Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

home; and neither seek to gratify prejudice and party leanings at the expence of national aud brotherly feeling, nor suffer themselves to be deluded by the altogether miserable hope of enhancing their own importance by depreciating, ridiculing, and slandering the sons of a common soil.

But the misfortune of Ireland in having these unnatural and unworthy children is no justification or excuse for the further infliction upon her of sneers, misrepresentations, and contempt on the part of our British neighbours. Assuredly it would better become them to have consideration,-we will say compassion, if they prefer the word,-for us Irish; and to be more careful in avoiding whatever may tend to impede or weaken that thorough, hearty, kindly, good will and right understanding of each other which ought to mark the normal state of our international relations, but never can do so while English writers and speakers so thoughtlessly, or wantonly, indulge in slight, and petty insult and outrage, whenever referring to Ireland and the Irish. The legal and political ties of the two countries, may be drawn tight as such ties can be; but so long as the strength of moral ties is wanting,—and wanting it must be when dislike and ill-feeling are being continually generated by these continual provocations-the connexion will ever wear a character of compulsion, of most unhappy prestige and effect at the moment, and of equally unhappy augury for any imperial emergency of the remote future.

At first sight it may perhaps appear that we are making rather too much of this inconsiderate practice. But even if the instances of it are to be accounted trifles, yet as before remarked, trifles after all make up the sum of our daily troubles and cares, and leave their mark upon us in life. And there is not an Irishman, of whatever class or party he may be, who if he indulge in a moment's self-examination, and candidly declare the result, will not confess to having many times felt, and felt sorely, the particular annoyances in question, and the lurking bitterness they have occasioned Besides which we must add that the instances patently and indisputably of grave importance are by no means far to seek. One of them is forced directly and immediately upon our notice by this book of Sir George Nicholls. We connot bring ourselves to treat as of light consequence the manner and spirit, no more than the substantial nature, of his interferences, legislative and literary, with our concerns.

in his breast.

There is not, of course, nor can there be, any impeachment of his personal respectability and honesty of purpose. Nor indeed if his interferences have, as we believe, been injudicious and harmful, is the blame of originating them to lie upon him. He was chosen out and specially commissioned for the purpose; and it is to the Government or Chief Minister of the day, who made the choice, and gave the commission, and not to him, that the blame and the shame should revert. His self-opinion was naturally excited to the uttermost by the selection, particularly under the circumstances attending it; and there can be little wonder at his consequent blindness to the difficulties and hazards of the task before him. Of course, however, the same excuse ceased to exist when his ignorance of their magnitude and utter ignorance of Ireland began to be dissipated.

The circumstances of his selection and "First Report" were shortly these. A demand, springing from several motives→→ jealousy of Ireland's exemption from any public burthen to which Great Britain was liable, impatience at the presence of Irish paupers in the English workhouses, and a desire to throw at all hazards the support of Irish poverty upon Ireland, while her wealth should continue as theretofore to flow into and be spent in England-had been for a long time made for the establishment of poor laws in this country, by the influential middle classes of the sister kingdom, and about the year 1833 had acquired such potency that a special commission to enquire into and report upon the subject of a Poor Law system for Ireland was nominated and set to work. That commission, to use Sir George Nicholls' own words, (p. 129) was composed "of men specially selected for the task, and standing deservedly high in public estimation for talent and acquirements." They made three most elaborate and painstaking reports, full of valuable matter and important and well considered suggestions. But their views and recommendations not promising to satisfy the increasing clamour in England, Lord John Russell threw them overboard, and sent Sir George, then plain Mr. Nicholls, to report in the way desired and recommend up to the mark of what the clamourers demanded!!

[ocr errors]

He shall now speak for himself, pp. 157-8, &c., of the work we are reviewing:

:

On the 22nd of August, 1836, I received directions to proceed to Ireland, taking with me the Reports of the Commissioners, and

there to examine how far it might be judicious or practicable to offer relief to whole classes of the poor, whether of the sick, the infirm, or orphan children-whether such relief might not have the effect of promoting imposture, without destroying mendicity-whether the condition of the great bulk of the poorer classes would be improved by such & measure whether a rate limited in its amount, rather than in its' application, might be usefully directed to the erection and maintenance of workhouses, for all those who sought relief as paupers-whether any kind of workhouse can be established which should not give its inmates a superior degree of comfort to the common lot of the independent laborer-whether the restraint of a workhouse would be a sufficient check to applicants for admission; and whether, if the system were once established, the inmates would not resist, by force, the restraint which would be necessary.

Supposing the workhouse system not to be advisable, I was directed to consider in what other mode a national or local raté might be beneficially applied, and to examine the policy of establishing depôts where candidates for emigration might resort. My attention was also specially directed to the machinery by which rates for the relief of the poor, might be raised and expended; and to the formation and constitution of a central board, of local boards, of district unions, and of parochial vestries. I was also directed to inquire whether the capital applied to the improvement of land, and the reclaiming of bogs and wastes, was preceptibly or notoriously increasing, or diminishing, and to remark generally upon any plans which might lead to an increased demand for labour; and lastly, to carefully read the bills which had been brought into the House of Commons on this subject, during that year, and the draft of a bill prepared by one of the Commissioners of Inquiry in conformity with their report.

As he himself says, "the proposed inquiry was sufficiently ertensive;" and he adds that he "entered upon the duty with a deep sense of the responsibility it involved." Such a feeling was but natural, especially as he had never been in Ireland in all his life, and knew nothing at all about her. Under these eircumstances, what was the period of time that intervened. between his undertaking the task and his first and main report ?-exactly NINE WEEKS!!!

Nine weeks inclusive of preliminary visits to workhouses in London, days travelling by coach (no railroad then open save from Manchester to Liverpool) voyages across channel, Sundays, &c. &c. "Early in September" he began, as he informs us, and on the 15th of November presented his completed report, having travelled, enquired, visited, meditated, digested, jotted down roughly the fruits of his labours and researches, sketched out and finally fitted in, clean copied, and as we have said presented his report, all in that short space!!!

The aim of fiction is to represent and imitate truth, but while it is occasionally said to be less strange than its prototype, it will oftenest err on the side of extravagance. The amusing incident in Dickens's first and best work, the immortal Pickwick Papers, of the "famous foreign Count" who professes to have gathered "materials for his great work on England"-"history, music, pictures, science, politics, all things!" in one fortnight, was of course a caricature of ignorant presumption and so intended to be. But if the author had chanced to have written. nine instead of two weeks, there would, however still absurdly short the term, have been no caricature in the case at all, as it could have been at once paralleled by citing that of Mr. Nicholls' post chaise and post haste report!

Those who do know Ireland, and have experience of the many problems and time-tangled difficulties of her social and economic condition, will appreciate the hardihood at any rate, if not the "Heaven-born statesmanship," of the unhesitating dogmatist who undertook in such brief space to pronounce authoritatively and definitively upon such questions as those contained in the "three parts or principal divisions" into which Sir George Nicholls describes his first report to have been by him divided; specifying those "principal divisions" as follows, viz:

"First, the general result of inquiries into the condition, habits, and feelings of the people, especially with regard to the introduction of a law for the relief of the poor."

"Second, the question whether the workhouse system could with safety and advantage be established in Ireland; and also whether the means for creating an efficient union machinery existed there."

"Third: assuming these questions to be answered affirmatively, the chief points requiring attention in framing a poor law for Ireland were in the last part considered."

We have italicised the first branch of the third of these postulates, because the wording not inaptly sums up the great prevailing characteristic of the whole report. There was assumption" of facts "assumption" of arguments, and astounding assumption and presumption in pronouncing and deciding!

[ocr errors]

It might be supposed that whether the hurry of the first visit were altogether voluntary or altogether involuntary, or partly the one and partly the other, an ordinary regard for the opinions

of men and for the bienséances of life would have induced a speedy return when leisure allowed, and a more prolonged visit to Ireland, to have the appearance at least of revising and correcting the inevitable errors of haste, and adding the fruits of more searching enquiry and maturer study.

Sir George Nicholls did visit Ireland again, and on the business of her poor law. But not till the end of the month of August in the next year, and then for the space of five weeks! Early in September he left it, and early in November presented his second,and for all practical purposes, his final report. It is true there was a third report in the succeeding year, but though nominally having reference to Ireland, it was in reality a report upon the poor law systems of Holland and Belgium, and here too he displayed his Camilla-like celerity; having "done" Holland and Belgium and reported on their manners and customs, social economy, natural and artificial resources and future prospects, in the course of three short weeks!!!

Is it not reasonable to venture here the remark, that there would really have been more of decency in the manner of imposing Poor Laws upon Ireland, if these flying visits and flippant mockeries of enquiry had never taken place at all! The power as well as the will to impose the legislation in question were absolutely possessed by England. Ireland could make no effective opposition, even if united against its introduction, instead of having not a few of her influential children misled and carried away by its plausibilities and apparent, but most delusive benevolence of spirit. Why not then have boldly established it at once, and not have mocked us in the face of the Empire and of Europe, by forms and preliminaries too transparent to deceive the simplest mind, and most unworthy of the dignity of England herself.

We have now reviewed with briefness, but for the present at least with sufficiency, the manner of what we have called Sir George Nicholls' interferences with us. We have properly to treat next of their tone and spirit; after which we shall go into some of the leading details of their substance.

In his early reports he accuses the Irish people of " filth and indolence," " idleness, fondness for tobacco and whiskey,"neglect of their harvests at critical moments for the sake of a "fair, a horse race, a funeral, a fight, a wedding," &c., " recklessness," "fondness for ardent spirits," "no industry nor steadiness, proneness to disorderly conduct and outrage, turbulence, and

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »