18 DECEMBER 1880, Page 8


ENGLISHMEN laugh at Irishmen for being so plaintive, and talking so much about " our unhappy country ;" but there is something in the history of Ireland and in the perma- nent action of its people which suggests an irremediable ill- luck, an habitual interference in Irish affairs of some Genius of Perversity. Its Demiurgus seems to be a Puck. The capa- cities of the island do not enrich it, the virtues of its people do not call out sympathy, the successes of its leaders produce ashes, instead of fruit. It has been conquered without being subjugated, enfranchised without being set free, enriched with- out being made in the least content. Its statesmen govern well everywhere but at home ; its soldiers win all victories, except the one over invaders which might produce respect ; its poets enchain the people, only to deepen melancholy and discontent. Its people are full of a splendid imagination which only makes them dream, they are gloriously sanguine, but only of the arrival of the impossible, and deeply faithful to the only religion which, politically or socially, could be in their way. Ireland is a damp little island, intended by Nature to be a more beautiful Holland, the property of men half-sailors and half-dairymaids, with endless bays, and harbours, and fiords, and lakes, and pasturage for fat cattle, and therefore it has been given to a people who love the petite culture, who multiply faster than their means, and who have a special distaste or incapacity for the life of mariners, fishermen, or sea- going traders. There is one great race in the world which does not understand or like the Keltic genius, specially hates their faults, is blind to their many virtues, has objects and wishes essentially different from theirs ; so that race is bound by in- exorable political geography to conciliate or govern Irishmen. The land is one in which cereals should not be grown, so the effort of centuries has been to grow cereals. There is one edible which will grow there easily which the people like, and which will, like rice, support excessive numbers ; so the potato alone, among edibles, is stricken with deadly disease. The very fishes swarm around a coast where the men are by nature no fishermen, and belong to a kingdom in which the majority think that encouragement or compulsion to fish is rather a childish absurdity. The people have a special domesticity, and it keeps them over-numerous ; a special love of their home, and it keeps them always poor ; a special patriotism, and it blinds them utterly to the true place of their country in the world. They are so brave that they will not look forward, so faithful to each other that law is nearly impossible, so lovable that every immigrant catches all their faults, and the leaven, instead of leavening, becomes more doughy than the dough. There is no Irishman so Irish as the descendant of a Norman conqueror or a British grantee. Their religion teaches all virtues, and is the only one of the great Creeds in which the mass of their rulers can see nothing either to respect or love. It is the very perversity of Fate, so constant, so visible, so intrusive in all things, that the most doggedly persevering of races, which never even sees obstacles, is half inclined to give up in despair, and declare that this Chat Moss, at all events, will never be filled. It has to be filled, all the same ; but what a task it is ! It is as if the shivers were fighting not only against Nature, but against Nature conscious of the fight, and sneeringly malignant. Just imagine Destiny, at a crisis of Ireland's and England's fate, elevating to the head of the former people a man who has absolutely no sympathy with any- thing distinctively Irish, while he hates England with the whole force of a nature in which hatred is the motive-power.

Could the bitterest enemy of either country have done worse for it than make Mr. Parnell, by nature a fanatic ecclesiastic of the cold type, an idol of a people like the Irish This strange perversity of fortune is visible throughout this agitation. Their virtues, and their opportunities, and their circumstances are all alike doing the Irish harm. They are showing qualities with which average Englishmen never credited them—qualities of the highest practical value—and showing them in ways and for objects which excite in Englishmen nothing but repulsion. Irishmen, it was said, had not the faculty for combination, could not pull together as the Scotch did, hated each other, were jealous of each other, in every crisis resolved themselves into a kind of powder. They are this time pulling together, com- bining, organising, till they have a secret government, till the people in the infected counties seem as unanimous as a people ever were—" as unanimous as Jonah in the whale "— till a decree of ostracism becomes positively harder to bear than a sentence of death ; and this power, in itself so full of hope and presage for the future, is exerted to break all con- tracts, in order to save a little money. We do not hesitate to say, at any risk of being misunderstood, that if the Irish had shown their capacity for "Boycotting,"—for standing shoulder to shoulder under a public emotion—in a noble cause, the whole world's conception of Irishmen would have been pro- foundly modified for the better ; but this vast capacity, with its unlimited possible results, is shown only to punish men who think contracts sacred. Nothing, as we have said once before, can be more striking or, in one way, more admirable, than the fidelity the caller folk are showing to one another ; but it is all to resist laws the moral obligation of which they do not seriously deny, which they observe whenever the man who pleads them is not a landlord, and which they themselves have their full and fair share of the right to make and unmake. The Irish horror of caste treachery, or political treachery, was never so clearly revealed, and we all know how Englishmen can admire that feeling in Highlanders; but it is applied not to protect leaders, or patriots, or devotees only, but men who maim cattle and horses,—that, as it again chances, with the usual perversity of things, being one of the few offences for which Englishmen have no forgiveness, which they do not believe can be com- mitted by an equal race. The gratitude of Irishmen to men whom they think benefactors is, perhaps, the strongest, as it is the pleasantest feature in their character. It is undying, and comes out, even in this contest, in the strangest ways,—as in the desperate effort to pay the Sub-Sheriff who advanced the rent for some evicted poor folk. Yet it happens that the one statesman who has done great things for Ireland is now ruling, and purposes still greater things ; and it is he and his party whom, but for other protection, this movement would destroy. Englishmen say the Irish are ungovernable. If there is any- thing true about them, it is that they are much too easily governed. That comes out and is recognised in the whole proceedings of the Land League ; but the League, instead of relying on the force of popular opinion, which in Ireland is all- sufficient, allows outrages which exasperate Englishmen like cruelties to children, the fewness of the landlords and agents amid the multitude of assailants giving them the feeling— perfectly true, but not comprehended by the Irishmen who are blinded by a tradition of tryanny—that it is the weak who are suffering at the hands of the strong. The Leaguers say," No ; it is slaves who have risen,"—we quote their own words,—and in Ireland they really believe an assertion which to English- men seems almost a defiant mockery. Boycott was one, the Leaguers ten thousand, say Englishmen here; while Irishmen there feel as if they were the few, and Boycott all Britain. Could there be for Ireland ill-luck worse than this, that while all English workmen, who at the polls are the most powerful of English castes, sympathise at heart with a strike, the great strike of the Irish against a class with whom workmen do not strongly sympathise has been so managed that the work- men have been alienated for years. Or if there is worse luck, is it not this,—that just at the moment when the British, for the first time in their history, are inclined to abandon their own economic prejudices in favour of Irish views, the Irish demand for a reasonable tenure takes a form which makes Englishmen feel as if there were something cowardly in obeying their own novel impulses to do justice,—as if they must coerce, though without hope from coercion, just to keep up their self-respect Fortune, it is said, is but another name for management, and on any theory of ultimate causes there can be no such thing as accident ; but if anything could force men to believe in chance, and malignant chance, it would be the past history and present condition of a people whose highest qualities, and pleasantest peculiarities, and most enduring virtues seem to do them all as much harm as good, to be driven by some inexplicable destiny into a channel without an outlet. When the fairies assembled at Ireland's birth, one at least was wanting,—perhaps it was an English fairy,—and that was Opportunity. If an endless coal-mine were found there to-morrow, some fuel to supersede coal would be patented next day.