صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

enough in the abstract; but the particular nature of land must be attended to.....Any one who lets out a steam engine, or any other machine, for the purposes of manufacture, would naturally take the highest price he could get; for he might either let his machine for a price proportionate to the work it did, or the repairs, estimable with the greatest precision, might be thrown upon the tenant. In land, on the contrary, the object is not to get the highest prices, absolutely, but to get the highest prices which will not injure the machine. One tenant may offer and pay double the rent of another, and in a few years leave the land in a state which will effectually bar all future offers of tenancy. It is of no use to fill a lease full of clauses and covenants; a tenant who pays more than he ought to pay, or who pays even to the last farthing which he ought to pay, will rob the land, and injure the machine, in spite of all the attorneys in England. He will rob it even if he means to remain upon it-driven on by present distress, and anxious to put off the day of defalcation and arrear. The damage is often difficult of detection; not easily calculated, not easily to be proved; such for which juries (themselves perhaps farmers) will not willingly give sufficient compensation. And if this is true in England, it is much more strikingly true in Ireland, where it is extremely difficult to obtain verdicts for breaches of covenant in leases.

The only method, then, is to give the actual occupier a real interest in retaining his contract, and not to drive him, by the distresses of the present moment, to destroy the future productiveness of the soil. Any rent which the landlord accepts more than this, or any system by which more rent than this is obtained, is to borrow money upon the most usurious and profligate interest -to increase the revenue of the present day by the absolute ruin of the property. Such is the effect produced by a middleman : he gives high prices, that he may obtain higher from the occupier; and not only is the property injured by such a system, but in Ireland the most shocking consequences ensue from it. There is little manufacture in Ireland ; the price of labour is low, the demand for labour irregular. If a poor man is driven, by distress of rent, from his potato garden, he has no other resource -all is lost : he will do the impossible (as the French say) to retain it; subscribe any bond, and promise any rent. The middleman has no character to lose; and he knew when he took up the occupation, that it was one with which pity had nothing to do. On he drives ; and backward the poor peasant recedes, losing something at every step, till he comes to the very brink of despair ; and then he recoils and murders his oppressors, and is a White Boy or a Right Boy : the soldier shoots him, and the judge hangs him.

6

In the debate which took place in the Irish House of Commons, upon the bill for preventing tumultuous risings and assemblies, on the 31st of January, 1787, the attorney-general submitted to the house the following narrative of facts.

* The commencement,' said he was in one or two parishes in the county of Kerry; and they proceeded thus. The people assembled in a Catholic Chapel, and there took an oath to obey the laws of Captain Right, and to starve the clergy. They then proceeded to the next parishes, on the following Sunday, and

there swore the people in the same manner ; with this addition, that they (the people last sworn) should, on the ensuing Sunday, proceed to the Chapels of their next neighbouring parishes, and swear the inhabitants of those parishes in like manner. Pro'ceeding in this manner, they very soon went through the

pro'vince of Munster. The first object was the reformation of tithes. • They swore not to give more than a certain price per acre ; not to assist, or allow them to be assisted, in drawing the tithe, and to permit no proctor. They next took upon them to prevent the collection of parish cesses ; next to nominate parish clerks, and in some cases curates ; to say what church should or should not be repaired; and in one case to threaten that they would burn a new church, if the old one were not given for a 'mass-house. At last, they proceeded to regulate the price of

lands; to raise the price of labour; and to oppose the collection of the hearth-money, and other taxes. Bodies of 5000

of them have been seen to march through the country unarmed, and if met by any magistrate, they never offered the smallest rudeness or offence; on the contrary, they had allowed persons charged with crimes to be taken from amongst them by the magistrate alone, unaided by any force.'

• The attorney-general said, he was well acquainted with the ‘province of Munster, and that it was impossible for human • wretchedness to exceed that of the peasantry of that province.

The unhappy tenantry were ground to powder by relentless • landlords; that, far from being able to give the clergy their just dues, they had not food or raiment for themselves—the landlord grasped the whole; and sorry was he to add, that, not 6 satisfied with the present extortion, some landlords had been so 'base as to instigate the insurgents to rob the clergy of their tithes; not in order to alleviate the distresses of the tenantry, ' but that they might add the clergy's share to the cruel rack"rents they already paid. The poor people of Munster lived in a more abject state of poverty than human nature could be sup'posed equal to bear.'--Grattan's Speeches, Vol. I. 292.

We are not, of course, in such a discussion, to be governed by names. A middleman might be tied up by legal restriction, as

6

to the price he was to exact from the under-tenants. The practice to which we object, is the method of extorting the last farthing which the tenant is willing to give for land, rather than quit it; and the machinery by which such practice is carried into effect, is that of the middleman. It is not only that it ruins the land; it ruins the people also. They are made so poorbrought so near the ground—that they can sink no lower; and burst out at last into all the acts of desperation and revenge, for which Ireland is so notorious. Men who have money in their pockets, and find that they are improving in their circumstances, don't do these things. Opulence, or the hope of opulence or comfort, is the parent of decency, order, and submission to the laws. A landlord in Ireland understands the luxury of carriages and horses ; but has no relish for the greater luxury of surrounding himself with a moral and grateful tenantry. The absent proprietor looks only to revenue, and cares nothing for the disorder and degradation of a country which he never means to visit. There are very honourable exceptions to this charge; but there are too many living instances that it is just. The rapacity of the Irish landlord induces him to allow of the extreme division of his lands. When the daughter marries, a little portion of the little farm is broken off-another corner for Patrick, and another for Dermot-till the land is broken into sections, upon one of which an English cow could not stand. Twenty mansions of misery are thus reared instead of one. A louder cry of oppression is lifted up to heaven; and fresh enemies to the English name, and power, are multiplied on the earth. The Irish gentlemen, too, are extremely desirous of political influence, by multiplying freeholds and splitting votes; and this propensity tends, of course, to increase the miserable redundance of living beings, under which Ireland is groaning. Among the manifold wretchedness to which the poor Irish tenant is liable, we must not pass over the practice of driving for rent. A lets land to B, who lets it to C, who lets it again to D. D pays C his rent, and C pays B. But if B fails to pay A, the cattle of B, C, D, are all driven to the pound, and, after the interval of a few days, sold by auction. A general driving of this kind very frequently leads to a bloody insurrection. It may be ranked among the classical grievances of Ireland,

Potatoes enter for a great deal into the present condition of Ireland. They are much cheaper than wheat; and it is so easy to rear a family upon them, that there is no check to population from the difficulty of procuring food. The population therefore goes on with a rapidity approaching almost to that of new countries, and in a much greater ratio than the improving agriculture and manufactures of the country can find employment for it.

All degrees of all nations begin with living in pig-sties. The king or the priest first gets out of them; then the noble, then the pauper, in proportion as each class becomes more and more opulent: Better tastes arise from better circumstances; and the luxury of one period is the wretchedness and poverty of another. English peasants, in the time of Henry the Seventh, were lodged as badly as Irish peasants now are ; but the population was limited by the difficulty of procuring a corn subsistence. The improvements of this kingdom were more rapid ; the price of labour rose; and, with it, the luxury and comfort of the peasant, who is now decently lodged and clothed. But the Irish have increased their population so fast, and, in conjunction with the oppressive government retarding improvement, have kept the price of labour so low, that the Irish poor have never been able to emerge from their mud cabins, or to acquire any taste for cleanliness and decency of appearance. Mr. Curwen has the following description of Irish cottages.

• These mansions of miserable existence, for so they may truly 'be described, conformably to our general estimation of those indispensable comforts requisite to constitute the happiness of rational beings, are most commonly composed of two rooms on the ground floor, a most appropriate term, for they are literally on • the earth; the surface of which is not unfrequently reduced a ' foot or more, to save the expense of so much outward walling. · The one is a refectory, the other the dormitory. The furniture

of the former, if the owner ranks in the upper part of the scale of scantiness, will consist of a kitchen dresser, well provided • and highly decorated with crockery-not less apparently the

pride of the husband, than the result of female vanity in the • wife : which, with a table-a chest--a few stools and an iron pot, complete the catalogue of conveniences generally found, as belonging to the cabin; while a spinning-wheel, furnished by the Linen Board, and a loom, ornament vacant spaces, that

otherwise would remain unfurnished. In fitting up the latter, * which cannot, on any occasion, or by any display, add a • feather to the weight or importance expected to be excited by

the appearance of the former, the inventory is limited to one, . and sometimes two beds, serving for the repose of the whole

family! However downy these may be to limbs impatient for • rest, their coverings appeared to be very slight; and the whole

of the apartment created reflections of a very painful nature. • Under such privations, with a wet mud floor, and a roof in tatters, how idle the search for comforts !--Curwen, I. 112, 113. To this extract we shall add one more on the same subject.

* The gigantic figure, bare-headed before me, had a beard that * would not have disgraced an ancient Israelite he was without

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

6

6

shoes or stockings--and almost a sans-culotte-with a coat, or rather a jacket, that appeared as if the first blast of wind would tear it to tatters. Though his garb was thus tattered, he had a 'manly commanding countenance. I asked permission to see the * inside of his cabin, to which I received his most courteous assent. On stooping to enter at the door I was stopped, and found that permission from another was necessary before I could be admitted. A pig, which was fastened to a stake driven into the floor, with length of rope sufficient to permit him the enjoyment ! of sun and air, demanded some courtesy, which I showed him,

and was suffered to enter. The wife was engaged in boiling thread; and by her side, near the fire, a lovely infant was sleep‘ing, without any covering, on a bare board. Whether the fire 'gave additional glow to he countenance of the babe, or that Nature impressed on its unconscious cheek a blush that the lot

of man should be exposed to such privations, I will not decide ; .but if the cause be referrible to the latter, it was in perfect uni

son with my own feelings. Two or three other children crowded round the mother: on their rosy countenances health seemed

established in spite of filth and ragged garments. The dress of the poor woman was barely sufficient to satisfy decency. Her

countenance bore the impression of a set melancholy, tinctured with an appearance of ill health. The hovel, which did not • exceed twelve or fifteen feet in length, and ten in breadth, was • half obscured by smoke-chimney or window I saw none : the door served the various purposes of an inlet to light, and the outlet to smoke. The furniture consisted of two stools, an iron pot, and a spinning-wheel-while a sack stuffed with straw, and a single blanket laid on planks, served as a bed for the repose of the whole family. I could not long remain a witness to this acme of human misery. As I left the deplorable habitation,

the mistress followed me to repeat her thanks for the trifle I had • bestowed : This gave me an opportunity of observing her person more particularly. She was a tall figure, her countenance composed of interesting features, and with every appearance of having once been handsome.

· Unwilling to quit the village without first satisfying myself • whether what I had seen was a solitary instance, or a sample of its general state; or whether the extremity of poverty I had just beheld had arisen from peculiar improvidence and want of management in one wretched family; I went into an adjoining - habitation, where I found a poor old woman of eighty, whose • miserable existence was painfully continued by the maintenance • of her granddaughter. Their condition if possible, was more deplorable.'-Curwen, I. 181-183.

This wretchedness, of which all strangers who visit Ireland VOL. II.

61

6

[ocr errors]

6

6

6

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »