When we are considering a country’s resources and its fitness for a peculiar destiny, its people are not to be overlooked. How much they think, how much they work, what are their passions, as well as their habits, what are their hopes and what their history, suggest inquiries as well worth envious investigation as even the inside of a refugee’s letter.
And there is much in Ireland of that character—much that makes her superior to slavery, and much that renders her inferior to freedom.
Her inhabitants are composed of Irish nobles, Irish gentry, and the Irish people. Each has an interest in the independence of their country, each a share in her disgrace. Upon each, too, there devolves a separate duty in this crisis of her fate. They all have responsibilities; but the infamy of failing in them is not alike in all.
The nobles are the highest class. They have most to guard. In every other country they are the champions of patriotism. They feel there is no honour for them separate from their fatherland. Its freedom, its dignity, its integrity, are as their own. They strive for it, legislate for it, guard it, fight for it. Their names, their titles, their very pride are of it.
In Ireland they are its disgrace. They were first to sell and would be last to redeem it. Treachery to it is daubed on many an escutcheon in its heraldry. It is the only nation where slaves have been ennobled for contributing to its degradation.
It is a foul thing this—dignity emanating from the throne to gild the filthy mass of national treason that forms the man’s part of many an Irish lord.
We do not include in this the whole Irish peerage. God forbid. There are several of them not thus ignoble. Many of them worked, struggled, sacrificed for Ireland. Many of them were true to her in the darkest times.
They were her chiefs, her ornaments, her sentinels, her safeguards. Alas! that they, too, should have shrunk from their position, and left their duties to humbler, but bolder and better men.
Look at their station in the State. Is it not one of unequivocal shame? They enjoy the half-mendicant privilege of voting for a representative of their order, in the House of Lords, some twice or thrice in their lives. One Irish peer represents about a dozen others of his class, and thus, in his multiplex capacity, he is admitted into fellowship with the English nobility. The borrowed plumes, the delegated authority of so many of his equals, raise him to a half-admitted equality with an English nobleman. And, although thus deprived of their inheritance of dignity, they are not allowed even the privilege of a commoner. An Irish lord cannot sit in the House of Commons for an Irish county or city, nor can he vote for an Irish member.
But an Irish lord can represent an English constituency. The distinction is a strange one—unintelligible to us in any sense but one of national humiliation. We understand it thus—an Irish lord is too mean in his own person, and by virtue of his Irish title, to rank with the British peerage. He can only qualify for that honour by uniting in his the suffrages and titles of ten or twelve others. But—flattering distinction!—he is above the rank of an Irish commoner, nor is he permitted to sully his name with the privileges of that order. And—unspeakable dignity!—he may take his stand with a British mob.
There is no position to match this in shame. There is no guilt so despicable as dozing in it without a blush or an effort, or even a dream for independence. When all else are alive to indignity, and working in the way of honour and liberty, they alone, whom it would best become to be earliest and most earnest in the strife, sink back replete with dishonour.
Of those, or their descendants, who, at the time of the Union, sold their country and the high places they filled in her councils and in her glory, for the promise of a foreign title, which has not been redeemed, the shame and the mortification have been perhaps too great to admit of any hope in regard to them. Their trust was sacred—their honour unsuspected. The stake they guarded above life they betrayed then for a false bauble; and it is no wonder if they think their infamy irredeemable and eternal.
We know not but it is. There are many, however, not in that category. They struggled at fearful odds, and every risk, against the fate of their country. They strove when hope had left them. Wherefore do they stand apart now, when she is again erect, and righteous, and daring? Have they despaired for her greatness, because of the infidelity of those to whom she had too blindly trusted?
The time is gone when she could be betrayed. This one result is already guaranteed by recent teaching. We may not be yet thoroughly instructed in the wisdom and the virtue necessary for the independent maintenance of self-government; but we have mastered thus much of national knowledge that we cannot be betrayed. There is no assurance every nation gave which we have not given, or may not give, that our present struggle shall end in triumph or in national death.
The writers of The Nation have never concealed the defects or flattered the good qualities of their countrymen. They have told them in good faith that they wanted many an attribute of a free people, and that the true way to command happiness and liberty was by learning the arts and practising the culture that fitted men for their enjoyment. Nor was it until we saw them thus learning and thus practising that our faith became perfect, and that we felt entitled to say to all men, here is a strife in which it will be stainless glory to be even defeated. It is one in which the Irish nobility have the first interest and the first stake in their individual capacities.
As they would be the most honoured and benefited by national success, they are the guiltiest in opposing or being indifferent to national patriotism.
Of the Irish gentry there is not much to be said. They are divisible into two classes—the one consists of the old Norman race commingled with the Catholic gentlemen who either have been able to maintain their patrimonies, or who have risen into affluence by their own industry; the other, the descendants of Cromwell’s or William’s successful soldiery.
This last is the most anti-Irish of all. They feel no personal debasement in the dishonour of the country. Old prejudices, a barbarous law, a sense of insecurity in the possessions they know were obtained by plunder, combine to sink them into the mischievous and unholy belief that it is their interest as well as their duty to degrade, and wrong, and beggar the Irish people.
There are among them men fired by enthusiasm, men fed by fanaticism, men influenced by sordidness; but, as a whole, they are earnest thinkers and stern actors. There is a virtue in their unscrupulousness. They speak, and act, and dare as men. There is a principle in their unprincipledness. Their belief is a harsh and turbulent one, but they profess it in a manly fashion.
We like them better than the other section of the same class. These last are but sneaking echoes of the other’s views. They are coward patriots and criminal dandies. But they ought to be different from what they are. We wish them so. We want their aid now—for the country, for themselves, for all. Would that they understood the truth, that they thought justly, and acted uprightly. They are wanted, one and all. Why conceal it—they are obstacles in our way, shadows on our path.
These are called the representatives of the property of the country. They are against the national cause, and therefore it is said that all the wealth of Ireland is opposed to the Repeal of the Union.
It is an ignorant and a false boast.
The people of the country are its wealth. They till its soil, raise its produce, ply its trade. They serve, sustain, support, save it. They supply its armies—they are its farmers, its merchants, its tradesmen, its artists, all that enrich and adorn it.
And, after all, each of them has a patrimony to spend, the honourable earning of his sweat, or his intellect, or his industry, or his genius. Taking them on an average, they must, to live, spend at least £5 each by the year. Multiply it by seven millions, and see what it comes to.
Thirty-five millions annually—compare with that the rental of Ireland; compare with it the wealth of the aristocracy spent in Ireland, and are they not as nothing?
But a more important comparison may be made of the strength, the fortitude, the patience, the bravery of those, the enrichers of the country, with the meanness in mind and courage of those who are opposed to them.
It is the last we shall suggest. It is sufficient for our purpose. To those who do not think it of the highest value we have nothing to say.