27 MAY 1882, Page 4



TO see a way out of the wood, we must get a little above the trees. The incidents of this Irish struggle are so numerous, have such a quality of suddenness, and are occasion- ally so ghastly, that they confuse men's minds as to the general drift of what is going on. To-day a troublesome party locks legislation, to-morrow it surrenders on terms, next day a Cabinet Minister resigns, in a few hours a great crime is committed shocking alike the loyal and the dis- affected, every day a crime of violence is reported, and every one of these incidents produces a torrent of discus- sion, recrimination, explanation, theories, projects, and per- sonalities, amid which any nation but the English would grow furious, and even the English nation feels bewildered. These are, nevertheless, for all their apparent importance, only inci- dents in a broad stream of events which is steadily pouring on in a current defined enough to be visible even through the blinding spray it throws up, as it strikes on every successive obstacle. Owing to a series of occurrences, among which are an outburst of passion, the time of which is still quite unexplained, among the American Irish, the occurrence of a partial but long-con- tinned and distressing famine, the accession of a reforming Government, and the appearance in Ireland of a popular leader who accepted the tenure as his stalking-horse, the chronic agra- rian discontent of Ireland has developed into a social revolu- tion. The peasantry and their dependants, who form the bulk of the population, have resolved to terminate their distress from over-renting and their terror from insecurity in their farms once and for all. Being so resolved, their usual sub- missiveness has disappeared to such a degree, that the oldest landlords declare they do not know the people, and has been replaced by the sort of fury, developing occasionally into the half-irresponsible ferocity which marks Celts when they break, at long intervals, through the bonds of the usual. Partly from the influence of bad traditions, partly from a bloodthirsty thread in the national character, which comes out both here and in America, whenever Irishmen have given themselves the rein, and partly from an immovable historic prepossession that the quickest way to move the British ' Government is to menace the landlord class, the peasantry have accompanied their legal movement at the polls—which by itself, had they been a shade more united, must have insured them gradual success, for no Government could have withstood the steady voting of a sixth of all Mem- bers directed to a single end—with criminal outrages against landlords, agents, officers of the Courts, and all pea- sants who seemed even by acquiescence in legal demands to be aiding the landlords' side. The social revolution has been flecked with streaks of blood, till it has hardly been dis- tinguishable from social war. By a good-fortune almost un- paralleled in the history of Ireland, the British Cabinet has dis- cerned the main features of the situation, has recognised that a revolution is upon us, and instead of blindly and violently thwarting it—which could only have been done by military government—has tried to control it, to suggest and carry out an agrarian compromise, while putting down the terrorism which was the peasants' weapon. The Ministry saw that blank resistance was impossible without civil war, they felt that steady improve- ment was impossible while the popular terrorism continued, and they have pressed on steadily towards the double end,--com- promise with the social revolution, extinction of the social terrorism. Hampered on one side by English slowness to con- ceive the possibility of agrarian passion, or understand any ideas of tenure different from their own, and on the other by the fury of the Irish peasantry, who, inspired at once by hatred and by hope, would give an old and cumbrous organisation no sufficient time, and having order to produce in Ireland and fury to avert in England, they have, with an admirable steadiness, adhered to their double policy,—have offered a new tenure and arrested agitators, swept off arrears and strengthened the law against out- rages, at one and the same time. They have studiously abstained from treating the revolution as rebellion, have, while arresting agitators, condemned them to nothing but light imprisonment, and have even eagerly, it may prove too eagerly, leaped at opportunities of condoning all purely political offences, even when the offenders had by their harangues inflamed the peasants' readiness for outrage. Without making the enor- mous concessions to the peasants which were made under somewhat similar circumstances in France, in Russia, and in 1848 in Galicia, they have endeavoured to moderate the immense movement, so that while landlordism should lose its offensive features, landlords should not be plundered, while the peasantry should have a new tenure, they should not escape a just debt, and while blood should not be shed, the authors of outrages should be brought steadily back into the civilised reverence for law. The wisdom of their different steps to these ends is, of course, subject to any extent of dis- cussion, but of the wisdom of the ends themselves there can be no mistake, and still less of the tenacity with which they have been pursued. No Government so assailed, so hampered, as well by its beneficiaries as its opponents, so tormented by adverse incidents, so foiled by disappointing events, ever marched forward more steadily to a more righteous goal—the reconstitution of a society thrown into the crucible, without civil war, without revolutionary thunder-claps, and without the destruction of any class at the bidding of the majority. The uprising in Ireland has been as general as that of France against the old regime ; and the Government has partly led, partly compressed it, until comparatively it has been a nearly legal movement. Isolated outrages have been horri- ble, inexcusable, but of the servile war which might have burst forth at any moment, which ravaged France for twenty months, till the owners of the soil were expelled like criminals, there has not been a trace. The Irish Chateaux stand. Covering the country with troops, protecting not only districts but indi- viduals with an energy and a solicitude no other Government ever displayed, the Cabinet has never forgotten the social revolution, never lost sight of its purpose to allow it to realise itself, so far as is consistent with the existence of the State, and the paramount claim of the moral law.

It seems to us that this has been a heroic effort, which, had it been made in any other country, would have attracted universal admiration ; and it has been the more heroic, because of the conditions under which the Cabinet have worked. A British Government has no self-derived force, no power of action through mere volition. It rests on no irre- sistible caste, can issue no decree binding because it issues it. Its whole power is derived from the people, and may be with- drawn in an hour by a single vote ; its only mode of action is through persuasion, addressed to the Representatives. It is always compelled to think before it proposes, not only of the right course and the best course, but of the course which a moat prejudiced and slow-minded, though politically sensible, people will permit. A German Government with Ireland to manage could issue orders, and enforce them for twenty years with cold persistency ; a French Government could carry through a hundred " transactions," without a word of serious opposi- tion being said. Polish Prussia was " settled" by orders, Britanny was tranquillised by " arrangements " such as no British Parliament would allow for an hour. The Cabinet had to make propositions immutably directed to their ends, with Irish Members raging because more was not done, Tory Members raging because so much was conceded, Liberal Members fret- ting because so many were repressed, and a people simmering outside all, hardly understanding that a Revolution could be in progress, not understanding how it was being met, fixing attention for days on this or that deplorable in- cident, as if it were of the essence of the matter, and kept firm only by faith in the character, as apart from the powers, of a single man, whose character for that very reason was the object of never-ceasing and virulent attack. The Ministry had to persuade six hundred minds that it was necessary to modify their ideas of property, while asking them, at the same moment, to suspend their ideas of liberty,—the ideas of property being those on which English society is based, the ideas of liberty those which have made English society successful. We do not believe such a task was ever attempted, and it has been and is being so performed that, with the Social Revolution in full progress, there is no anarchy in Ireland, the taxes are paid, life goes on, and the people are slowly accepting the agrarian compromise, and slowly coming to see that the law will be too strong for them.

But why not crush the Revolution ? Because it cannot be done, and ought not to be done. The Irish people, any people, has a right to the tenure which suits its social genius, if only it can be obtained without the suspension of a Divine law. If Ireland had been alone in the world, the social revo- lution would, with Irishmen in the temper of 1880, have been carried through to the end, carried through without resistance—for what could 12,000 families have done —carried through on some " Night of the Fourth August," by decrees "sanctioned " by the guillotine. The business of Great Britain, as she governs Ireland, was to carry it out also, without the revolutionary decrees, without the robbery, and without the guillotine. That was her duty; and as for her power, it did not extend to a blank refusal of the demand. If history proves anything, it proves that no Government in the world has ever enforced a tenure detested by the peasants, or ever finally prevented a social revolution. You may stop it for a moment, by enormous bloodshed, by unsparing tyranny, but what is the use of that ? It was Stein, not a Radical, who gave Prussian peasants freehold ; a Czar, not a popular leader, who emancipated Russian serfs. There does not exist, and probably never existed, a Government so strong as that of the English in Bengal Proper, and its desperate efforts to create landlords in the English sense utterly failed, while the boldest Viceioy who ever reigned there dared not give landlords the right to more than their quit-rent. Insurrection can be put down ; but how put down a social war raging in every farm, supported by a people you cannot kill, waged by methods as much beyond the action of cannon as the hail or the snow ? You might as well try to harness deer to ploughs, as put down a universal resolution not to continue to cultivate as tenants- at-will. The Duke of Wellington was at least as determined a man as Lord Salisbury, and he admitted that to his King. A social revolution, once started with the passionate approval of the people, will march, as certainly and as irresistibly as a religious revolution. The only thing to be done is to cuta road for it, marching along which it need not overthrow anything in its path ; and above all need not clear human lives out of its way. It is this that the Government has done and is doing, with a patient, slow removal of the difficulties as they arise worthy of the countrymen of George Stephenson, and in his very spirit. " The courage which held the hill-side," is what we want, says Mr. Goldwin Smith. Nothing of the kind. It is the tenacious fortitude which drives a firm road through Chat Moss which we want, the pertinacious skill which carries the canal in the air across the valley ; and that is here. The Government, amidst unexampled difficulties, is so dealing with a social revolution that it shall not overflow its banks ; and if here and there it misses a weak place, or here and there mis- judges the point of danger, or here and there gives an inch too much to the flood, it deserves, for its total and as yet wholly unfinished labour, the sympathy of every upright mind in the United Kingdom.