LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
THE IRISH LAND QUESTION.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."] SIR,—I proceed, by your permission, to state some reasons why the indispensable end of security of tenure for the Irish occupier should be obtained—as I have shown that it can be obtained—by legalizing Ulster tenant-right, and extending its principles to the rest of Ireland, rather than by adopting the more rigid method of Permanent settlement which you have proposed. I am an old politician, and I confess I prefer the practical to the logical and the doctrinaire ; instead of going to Scotland with Mr. Caird, or to Bengal with Mr. Mill, for precedents and for methods, I go to Ireland itself, and seek its own interpretation of its wants. And there I find, by quite overwhelming evidence, that through long struggles for existence and processes of selection, the Irish land- lords and tenants have worked out this peculiar system of implied contract in the occupation of land which we see in its completest form in Ulster, but which, though less perfectly and universally, may be found in every other part of Ireland. That which does effectually meet the want of the Irish tenant, wherever it is in full operation, may be confidently expected to meet the like want—of security of tenure—if it be extended to those eases to which it has not yet been extended ; while a foreign remedy, imported from some other country because of its success with another race of entirely different genius and habits and traditions, may prove an utter failure, even if it could be fairly tried. But what chance is there of its getting a fair trial? Powerful as our present Government is, and pressing as is the necessity for effectually legislating on this question without delay, the only condition of the Government being able to carry through Parliament a really strong and Liberal measure, in the face of the interests and pre- judices of landlords, and the theories and prejudices of political economists of the Manchester school, is that it should be a mea- snre which commends itself to the practical English mind by exhibiting those features which the English mind always requires as the conditions of legislation,—that it should be an expansion and adaptation of what already exists, that it should be a native growth, and not a foreign importation, and that it should have stood the test of usage before it is established by law.
It may be said that this is lower ground than befits the Spectator to take ; that its business is to clear up men's minds as to what is true and right in itself, and thus to raise our standard of political expediency, instead of judging and deciding by that which already exists. But even on this ground, on which political expediency must show itself to be at one with political philosophy, I wonldsubmit to you that a scheme for converting landlords into mere rent-chargers, without interests or duties, mere fat pigs in golden styes (to use the First Napoleon's phrase), is not politically expedient. There are a certain number of " felonious " landlords, who must be controlled by the strong hand of law ; there are those who, though not so bad, need the restraints and guidance of law to be kept steadily right ; and there are the good landlords, who are a law to themselves, and the source of countless blessings to their tenantry, and it would not be wise to destroy the good, or even the not bad, for the sake of getting rid of the bad, who
may be rendered powerless for evil by a less sweeping process. It is pleasant to look forward to a state of society when all men shall be equal in the sight of man as well as of God ; there are some who can honestly say that the fact of their social superiority to others gives them a sense of pain and of wrong ; but the day is yet far distant when true gocial equality can be realized by the eleva- tion of the lower, and not by the degradation of the higher ; and perhaps most of all is this the case at the present moment, as regards the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland. Estimate as highly as is possible the improvement in civilization, in moral and intellectual culture, which would follow on converting into peasant proprietors the whole of the tenantry of Ireland, yet it is not possible to expect that it would, if thus left to itself, become for many generations what it might far more rapidly attain to under the fostering influences of good landlords.
For the rich absentee landlords, with their resident agents, lam not inclined to say anything, notwithstanding the arguments urged by their organ, the Pall Mall Gazette ; but I must think and say that it would be an irreparable calamity to deprive the Irish of their resident landlords, as we certainly shall do if we deprive the land- lords themselves of all rights, and consequently of the power to fulfil any duties. I do not greatly agree with Lord Dufferin in his opinions as to the disorders of Ireland, and their remedies; but I will point my own argument here with his eloquent pleafor resident land- lords in his speech on Lord Grey's motion on the state of Ireland in 1866 :—"It is your presence, your sympathy, that your people want; the sight of your wives and daughters moving through their villages on errands of charity and mercy, the tangible proof that you regard them as your fellow-citizens and Ireland as your common country, and that your own pride and happiness are interwoven with the welfare of its people." If "sweetness and light," if the dignity and refinement .and sense of the duty of raising others to their own level, which are the characteristics of the Christian gentle- man and Christian lady, can avail anywhere in carrying forward the work of civilization, they have surely a work to do among the
tenantry of Ireland.—I am, Sir, &c., E. S.