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Nations in many respects resemble private individuals, and in none more than this,—that those which apparently have most cause to be content, often exhibit the strongest symptoms of uneasiness and dissatisfaction. The poor man who can earn enough for his decent support, jogs on quietly through the vale of humble life, while they who seem to want nothing are frequently the prey of restlessness and discontent. I question whether the world, at any period, has been able to furnish such a living picture as Great Britain now exhibits, of public and private prosperity, of high cultivation, of extended commerce, of opulent inhabitants, of national renown, of general knowledge, and of individual happiness. Sure I am, that it would be vain to think of finding a parallel to it in any era of her own history, previous, at least, to the last forty or fifty years. How much more indulgent soever nature may have been to other countries, in excellence of climate, fertility of soil, or felicity of situation,—or whatever advantages their inhabitants may have derived from the culture of some peculiar arts,—where is the candid and intelligent stranger, who, returning to his own country after an intimate acquaintance with England, will hesitate to acknowledge the decided superiority of the Empress of the Ocean, the free and happy Island?
Where will he find such an aristocracy as that which the great landed proprietors of Great Britain present to his view? Where will he look for such a profusion of magnificent seats, or such a number of munificent proprietors? Where will he behold such a description of tenantry as that which flourishes under the auspices of that noble and high-tninded aristocracy? Where else is he to seek for a land which will shew him among her Esquires men who almost look down upon Royal honours, and whose pride is, not to accept titles, but to decline them? Where will he find such a House of Peers, such an assembly of Representatives, as are presented to his view in both Houses of the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain? Where can he hope to behold such wealth, spirit, intelligence, generosity, and enterprize, as are centred in that vast and respectable body composing the mercantile interest of Great Britain ?—Volumes, not pages, are required, for giving even a very brief detail of the several items which make up the sum-total of British industry, British power, and British prosperity. Years, not days, would suffice to make a person acquainted with the immense extent and variety of her arts, her manufactures, her literary attainments, her cultivated lands, and her commercial cities ; and did circumstances permit, I do not know how A
a man of curious and intelligent mind could for years be so delightfully and so instructively employed. All the rest of the world can not, the whole of the old world never could, boast such a throne, such a senate, such a country, and such a people!
Are we now to be told, that this great country is ill governed, that her constitution is imperfect, and that her legislature wants reform? I laugh at an assertion, of which every man, who enjoys only the sense of sight, must discern the palpable absurdity. Could such an empire have grown, can such a state of things be found, under an ill govermrlent? Impossible. Is it to be believed, that there exists any want of imperial protection, of wise administration, of legislative vigilance, in a country, the moral and intellectual character of whose people has attained the highest summit of honourable distinction, whose trade embraces the world, and the opulence and industry of whose private citizens enable them to accomplish the most arduous undertakings, and to rival princes in generosity and magnificence? Impossible. The defects, for defects will be found in everything connected with humanity, are not in the system, but in those who would abuse it. I can readily understand that the country may be governed worse—I cannot easily conceive, with fair allowance for mortal frailty, that it could be governed better. Will a wise man risk the stability of a form of government, capable of conferring such blessings, on the vain hope of renovating its strength, or enlarging its powers, by a change of system? Will he give up the conscious certainty of Good enjoyed, for the fallacious promise of theoretic perfection? Would he do so, if the characters of the theorists were recommended by the highest excellence of moral principle, exemplary conduct, and benevolent intention? and if not, will he listen for a moment to counsellors of such character as the reformists of the present day generally possess? No, unquestionably he will not; because, if he did, he would forfeit his pretension!), not to wisdom only, but to common prudence, common honesty, and common sense. I speak as a mere individual partaker of the general welfare. I have no personal connection with the exercisers of power, or their agents or instruments, directly or in
directly; but as a subject of the imperial realm, I profess my unwillingness to change a single foundationstone of that political structure, which long time, profound wisdom, and fortunate circumstances, have concurred to construct—which surrounding nations find it much more easy to admire than to imitate—which, once shaken, may never recover its stability— and which owes its great value, not to symmetrical order, or regularity of form, but to the strength of its buttresses, the durability of its roof, and the substantial comforts of its internal arrangement, and its multiplied accommodations.
If Great Britain be as I have described it, whence, it may be asked, can so much discontent arise—discontent, not merely confined to hairbrained experimentalists, Jacobin reformers, desperate adventurers, or idle profligates, but pervading occasionally superior classes, and bearing in its train recruits from every profession, clerical, military, legal, literary, and even senatorial? The answer is obvious—it arises from the nature and constitution of man, being a proof as well as a consequence of free government; a natural excess of that liberty which permits sentire (jiub velis,jari <juce sentias. In such a government, where the community is large, there will be numerous candidates for place and power, and all cannot be successful. Disappointment will be experienced more or less in other pursuits; and as no one is willing to acknowledge deficiency in himself, he is naturally disposed to account for failure on some other ground than his own ill fortune or ill conduct. Misgovernment immediately presents itself as at once a pretext and consolation for miscarriage—a convenient butt for the arrows of malignity —an abundant receptacle for all the overflowings of angry and irritated minds. As discontent is naturally querulous, as it requires little talent to find fault, still less to vituperate, and least of all to falsify, he must be deficient in judgment, indeed, who forms his estimate of the country's real state from factious clamour, from party journals, tumultuary meetings, reforming demagogues, and opposition orators. To obtain a true knowledge of the actual situation and nature of things, he must take a cool, patient, and comprehensive view of the whole; to form a correct judgment of the British Government, he must examine all its curious and complicated machinery, the harmonious operation of whose parts will surprise him much more than the occasional irregularity of a few movements. The great cause of astonishment to a sound and soher mind will be, that any who live under its protection, who have been born within its precincts, and whose attachment ought to have been strengthened by the impressions of early prepossession, should be foolish or wicked enough to harbour sentiments derogatory to its fame, or subversive of its establishment. I am not one of those who feel serious alarm from the insidious designs of tke literary undenniner, or the more open attacks of the factious. The sterling weight of solid learning and sound talent is on the side of the constitution, and there is a steadiness of character in the British people which will, I trust, for ever defeat the secret machinations of the pretended friend, as well as the undisguised enmity of the audacious aggressor. Real danger, as it appears to me, is only to be apprehended from a want of union and firmness in Government—from a ministry who would be weak enough to concede too much to that restless spirit of change, with which so many, under the pretence of reform, are either deluded themselves, or endeavouring to delude others.
But, alas! poor Ireland! though marked, both by size and situation, as the associate, not the slave, of the sister Island, though now at length indisputably connected with her fortunes, governed by the same crown, subject to the same laws, represented in the same Parliament, and scarce less favoured by the fertilizing hand of benignant nature, the just reporter •of your internal state has a different and far less gratifying representation to make.
In endeavouiing to give a clear, though succinct, account of the real state of Ireland, it is not dealing fairly to make her sit for her picture in the hour of distress, to take our view of her features while under the influence of a depression, in which all the nations of Europe have participated, and from the shock of which even the superior wealth and resources of English agriculturists are bat now beginning to re*
cover. Their numerous petitions to Parliament, complaining of agricultutural distress, spoke a language as melancholy and despairing as the famous petition of their ancestors to the senate of Italy, when the Roman protection was obliged to be withdrawn. In their despondency they predicted a general bankruptcy of both landlord and tenant, a death-blow to agriculture, and little less than national ruin. They had their Hockites too, some riots, and some burnings, though soon checked by the vigilance of the magistracy, and the general respect of a long civilized people to the salutary authority of the laws. Ireland, from various circumstances, has hitherto derived her principal wealth from the productions of her land, from what is called the provision trade—from cattle, and from corn; for both of which, and more especially the former, the nature of the climate, and the fertility of the soil, are well adapted. It cannot surely be matter of surprise, that what was disastrously felt by a people possessing so many resources, so abundant in wealth, and so superior in civilization, should be productive of deep and bitter calamity in a country deriving its staple, almost its only support, from that very branch of industry which the sudden change of European politics had so deeply and unexpectedly paralysed. War, which impoverishes other countries, has long been an enricher of Ireland, by employing her spare hands, and consuming her superabundant provisions. But the harvest was generally short, and the gainers, regarding it only as a temporary resource, were probably better husbands of the profits. The unusual duration of the last war seems to have given it the character of interminable. The longer it lasted, the less it seemed likely to end. What was got with ease was spent with profusion; none seem to have speculated on a decrease of income. Rents, which had been paid for fifteen or twenty years, appeared, beyond the danger of reduction; estates were loaded with charges proportionate to their supposed eternity of value ; prices, which tor many years had been advancing, might, it was thought, rise, but could never recede; and when the shock did come, there was general alarm, general dismay, general discontent, and general distress, because there was no preparation for an event, which, however distant, must have arrived at last.
The Irishman. No. II.
The substitution of paper for cash —a measure which nothing but the direst necessity could justify, and to which, under Providence, Great Britain has been indebted for the successful support, and the glorious termination of her long protracted struggle with the Gallic Usurper—unfortunately contributed to increase the evil. The facility of obtaining money when the stamp of a banker could create a circulating medium, gave a spur to speculation, of which Irish ardour made a most improvident use. That an after reckoning must come, seemed never to be contemplated either by the lender or the borrower; and such was the peculiar state of things at one time, that the only person in danger of real suffering was the actual capitalist. The bankers, of whom an inordinate number started up, who issued their hundreds of thousands, less on the credit of their houses, than on the credulity of the public, and who lived like princes while that credulity lasted, whatever injury they might do to others, could do little to themselves by becoming bankrupts. Speculators, who, with the aid of a bold front, and a new coat, got deep into their books and precipitated their failures, sported for a while in adventurous notoriety, and by their fall injured only the lenders.
The money expended by these adventurers in cotton and paper-works, corn-mills, and various other schemes, though, while it lasted, much advantage seemed to accrue in consequence ot the employment given to tradesmen and labourers, &c. yet was it in reality injurious, by advancing wages, and increasing a circulation of paper already too large, as well as from the suddenness and frequency of their failures. Many of them had even address enough to repeat their bankruptcies by obtaining fresh credit, and persuading their dupes that the way to recover an old debt was by making a new one. The failure of banks was more extensively injurious, as it affected almost the whole body of the peasantry within the range of their issues, whose chief means of meeting the several demands upon them were those very notes which the shutting of a door had converted from moneyed
value into worthless paper. They sustained also very serious losses through the means of corn-buyers, of whom many started up in different parts of the country, outbidding each other, and receiving grain into their stores on the promise of more high prices, many of which were never paid.
These, however, were not the worst evils which persons deriving income immediately from land, and particularly the laborious cultivator, had to encounter. A British reader can scarce conceive, and will be unwilling to believe, the extravagant extent to which land-letting and land-jobbing were here carried. I know that in several parts of Great Britain there was much competition for farms, and that rents rose to an unusual and inordinate height. But Irish land-jobbing was quite a different thing, and involved a much greater variety of persons in difficulty, in distress, and in ruin. When, in consequence of an unrestricted circulation of paper, and a readj*demand for every species of provision, the price of land's produce rose beyond all former example, to make fortunes by farms was the favourite object of every country speculator. As the duration of those prices was never doubted, all that seemed necessary to success was to become tenant to as much ground as possible, and to secure the continuance of such valuable interests by length of lease. The rent which a man might thus bind himself to pay, was a minor consideration, as he always looked toanincreasing value, particularly where the farm was susceptible of any improvement. How, as he represented the matter to himself, could it be otherwise, when twenty stone of wheat brought three pounds, and frequently more, and when all the other marketable articles of a farm were in proportion? The number of these competing land-jobbers, among whom were gentlemen of real property as well as greedy adventurers, necessarily raised the market upon themselves, and gave an additional stimulus to enterprise, originating from avarice, fostered by ignorance, and founded on delusion. Every nobleman and gentleman who had lands to let, was besieged by suitors and applicants vying with each other for the happy privilege of becoming tenant at any rent they might be pleased to require, tempting the needy landlord
with fines, and soliciting the favour of agents by bribes, which, it may be supposed, were not always rejected. There were no doubt a few, whom cooler judgment exempted from the danger of such excesses; but, generally speaking, both land-owner and landholder submitted to a deception, on which one cannot now reflect without the utmost degree of wonder and astonishment. Thousands of engagements were then made, which were impossible to be kept, and many sums of money sunk in speculations as foolish and deceptious as the famous South Sea Bubble, a project bearing great similitude, in absurdity at least, to the late Irish rage for land-letting and land-jobbing. Numbers of persons, substantially wealthy and respectable, who speculated in this manner, have been reduced to a state little short of absolute indigence. Many have been obliged to pay douceurs for being permitted to relinquish their bargains, at the loss of all the money expended in bribes, fines, or improvements; several were under the necessity of flying the country, in order to get rid of rash and ruinous obligations; and some, who strutted for a while in fine clothes, and sported fashionable gigs, on the strength of profit rents and farm incomes, have been reduced to the humble mediocrity of a plain coat and a walking-stick.
What then, need I say, at the bursting of the bubble, must have been the condition of the Irish peasantry, of that class from whose labours all those emoluments, present and perspective, were to accrue, and on whom was imposed a burden of rent to the utmost verge of what their ability was able to undergo? Such, however, was the idea universally entertained of agricultural capability, that they were as ready to give high rents as the land-letter was to require them, and for a time, and a long time too, they not only paid high rents, but prospered on the payment. They wore good clothes, rode good horses, drank liberally, quarrelled lustily, and married superabundantly. For the fortnight preceding Lent—for marriages are seldom contracted at any other time—the priest's hands'were full of business, and joyous wedding parties crowded the roads leading to his house from every part of the parish. A visitor, forming his judgment from this
The Irishman. No. II.annual exhibition of matrimonial mer-