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The times are troublous,- not devoid of agitation and peril, and ominous of greater trouble yet to come. All over Europe, the long peace is broken, and the fountains of the great deep are opening up. To those who see clearly, the heads of two or three chief perils are already visible above the agitated waters, menacing the welfare of our State, both from without and from with in. The country feels instinctively that we are on the brink of important events, and probably also of changes in our foreign and domestic policy, which, for good or for evil, will give a new aspect to the Empire. For ourselves, we have no forebodings as to the issue. At home, if we lose in some respects by impending changes, we shall gain-and we believe gain more_in others. And abroad, if our influence on the Conti. Dent experience a rude shock a year or two bence, it will only serve to throw us into closer union with our true allies, the free-born Anglo-Saxon Powers of the sea. There is never a grand contest without great vicissi. tudes; but we know enough of the history of the British nation to have faith in its future, and to feel convinced that once the crisis comes, and our somnolent people gather up their strength to meet it, Old England will again weather the storm, and, despite the forebodings of the late Premier, ride through the troubled seas into a haven of new prosperity.
History is the great Mentor. « What is nearest," said Dr. Johnson, "touches us most." A tiny leaf at band appears as big as a hill at a distance; and amidst the anxieties of the present, we are
ever apt to take an erroneous view of the proportions and character of the events which are whirling about us. To appearance, there is little plan or conDexion in them : they come few know whence, and seem to throng about us in a chance-medley, like the wild dance of leaves in the October gale. But a grand sequence and sympathy pervade them all. The events of each age have a family-likeness, and a common parentage in the past. If you would see what they really are, whence they come, and whither they are tending, Get up higher ; leave the level of your own times, and from the heights of History look down. As the traveller on the lofty summit of frozen Jura or burning Etna, sees every object in the lower world in its true proportions, has every feature of the scene in view at once, and can follow each winding of road and river, and track them to their goal, -- so does History, well read, lift us up as to some calm pinnacle of the upper air, where the joint light of Reason and the Past reveals to us the Future. Let us appeal, then, from the misgivings and trepidations of the hour to the voice of history; and from the story of past troubles draw a lesson of present comfort and reassurance.
Twenty-five years ago! Any on who was old enough to be a thinking man then, must remember how grave were the times. For fifteen years before, the whole country bad been suffering. With the exception of a few prosperous gleams, which could almost be reckoned by months, the times bad been gloomy, and the people murmur. ing. Complaints and petitions to Par
* " History of Europe from the Fall of Napoleon, in 1815, to the Accession of Louis Napoleon, in 1852." By Sir A. Alison, Bart., D.C.L. Vol. IV. 1855.
VOL. XLVI.NO. CCLXXI.
liament for redress were unceasing; years of the reign of Louis Philippe, and now in one part of the kingdom, comprising as its most important events now in another_now in the towns, now the revolt of Belgium and the Polish in the country, and sometimes in both Insurrection and war of 1831. As a simultaneously-riots, strikes, and de necessary consequence, the principles vastation took place. The whole land wedded to these events and epoch was in a grumble, as if the spirit of the namely, those connected with reform earthquake were moving underneath. and the currency, with foreign interPerhaps the misery of those times is vention and the balance of power in more inexplicable than that of any Europe-are the themes whose discusother portion of our history. It ex sion forms the salt of the volume and tended to the farmer and manufacturer, the moral of the narrative. In reality, to landlord and labourer alike. In these themes are as interesting at the fifteen years after Waterloo, eighteen present day as they were a quarter of millions of taxes were struck off, and a century ago. He reads the times yet misery co-existed with this un. wrongly who imagines that the first paralleled reduction. The universal two of them are not destined soon to phenomenon was, that wages and prices become the subject of fresh discussion were falling, and that credit (that very in the legislature; and as for questions life of a community, without which en connected with foreign policy and war, terprise collapses, and industry stands are we not already in the thick of still) fluctuated and was shaken - them? symptoms that the country had been Let us give a brief glance to the overbled by the Currency Restriction leading features of the epoch treated Acts, and that the circulation did not of in this volume. Ireland was the flow steadily or in sufficient abundance. weak part of the kingdom, and there This main cause of the malady, how the general distress took earliest and ever, was too subtile and recondite in deepest root. The picture given of its nature to be generally perceived or the peasantry (that is to say, the understood ; and the consequence was, mass of the people) of that country, by that all classes, suffering and groping Mr. North, an Irish barrister of ability, blindly for a cure, came at length to in 1824, though probably suggested a attribute the national malady to politi. little for the sake of epigrammatic excal causes, and to seek a remedy in or- pression, tells a tale of long-standing ganic changes of the Constitution. The wretchedness. “In Ireland,” said he, Constitution did need altering,--the "the people have for a series of years people were ready to try anything in suffered every variety of misery; they the search for deliverance froin evil, have proceeded from one affliction to the Whig agitators roused the passions another. Each season brought its peby inflammatory appeals and delusive culiar horror. In one it was famine; hopes, -and at length the flood of re- in the next it was fever; in the third volutionary excitement rose so high, it was murder. These sad events that everything seemed giving way be seemed to form a perpetual cycle, the fore it ; and an ignorantly-constructed parts of which were of regular and Reform Bill, which proved much more mournful recurrence. ... Placed democratic than its authors intended, at the very bottom of the scale of huwas carried amidst a saturnalia of riot. man beings, the Irish peasant never ing and political agitation, such as was looked upwards. He was excited by unknown at the opening of the French 10 emulation - inspired by no hope. Revolution of 1789.
He remained fixed on the spot where The period embraced in the first he first drew breath, without the wish, half of the new volume of Sir A. Ali and still more without the power, of son's history, is the decade of years motion. He saw himself surrounded which preceded the passing of the Re- by men of a religion different from his form Bill in 1832. "That event was own, whose interests were at variance the culminating result of a long series with his, and whose chief or sole busiof preceding causes, the study of which, ness he supposed to be, by the force of in bis impartial pages, is suggestive of the sword and of the law, to keep him considerations of no little importance poor. He saw in the violation of the at the present time. The second half law no culpability; in its chastiseof the volume gives the history of con ment no retribution. His courage was tinental Europe during the first two converted into ferocity, his intelli.
gence into fraud ; and at last the pea. sant was lost in the murderer and incendiary."
Poor Ireland ! she was badly off in those times; she had neither fair play nor wise treatment. There were no manufactures and little means of employment in the country, and there was a redundant population. « The ordinary rate of wages,” said O'Connell, "is fourpence a day; and during the distress of 1822, the peasantry were glad to work for twopence a-day.” The landlords (for the most part English noblemen who had been infeft in the forfeited estates) were absentees; and the rents, wrung in driblets from the cotters, were spent abroad. It was as if the dews which pose nightly from the Emerald Isle, from its bills and plains, its lakes and rivers, the skies sent not back,-drain ing the land of its juices, to pour them in beneficent showers on some more favoured spot. “There is no means of employment for an Irish peasant,” said Mr. Nimmo, in 1823, "nor any certainty of his having the means of existence for a single year, but by get ting possession of a portion of land on which he can plant potatoes.” No encouragement was given to reclaim or pasture tbe fertile wastes; and consequently, as population increased, the competition for the plots of ground became tremendous, and the rents rose far above the value of the land. Ex. Cessive poverty is always reckless and prolific. The cotters bred as fast, and with as little regard to the future, as the lower animals; and as marriage. fees constituted a large portion of the income of the priests, no effort to check these improvident alliances was made by those who had the requisite wisdom and influence. The only way a peasant could provide for his family was by subdividing his croft,-a suicidal measure, which, for the sake of increasing the number of votes at their disposal, the landlords rather encouraged than otherwise ; but the effect of which was to reduce a large portion of the peasantry to the state of the Greek fool's horse, when he boasted he had got it to live upon a straw a-day!
"The competition for land," reported Mr. Nimmo, in 1823, “has attained to something like the competition for provisions in a besieged town, or in a ship that is out at sea." Of course,
when land was so scarce, any Saxon interloper was shot down as a public enemy. Moreover, the land was generally let by the proprietor to large tenants, or middlemen, who sub-let it after through several gradations of sub-tenants, down to the actual cultivators; and as the crop and stocking of each of these could be distrained for the arrears of any superior tenant, the unfortunate peasant was ever liable for others' debts, and the growth of agri. cultural capital was rendered wholly impossible." Add yet again to the bur. dens of the peasantry, that they had to support two ecclesiastical establishments – one voluntary, the other on compulsion. It was like the attempt to wring water from a pumice-stone. The peasants bid against each other for the land, until they offered more than its entire value to the landlord alone leaving the chapter of accidents to provide for the parson, armed with the power of distraining, and the priest wielding the thunders of excommunication. So that, between landlord, priest, and parson, as well as their own improvidence, the Irish were then ill off to an extent which, in this year of grace 1855, we should deem incredible. Although there were no poor-rates, the sum yearly raised for the destitute amounted to £2,250,000 – equal to half the public revenue, double the tithes, and a fourth of the land-rent of Ireland, and about four times heavier in proportion than the poor-rate of England at its highest amount. This cess (which was not paid by the absentee proprietors) weigbed heavily upon the well-doing portion of the community, without doing more than barely keeping alive the crowds of paupers who overspread the country.
To a people thus living on the brink of starvation, the fall of prices and paralysis of enterprise produced by the contractions of the currency in 1819 and 1826, brought utter misery. “In the town of Kilkee, in the county of Clare,” said Mr. Nimmo, “when I was passing through it in the time of the distress in 1822, the people were in a group on the side of the pound, receiving meal in the way of charity, and at the same time the pound was full of [their distrained] cattle. Of course the milk of these cattle would have been worth something if it could have been obtained, but no one could buy it." No one could buy, — there
was the hitch. Money had been ren- double weight upon Ireland, a country dered so scarce, that buying and selling whose chief produce was agricultural; in those poor districts was almost at a and from the doubly-devastated land a stand-still. "I have known a cow stream of emigration rushed forth, sold for a few shillings," said Mr. which, together with the famine, took Nimmo; “nobody would buy, and nearly a-fourth part from the numbers the driver bought it himself." It was of the population. The Incumbered not, to use Dr. Johnson's phrase, “that Estates' Act-a just measure, but one cows were plenty, but that money was as despotic as ever issued from Czar scarce"-almost vanished, in fact. or Emperor-did the rest. It cleared
Distress is the great revolutionist. the country of insolvent landlords, as Ignorant and excitable, the Irish pea the famine and emigration had cleared santry did what probably much wiser it of a redundant population; and in. and calmer folks in their place would stead of men who retained the privi. have done, - they gave way to vio. lege, without discharging the duties, of lence and outrage against the exac- property, it brought in Anglo-Saxon tions of a Church which they ab. wealth and enterprise,-accompanied, horred, and landlords who to their we trust, by a kinder and wiser spirit other faults added that of being aliens on the part of the landlords towards a alike in race and religion. Then arose peasantry who need much guidance the Ribbon Lodges – then arose also and no little forbearance. The Ireland O'Connell. The political chiefs, backed of to-day is the antipodes of what it by the priests, turned the agitation into a was twenty-five years ago. Rebellion political channel. Catholic Emancipa. is snuffed out ;-for distress, that root tion was carried. The passing of this of all evil, is removed. There will just measure might have quieted the still be beartburnings as long as the par. agitation, had this been simply of a son is paid by the State, and the priest political character ; but the agitation by the people. But what fact can be more proceeded from general distress, which gratifying to a patriot, or more indi. political concessions could do nothing cative of Ireland's prosperity, than that to alleviate, and so the outrages and the country which once needed the prediscontent went on. The Reform Bill sence of forty thousand British bayonets was likewise carried, without the least to keep down rebellion, is now, in this effect in quieting Ireland. The priests hour of national crisis, tranquil under and agitators were worse than ever, the guardianship of its own police ! and now banded the whole people to Emigration, which proved the relief gether in resistance to tithes. The of Ireland, was a remedy proposed as T'ithe Composition system (first, though early as 1826 ; but it was scouted out feebly, commenced in 1823) did much of the House of Commons at the bid. to remove occasion for strife; but still ding of Mr. M'Culloch, and the class the state of smothered rebellion conti. of so-called “political economists," nued. The Repeal of the Union was who in their short century of existence the next aim of the agitators; and have at least committed as many egre. the mad cry of “ Ireland for the Irish" gious blunders as they have discovered soon after began to be heard. By truths. “Give the poor man £20," this time it was evident the agitators said Mr. Hume, “and he will establish had quite overshot the mark, and were himself as well in Ireland as anywhere advocating measures which would only else." The idea was as absurd as to have sunk Ireland into deeper wretch propose to treat an unthinned and edness. Emigration for the pauper over- crowded plantation by putting Irish at the expense of the State had manure at the roots of the feeble trees. been scouted by the legislature as a Manure to a tree that bas room to exfolly. Man had exhausted himself. pand, and a small sum of money to a Providence now stepped in to do the man who has scope to push his way in requisite work,-and, as usual, did it the world, will do wonders; but £20 sternly and effectively. A famine of to an Irish cotter in those times of the thirteenth came in the middle of over-population and complete want of the nineteenth century, and the pau- employment, would have been money per myriads of Ireland died off like tbrown away,-keeping the recipient rotten sheep. A thinning was wanted, hardly for a year ; before the expiry and it came with a vengeance. The of which time Paddy, if not previously abolition of the corn-laws fell with in possession of them, would certainly