In order to understand Ireland we must begin by understanding England. On no other terms will that complex of facts, memories, and passions, which is called the Irish Question, yield up its secret. “You have always been,” said a Lady Clanricarde to some English politician, “like a high wall standing between us and the sun.” The phrase lives. It reveals in a flashlight of genius the historical relations of the two nations. It explains and justifies the principle adopted as the basis of this discussion, namely, that no examination of the Irish Problem is possible without a prior examination of the English mind. It used to be said that England dearly loved a Lord, a dictum which may have to be modified in the light of recent events. Far more than a Lord does the typical Englishman love a Judge, and the thought of acting as a Judge. Confronted with Ireland he says to himself: “Here are these Irish people; some maintain that they are nice, others that they are nasty, but everybody agrees that they are queer. Very good. I will study them in a judicial spirit; I will weigh the evidence dispassionately, and give my decision. When it comes to action, I will play the honest broker between their contending parties.” Now this may be a very agreeable way of going about the business, but it is fatally unreal. Great Britain comes into court, she will be pained to hear, not as Judge but rather as defendant. She comes to answer the charge that, having seized Ireland as a “trustee of civilisation,” she has, either through incompetence or through dishonesty, betrayed her trust. We have a habit, in everyday life, of excusing the eccentricities of a friend or an enemy by the reflection that he is, after all, as God made him. Ireland is politically as Great Britain made her. Since the twelfth century, that is to say for a great part of the Middle Ages and for the whole of the modern period, the mind of England and not that of Ireland has been the dominant fact in Irish history.

This state of things—a paradox in action— carries with it certain metaphysical implications. The philosophers tell us that all morality centres in the maxim that others are to be treated as ends in themselves, and not as instruments to our ends. If they are right, then we must picture Ireland as the victim of a radical immoralism. We must think of her as a personality violated in its ideals, and arrested in its development. And, indeed, that is no bad way of thinking: it is the one formula which summarises the whole of her experience. But the phrasing is perhaps too high and absolute; and the decline and fall of Mr Balfour are a terrible example to those of us who, being young, might otherwise take metaphysics too solemnly. It will, therefore, at this stage be enough to repeat that, in contemplating the discontent and unrest which constitute the Irish difficulty, Great Britain is contemplating the work of her own hands, the creation of her own mind. For that reason we can make no progress until we ascertain what sort of mind we have to deal with.

I do not disguise from myself the extremely unpleasant nature of this inquiry. It is as if a counsel were to open his address by saying: “Gentlemen of the Jury, before discussing the facts of the case I will examine briefly the mental flaws, gaps, kinks, and distortions of you twelve gentlemen.” There is, however, this difference. In the analysis upon which we are engaged the mental attitude of the jury is not merely a fact in the case, it is the whole case. Let me reinforce my weaker appeal by a passage from the wisest pen in contemporary English letters, that of Mr Chesterton. There is in his mere sanity a touch of magic so potent that, although incapable of dullness, he has achieved authority, and although convinced that faith is more romantic than doubt, or even sin, he has got himself published and read. Summarising the “drift” of Matthew Arnold, Mr Chesterton observes:

“The chief of his services may perhaps be stated thus, that he discovered (for the modern English) the purely intellectual importance of humility. He had none of that hot humility which is the fascination of saints and good men. But he had a cold humility which he had discovered to be a mere essential of the intelligence.”

Such a humility, purely hygienic in character, is for Englishmen the beginning of wisdom on the Irish Question. It is the needle’s eye by which alone they can enter a city otherwise forbidden to them. Let there be no misunderstanding. The attitude of mind commended to them is not without its agreeable features. Closely scrutinised, it is seen to be a sort of inverted vanity. The student begins by studying himself, an exercise in self-appraisal which need not by any means involve self-depreciation. What sort of a mind, then, is the English mind?

If there is anything in regard to which the love of friends corroborates the malice of enemies it is in ascribing to the English an individualism, hard-shelled beyond all human parallel. The Englishman’s country is an impregnable island, his house is a castle, his temperament is a suit of armour. The function common to all three is to keep things out, and most admirably has he used them to that end. At first, indeed, he let everybody in; he had a perfect passion for being conquered, and Romans, Teutons, Danes, and Normans in succession plucked and ate the apple of England. But with the coming of age of that national consciousness, the bonds of which have never been snapped, the English entered on their lucky and courageous career of keeping things out. They possess in London the only European capital that has never in the modern period been captured by an invader. They withstood the intellectual grandeur of Roman Law, and developed their own medley of customs into the most eccentric and most equitable system in the world. They kept out the Council of Trent, and the Spanish Armada. They kept out the French Revolution, and Napoleon. They kept out for a long time the Kantian philosophy, Romanticism, Pessimism, Higher Criticism, German music, French painting, and one knows not how many other of the intellectual experiments that made life worth living, or not worth living, to nineteenth-century Europe. Their insularity, spiritual as well as geographical, has whetted the edge of a thousand flouts and gibes. “Those stupid French!” exclaims the sailor, as reported by De Morgan: “Why do they go on calling a cabbage a shoe when they must know that it is a cabbage?” This was in general the attitude of what Mr Newbolt has styled the “Island Race” when on its travels. Everybody has laughed at the comedy of it, but no one has sufficiently applauded its success. The English tourist declined to be at the trouble of speaking any foreign tongue whatsoever; instantly every hotel and restaurant on the Continent was forced to learn English. He refused to read their books; a Leipsic firm at once started to publish his own, and sold him his six-shilling Clapham novels in Lucerne for two francs. He dismissed with indignation the idea of breakfasting on a roll, and bacon and eggs were added unto him. In short, by a straightforward policy of studying nobody else, he compelled everybody else to study him.

Now it is idle to deny this performance the applause which it plainly deserves. The self-evolution of England, as it may perhaps be called, in its economic, political, and literary life, offers an admirable model of concentration and energy. Even where it is a case of obtuseness to other civilisations, at least as high but of a different type, the verdict cannot be wholly unfavourable. The Kingdom of Earth is to the thick-skinned, and bad manners have a distinct vital value. A man, too sensitive to the rights and the charms of others, is in grave danger of futility. Either he will become a dilettante, which is the French way, or he will take to drink and mystical nihilism, a career very popular in Russian fiction. Bad manners have indeed a distinct ethical value. We all experience moods in which we politely assent to the thing that is not, because of the fatigue of fighting for the thing that is. A temperament such as has been delineated is therefore, as human types go, an excellent type. But it has its peculiar perils. To ignore the point of view of those in whose country you eat, drink, sleep, and sight-see may breed only minor discords, and after all you will pay for your manners in your bill. But to ignore the point of view of those whose country you govern may let loose a red torrent of tragedy. Such a temper of mind may, at the first touch of resistance, transform your stolid, laudable, laughable Englishman into the beastliest of tyrants. It may drive him into a delirium of cruelty and injustice. It may sweep away, in one ruin of war, wealth, culture, and the whole fabric of civilisation. It may darken counsel, and corrupt thought. In fact, it may give you something very like the history of the English in Ireland. Now it is not denied that most Englishmen believe the English mind to be incapable of such excesses. This, they say, is the Russian in Warsaw, the Austrian in Budapest, the Belgian in the Congo, the blind fool-fury of the Seine. But it is not the English way. Nor is it suggested that this illusion is sheer and mere hypocrisy. It is simply an hallucination of jingoism. Take a trivial instance in point. We have all read in the newspapers derisive accounts of disorderly scenes in the French Chamber or the Austrian Reichstag; we all know the complacent sigh with which England is wont on such occasions to thank God that she is not as one of those. Does anybody think that this attitude will be at all modified by recent occurrences at Westminster? By no means. Lord Hugh Cecil, his gibbering and gesticulating quite forgotten, will be assuring the House next year that the Irish are so deficient in self-restraint as to be unfit for Home Rule. Mr Smith will be deploring that intolerant temper which always impels a Nationalist to shout down, and not to argue down an opponent. Mr Walter Long will be vindicating the cause of law and order in one sentence, and inciting “Ulster” to bloodshed in the next. This is not hypocrisy, it is genius. It is also, by the way, the genesis of the Irish Question. If anyone is disposed to underrate the mad passions of which race hatred can slip the leash, let him recall the crucial examples which we have had in our own time. We have in our own time seen Great Britain inflamed by two frenzies—against France, and against the Boer Republics. In the history of public opinion there are no two chapters more discreditable. In the days of Fashoda the Frenchman was a degenerate tigre-singe, the sworn enemy of religion and soap. He had contributed nothing to civilisation except a loathsome science of sensuality, and the taint of decay was in his bones. In the days of Spion Kop the Boer was an unlaundered savage, fit only to be a target for pig-stickers. His ignorance seemed the most appalling thing in the world until one remembered his hypocrisy and his cowardice. The newspaper which led the campaign of denigration against France has come to another view. Its proprietor now divides his time between signing £10,000 cheques for triumphant French aviators, and delivering speeches in which their nation is hailed as the pioneer of all great ideas. As regards the Boers, the same reversal of the verdict of ten years ago has taken place. The crowd which in 1900 asked only for a sour appletree on which to hang General Botha, adopts him in 1911 as the idol of the Coronation. At this progress towards sanity we must all rejoice. But most of all we have to ask that these two sinister pageants of race hatred shall not be suffered to dissolve without leaving some wrack of wisdom behind. Writers on psychology have made many studies of what they call the collective illusion. This strange malady, which consists in all the world seeing something which in fact does not exist, wrought more potently on the mind of England than did reason and justice in the Home Rule controversies of 1886 and 1893. What has occurred may recur. And since we are to speak here with all the candour of private conversation I confess that I cannot devise or imagine any specific against such a recurrence except an exercise in humility of the kind suggested by Mr Chesterton. My own argument in that direction is perhaps compromised by the fact that I am an Irishman. Let us therefore fall back on other testimony. Out of the cloud of witnesses let us choose two or three, and in the first place M. Alfred Fouillée. M. Fouillée is a Platonist—the last Platonist in Europe—and consequently an amiable man. He is universally regarded as the leader of philosophy in France, a position not in the least shaken by Bergson’s brief authority. In a charming and lucid study of the “Psychology of the Peoples of Europe” Fouillée has many pages that might serve for an introduction to the Irish Question. The point of interest in his analysis is this: he exhibits Irish history as a tragedy of character, a tragedy which flows with sad, inevitable logic from a certain weakness which he notes, not in the Irish, but in the English character.

“‘In the eyes of the English,’ says Taine who had studied them so minutely, ‘there is but one reasonable civilisation, namely their own. Every other way of living is that of inferior beings, every other religion is extravagant.’ So that, one might add, the Englishman is doubly personal, first as an individual and again as a member of the most highly individualised of nations. The moment the national interest is involved all dissensions cease, there is on the scene but one single man, one single Englishman, who shrinks from no expedient that may advance his ends. Morality for him reduces itself to one precept: Safeguard at any cost the interest of England.”

Like all foreigners he takes Ireland as the one conspicuous and flaming failure of England. In that instance she has muddled, as usual, but she has not muddled through.

“The Anglo-Saxons, those great colonisers of far-off lands, have in their own United Kingdom succeeded only in inflicting a long martyrdom on Ireland. The insular situation of England had for pendant the insular situation of Ireland; the two islands lie there face to face. The English and the Irish, although intellectually very much alike, have preserved different characters. And this difference cannot be due essentially to the racial element, for nearly half Ireland is Germanic. It is due to traditions and customs developed by English oppression.”

Having summarised the main lines of British policy in Ireland, he concludes:

“It is not easy to detect here any sign of the ‘superiority of the Anglo-Saxons.'”

With Fouillée we may associate Emile Boutmy. In his “Political Psychology of the English” he declares that the haughty, taciturn, solitary, unassimilative temperament of England, so admirable from the point of view of self-development, shows its worst side and comes to a malign florescence in the history of Ireland. It explains why

“the relations of Ireland with England have been, for so many centuries, those of a captive with his jailer, those of a victim with his torturer.”

I pass over De Beaumont, Von Raumer, Perraud, Paul-Dubois, Filon, Bonn. The considerations already adduced ought to be enough to lead the English reader to certain conclusions which are fundamental. For the sake of clearness they may be repeated in all their nudity:

England has failed in Ireland.

Her failure has been due to defects of her own character, and limitations of her outlook. The same defects which corrupted her policy in the past distort her vision in the present.

Therefore, if she is to understand and to solve the Irish Question, she must begin by breaking the hard shell of her individualism, and trying to think herself into the skin, the soul, and the ideals of the Irish nation.

Now the English reader is after all human. If he has endured so far the outrage on his most sacred prejudices perpetrated in this chapter he must at this moment be hot with resentment. He must feel as if, proposing to his imagination Pear de Melba, he had in truth swallowed sand. Let me end with a more comfortable word. We have seen that Irish history is what the dramatists call an internal tragedy, the secular disclosure and slow working-out of certain flaws in the English character. I am not to be understood as ascribing horns to England and a halo to Ireland. We Irish are not only imperfect but even modest; for every beam that we detect in another eye we are willing to confess a mote in our own. The English on the other hand have been not monsters or demons, but men unstrung.

“In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be, passions spin the plot;
We are betrayed by what is false within.”

Least of all am I to be understood as ascribing to modern Englishmen any sort of planned, aforethought malice in regard to Ireland. It is what Bacon might have called a mere idol of the platform to suppose that they are filled with a burning desire to oppress Ireland. The dream of their lives is to ignore her, to eliminate from their calculations this variable constant which sheds bewilderment upon every problem. Could they but succeed in that, a very Sabbath of peace would have dawned for them. The modern Englishman is too much worried to plan the oppression of anybody. “Did you ever,” asked Lord Salisbury on a remembered occasion, “have a boil on your neck?” To the Englishman of 1911—that troubled man whose old self-sufficiency has in our own time been shattered beyond repair by Boer rifles, German shipyards, French aeroplanes—Ireland is the boil on the neck of his political system. It is the one péché de jeunesse of his nation that will not sleep in the grave of the past. Like the ghost in “Hamlet” it pursues and plagues him without respite. Shunned on the battlements it invades his most private chamber, or, finding him in talk with friends, shames and scares him with subterranean mutterings. Is there no way out of a situation so troublesome and humiliating?

There is. Ireland cannot be ignored, but she can easily be appeased. The boil is due to no natural and incurable condition. It is the direct result of certain artificial ligatures and compressions; remove these and it disappears. This spectre haunts the conscience of England to incite her not to a deed of blood but to a deed of justice; every wind is favourable and every omen. It is, indeed, true that if she is to succeed, England must do violence to certain prejudices which now afflict her like a blindness; she must deal with us as a man with men. But is not the Kingdom of Heaven taken by violence?