgh, Marseilles, and Leghorn – gaze upon it till you see the flaxen-haired Scandinavian crossing the desert with his caravan, and the sun-dried ships of the south sailing in triumph into Archangel – gaze till you see the gallies of Venice and of the Hanse Towns girdle Europe, from the icebergs of the Poles to the sands of Palestine – gaze till the Genoese seaman comes out from his privateer, and says there is another continent, and finds it too.
Where but in the civic republics of Europe – from Bruges to Milan, from Dantzie to Frankfort, and from Cologne to Barcelona – where else do you find the cradles of commerce, the preservers of literature, the restorers of art and science? And where but in these free towns, and in the little republics of Switzerland, Saxony, and Biscay, was liberty sheltered and saved?
The numberless nations called duchies, kingdoms, lordships, and counties – from Ireland to Bohemia, and from Benevento to Normandy – were almost all republican in constitution. How long and nobly they bore up against the crushing and combining influence of great kings and emperors! How much we owe them of principles of patriotism and examples of just courage, and how little to their monopolizing assailants!
The deaths of Padilla and Wallace, the triumphs of Tell and Pelagio, and the endless struggles of Witikind, Hereward, and O’Brien, teach us, not less than the fates of Aristomenes and Washington, the duties of a patriot and the divinity of a hero; and the deeds of the city republics – grouped along the shores of the Mediterranean and Baltic, or clustered in Lombardy and the Netherlands – are unsurpassed, save by Greece alone.
Of the force of small states we have three striking instances before us at this present hour. After Russia had swept from her path the powers of Poland, Turkey, Persia, and a hundred more, she met her match – nay, praise be to God! Her conqueror, in the scanty tribes of Circassia. France, the vast, the warlike, the renowned, after that she had overran Europe four times, and been ultimately beaten only by a world in combination – France, when since that dark day could traverse Spain in a summer, has been baffled by the heroic clans of northern Africa. And England, having put a hundred millions of Hindoos beneath her feet, and while dictating terms with a handful of men to three hundred and odd million Chinese, retreats with loss and difficulty from the shepherds of Afghanistan.
Ireland, then has the bulk of a nation and the physical power of independence; but the higher power – knowledge, and the highest power – resolve, she hath not. She has them not, or she would be free. Body hath she, but where – where is the soul?
What wants she to be a nation? Heavens! Why is it that the commonplace chatter of these twenty years back is forgotten, or its first consequences overlooked? Men have talked, till the ear grew dull, of her harbours – they are a hundred – of her land – here so rich, there so stern, in all so goodly – of her climate – so varied, genial, and instructive – and of her position – out to sea, and fossed round by the deep guardian ocean. These things she has had always, and her people, ‘tis added, are eight millions. Eight millions or more – they are owners of no mean heritage from nature. With riches at their feet, and beauty around them, and glory behind, before, and above them, the fame of illustrious ancestors, the inspiration of great endowments, the hope of a splendid future – why are they slaves? Slaves they are, for they do not govern themselves, speak for themselves, act, toil, fight, live, hope for themselves. They are taxed by the English, legislated for by England. Englishmen execute their laws, they are taught the language, history, policy, and prejudices of England; they live for England, die for England, are owned by England. Is not this slavery? What matter that with delusive laws she talks sometimes of Irish rights? What matter that she tolerates the existence of Irish Helots, and suffers their noise till her nerves get fretted, and she is forced to smite them into silence? They live impoverished, dishonoured, and obedient. They are slaves, they are things. Ireland has a body, but no soul.
Eight millions, good sooth! When Ulster had not 200,000 people, it maintained its independence for four centuries against the splendid Plantagenet and the fiery Tudor. In the 17th century, when Ireland had but a million and a quarter of disunited people, she supported a National Government, and carried on two great wars against England, one of twelve years’ duration, from 1641 to 1653; and the other of four years, from 1688 to 1692. Yet, then, the Roman Catholics alone represented Ireland, and harassed by the Protestants of the North, and divided amongst themselves, they, that handful of Roman Catholics, held their own against England. They were not talking of numbers only; they computed the force of duty, and the greatness of resolve.
Again, in 1782, look at the Protestants, who then represented Ireland. After a struggle of twenty years, holding the fetters of the Catholic with one hand, and with the other grappling with England, they wrung their independence with the terror of arms. Let no man hasten to condemn them for not emancipating the Roman Catholics. Their ancestors, brutalized by the temptations of wealth and the pangs of bigotry, had enslaved the Roman Catholics; but fifty years gave the sons of the tyrants a habit of domination which nothing but the stormy virtue of a revolution could destroy, and had corrupted and debased the slave. Or if they be condemned, condemn Leonidas, Brutus, and Washington – freemen, yet served by Helots – by Helots despised, because degraded – “wretches and cowards, because slaves.”
But, be that as it may, heart and soul, knowledge and purpose, a well-selected opportunity, and a bold policy which did not shrink from the battle-field, enabled the million of Protestants, gazed on by three and a-half millions of Roman Catholics, to triumph in ’82.
In ’93 the partial union of four millions of Irishmen, led by Tone, Keogh, and such men, who hastened to avail themselves of French victories, extorted fresh liberties from England.
Again, in 1828, when the Roman Catholics once more represented Ireland, was it mere numbers effected Catholic Emancipation? No; opposed by England, Scotland, and the North, five million Roman Catholics did the deed, by union, firmness, and devotion. They resolved to succeed – they accepted and sought out the help of America, France, and of parts of England, without asking whether the one held slaves, the other was orthodox in theology, or the third had a rag of private morals left. They sacrificed ease, time, and money. They were notoriously ready to sacrifice life, too. Their foes grew pale, and Emancipation was carried. Their numbers was almost as many for years before – they have been much greater for many years since; yet what was done save in that hour of stern and intelligent purpose?
‘Tis needless for me to draw conclusions from this survey of past and present.
But, you will tell me, Ireland has now resumed her energy, and is resolved to be free, at any cost. If so she will soon be independent. If so, she has all the elements of nationality, – size, place, strength and purpose; she need only “pronounce her will” – “its very breath will rend her chains.”
“For a nation to be free,” says the French declaration, “’tis sufficient that it wills it.” The expressed will is enough, if the country has the soul as well as the body of a nation. A hundred millions of Hindoos will to be free, but they have no national soul, and they sob in vain.
I, too, believe Ireland is rapidly acquiring the high spirit, the political sagacity, and the steadfast purpose of a nation. That she may soon perfectly learn all the virtues which give and guard independence, is the sincere prayer of AN IRISH PROTESTANT.