LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
LT0 THE EDITOR OF TEE " SPECTATOR."]
SIR,—You are no doubt right in believing that the appeal to the simple democratic sentiment in behalf of self-government for Ireland will tell strougly upon the constituencies. A policy which implies distrust of the people is at a disadvantage in competing for popular favour with one which implies trust in the people. If it is an absolute and universal law that the people are to be trusted, why not, it may reasonably be asked, one people as much as another ?
But not merely will the democratic sentiment be ready to yield everything to the wishes of the majority of the Irish voters ; the instinct of generosity will, I believe, do much more to move the English people to give Home-rule to Ireland. It is to the honour of our English common people that they gladly take the generous view of things, and are attracted by the cause of the weak, the poor, the oppressed. They will see, on the one side, evicting landlords and well-to-do Protestants; on the other side, evicted tenants and a down-trodden peasantry. Why, they will think, should not the latter be befriended P Does it much matter if the rich, who have had the upper hand so long, get a little the worst of it now ? It has been said that a democracy may have strong Imperial instincts, and not be over-delicate as to the methods of maintaining Imperial power ; and there is evidence in favour of such an assumption. But in a popular assembly of our own countrymen I should expect to see generous sympathies triumph over Imperial instincts. Another sentiment, which surely does them honour, is respect for achievements, experience, and age such as Mr. Gladstone's. We could hardly desire to say anything better of our common people than that they are swayed by generous feeling, and that they put persistent faith in a man who has such remarkable titles to their confidence. If the Ministerial scheme should be accepted by the constituencies, we shall at least be able to attri- bute its acceptance to motives which we ought to hold in honour.
But the scheme is not the less likely on this account to be fruitful of lamentable consequences. It is impossible not simi- larly to honour the charitable feeling which would give relief, public and voluntary, with an open hand to those who are badly off. This feeling also prevails strongly among our most numerous classes. They are genuinely ready to give at their own cost, as well as at the cost of others. And yet it is as certain as anything can be that all who wish well to the poor ought to deprecate large and free relief. The worst effect of indulgent relief is not that it takes from the rich, but that it injures the poor and makes them poorer. Impulses may be thoroughly honourable, but the most Christian impulses, acting not according to knowledge, may defeat their own aims. What we do, therefore, in relation to benevolence, is not to repudiate or try to quench the generous feeling, but to beg the benevolent to be guided in their action by experience and reasonable foresight.
So with regard to the Irish problem. If the choice is to be between maintaining the power of our Empire, and showing generosity to an unprosperons race, those who advocate the nnshrinking application of Christian principles to politics might well hesitate to take the Imperialist side. But if we cannot honestly convince ourselves that Home-role would be good for Ireland, our very instincts of generosity should forbid us to help to grant it.
It is not easy to understand why the Ministerial policy should go as far as it does, and refuse to go farther. The Government say :—" We must give thus much of self-government to Ireland. Because the majority wish for it, they ought to have it ; we will not undertake to enforce the law against the feeling of a majority of the population ; we have faith in the people. But we solemnly declare that we will give no more." What, not if the majority wish for more ? The Prime Minister and his supporters speak as if they were proposing to make Ireland a " nation." Mr. Gladstone wishes Irish law to be native, not " foreign." Mr. John Morley refers to the part Mr. Gladstone has had before in the making of nations,—of Greece, Italy, Bulgaria. Mr. Shaw.Lefevre says that our fault has been that we have repressed Irish nationality. There is no doubt that the Ireland which is to be conciliated desires to be a nation. But a nation is independent. If Canada aspired to be a nation, it would demand an open and declared, as well as a virtual independence. And yet we are told that nothing would induce our Ministers to
consent to satisfy this Irish aspiration. Mr. Shaw-Lefevre announces that he would make war upon Ireland rather than allow it to be independent. The desire of the Irish is to count for nothing, therefore, as against the integrity of the existing Empire. I do not venture to blame those who see that the unity and strength of the British Empire are so great a_ good in the world, that they would not allow what they themselves assert to be the just claims of Ireland to weigh, down the scale against it. But they must be conscious that their appeal to justice and generosity, when thus limited, is a half-hearted one. We stand on firmer ground, if we can honestly take it, when we contend that Irish aspirations are not wisely directed, and that the partial separation, subject to- galling restrictions, which is offered by the Ministerial scheme, would not be a real boon to Ireland. And no attempt has been made, except by the use of unsound analogies or by the blank assumption that a population must be the better for having what the majority desire, to show that the concession of Home-rule would be advantageous to the Irish people. All rational calcu- lation seems to point the other way. And till this calculation is shown to be erroneous—till we can convince ourselves that the different sections of the Irish population will co-operate harmoniously in keeping their island in reasonable good order, and that the protection of Irish industries and the weakening of credit would bring material prosperity,. and that there would be no serious danger of collision between Ireland and Great Britain, and that the condition of a " mercenary province" would be a happier one than that of "an integral and governing member of the greatest Empire in the world "—we are no more constrained by generosity to grant Home-rule than we are pledged by charity to establish public- works and to extend out-relief. No theory of the rights of the people, and no desire to indulge a generous impulse, can exempt those who have to act from the responsibility of forecasting carefully the consequences of their action.—I am, Sir, &c., J. LLEWELYN DAVIES.
5 Blandford Square, N.W., April 21st.