TOPICS OF THE DAY.
FROM O'CONNELL TO BRIGHT.
MR. BRIGHT was wisely cautious in giving his endorse- ment to the reputation of the great Irish agitator. "It would be a very base Irishman," he said, and no doubt truly, "who would wish to erase the achievements of Grattan and O'Connell from his country." As to some of those achieve- ments, at least the great achievement of Catholic Emancipation, we concur. But how as to the host of negative achievements, that alienation of race which instead of denouncing he fomented, that hope for Repeal with which he, well knowing it was a dream, dazzled the eyes of ignorant subscribers to his fund as boys tempt on donkeys with a receding wisp of hay, in short, the general hatred of England which he carefully promoted,— not discontent, with a view to the removal of visible griev- ances, but race-hatred, which has been the prolific source of all subsequent miseries, Fenianism among the number ? These are achievements which we might well be content, if possible, to erase, and assuredly it is an omen of good for Ireland to find Mr. Bright taking, even for a moment, the place which was once filled by Mr. O'Connell. Not that we admire all he says or believe in all his remedies, but that his genius is at least conspicuously sturdy and honest, not flexible and crafty, like the great Repealer's,—that there is nothing in him of the tendency to follow in order that he may lead, to cringe to a crowd in order that he may rule them, to study the .people in order to discover the suscepti- bilities to error on which he subsequently plays. From O'Connell to Bright is at least a vast step in the upward progress of any people,—the step from rebellion to (no doubt rather violent) reform, from dreams which are chimerical and therefore deadly, to schemes which at least admit of discus- sion,—from vague menaces and sinister hints, to open and manly declamation. O'Connell, with all his genius and his real, though unscrupulous, love of Ireland, never seriously believed lb the remedies he proposed for Irish misery. He would have made Ireland happy if she could have received happiness from his own hands, but not apparently in any other way. Mr. Bright proposes nothing in which he does not seriously believe. Nor does he wish the Irish to take anything because he recommends it, but only recom- mends it because he is sincerely convinced of its poli- tical efficacy. The orators are as different as the style of their politics ;—the one versatile, gleamy, half sunshine and half shadow, a consummate actor, plausible, pliant, fanciful, various, pathetic, capable even of sentimental prettiness, fit- ful, rising from a tearful whisper to a cry of rage, sinking from passion to humour and sly familiar innuendo,—the other, sturdy, slow, defiant, passionate, taking his cue from no one but himself, inflexible, nnadaptable, often scornful and bitter, but never familiar, never collusive with his audience, never plotting for a success,—it is impossible to conceive in two great orators a greater contrast. And the contrast between the orators is not greater than the contrast between their political treatment of Ireland. O'Connell, after he had once carried Catholic Emancipation, was changeable, fluctuating, tricky. Knowing there was no chance of Repeal, he yet preached it as the only remedy. He caught every varying mood of his countrymen, and played upon it to increase their hatred of the Saxon; he indulged their whims, sharpened their wit, awakened their vivacity, elicited their sentiment, but postponed all prac- tical measures till the Parliament should assemble on College Green. Mr. Bright makes no attempt to adapthiniself to theliish, and carefully withholds even a shadow of encouragement to the separationist feeling; but he holds out a few practical measures, the carrying of which would go far, he thinks, to assuage the evils and discontent from which Ireland suffers, if she would only accept them. This impersonal tone, this complete absence of flattery addressed to the people, this directness in seeking a plain remedy, this discouragement to all feelings of national jealousy or race-hatred, is in itself an immense advance on the tone of the last great agitator of Irish grievances. O'Connell used the grievances to widen and deepen the estrangement ; Mr. Bright uses them only as a common object of attack for English and Irish Liberals alike. It is no trifling gain to have Irishmen following the words of a sturdy English re- former, who wishes to apply to Ireland no other remedies than those which in like circumstances he would apply to England also. When the Irish amour propre has persuaded itself to accept English advice without desiring the adviser
to cease to be English in spirit, we are at least advanced some little way towards the end for which we all so earnestly wish.
As to what Mr. Bright actually proposed, it is not very diffi- cult to express an opinion. Of the grievance of the Protestant Establishment for Roman Catholic people,—not so much on account of the weight of the burden, but rather, as Mr. Bright said, as a chain which, because it is the emblem of conquest, is galling far more than in proportion to its weight,—we have so often expressed our cordial concurrence with Mr. Bright, and our impatience of the pseudo-Liberalism which makes no effort to remedy the mischief over which it sighs, that we need. scarcely say more about it. Whether the revenues of the Protestant Church should be secularized after reserving vested interests for the purposes of general education, or other and equal revenues in proportion to their numbers should be pro- vided for the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian denominations, without some measure of the kind Ireland will never cease to recollect that she is governed by "aliens in religion," and not governed as she would govern herself. Of Mr. Bright's second proposal, to secure a compensation for all farmers' improvements, which, as the old Irish farmer told him, would "bate the hunger yet out of the country," we have spoken with unqualified approbation on occasion of that last proposal made by the Liberal Government which was defeated by the Tories and Mr. Lowe. But we agree with Mr. Bright that this is still insufficient ; that in a country- where there are few manufactures, where the mass of the people are either connected with the land or with nothing at all that they can take any pride in in the country, we shall never get a contented and conservative population, without some measure which identifies them with the soil as they are iden- tified in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium. But we do not see how that could be accomplished by Mr. Bright's proposal to appoint a commission to buy up the great landed estates, and then sell them again in small lots to the people. We do not suppose Mr. Bright's language to imply a compulsory purchase, which would be the introduction of a principle not indeed absolutely unjustifiable under all circumstances, but so dangerous as a precedent as to be justifiable only as revo- lution is justifiable—in the last resort. Then, again, we fear that to buy, the people must mortgage, and so begin their experiment loaded with debt,—a very disastrous condition for success. A far more radical measure would be ta,-.apply the Cornwallis settlement—which is such a magnificent success in Bengal under difficulties of a very similar nature,— to Ireland, with compensation to the landlords for the loss in the value of their property,—that is, to secure his property for ever to every tenant in Ireland at its present rent so long as he continues to pay that rent regularly, the State reimbursing the landlord, and charging the interest on the capital sum so paid, as an additional rent- charge on the tenant's property,—perhaps at a higher rats of interest than that paid by the State, so as to produce a sinking fund. By this means all tenants would be secured for ever, so long as they paid their rent, in their enjoyment of the land, —in fact they would be the owners on condition of paying the rent-charge regularly, while the landlords would have no grievance, no confiscation to complain of. And as no purchase- money would need to be paid by the tenant, only a slight addition to his rent, against the enormous advantage of abso- lute security, there would be no load of debt with which to burden the new experiment.
That this or some similar course must be followed if Ireland is ever to become,—without great manufactures,---a contented country, we feel no manner of doubt. English economists insist that even if the land of Ireland were once held by the lower class in the same way that the land of France and of a great part of Italy is held, debt and difficulty and the appropriate misery would follow. Very possibly, though this does not happen in the same degree elsewhere ; but even so far as it might be so, the debt and difficulty and the appropriate misery would not be regarded, as the present misery is regarded, as a result of English conquest and confiscation. It would not render the Irish discontented with Ireland, for then all that they valued and possessed would be identified with Ireland, and not only their miseries. As a rule the French peasant proprietors are not very happy, and certainly not free from debt ; but they are loyal, and feel that to them France is everything. What is wanted is not a remedy for economical evils, so much as a remedy for political evils, and this the possession of the soil has usually proved. On the whole, though we regard Mr. Bright's proposed remedy as dangerous and inefficient, we heartily concur with him in his general aim, and thank him for the eloquent moderation with which he proposes to Ireland remedies in the tone of which, if not in their practical proposals, Englishmen are as able as Irishmen to unite.