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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39



Nearly all the lands of England, though not of Ireland or the Highlands, were got by violence by the Normans and appropriated by the barons, save and except some common lands, which have since been grievously encroached upon, and were held for centuries under the feudal tenure under the feudal Norman Kings, and a large proportion of them are still possessed by the lineal descendants or the direct heirs of those adventurers. The nature of the feudal tenure was this: The baron owed military and civil service to his liege-lord, and his relation to his serfs or tenants was somewhat analogous to that of the sovereign to his vassals and his subjects. That is, as has been said of the sovereign, he possessed a vast but undefined prerogative. Vast, undefined, and inconstant was that prerogative, yet was it never absolute in the one case more than in the other. Moreover, the baron's post was no sinecure. He was a real ruler of his serfs and a real servant of the King and of the State, active enough in both capacities, no figure-head, but indispensable to the machinery of government. Above all, it was the baron's well-recognised business to keep his serfs upon his estate, and not by any means to turn them off it. These are the very facts upon which Carlyle and Froude have always insisted for their own purposes. But gradually the law has been utterly revolutionised, in an extraordinary manner. page 10 The landlord has been relieved of all his burdens, and his most dangerous privileges have been confirmed or enlarged. To such an extent has this been carried that a modern landlord, although perhaps no könig (no cunning man), no dux (no duke or leader), but a poor creature emasculated by ennui, is able to enforce claims by the aid of State-paid police which Warwick the King-maker would not have dared to speak of. The maddest Asian despot was never yet so mad as to propose to turn his subjects adrift upon the seas, yet this very thing has been done in Ireland and the Highlands with every circumstance of cruelty. Shall I say with the Spanish Jesuit Mariana that such a man should be shot down like a wolf? No; all Bibles, all churches, all ages, nations, races, and men of all persuasions, parties, characters, conditions, and in the list a long catalogue of Israelites, beginning with Moses and ending with Lord Beaconsfield, have approved tyrannicide, but I shall not commit myself so far. Yet almost any one of high courage is capable of this deed, and it is something to be calculated upon, an appropriate consequence of given causes.

With what new wine must a man have made himself intoxicated even to conceive the idea of disposing of a county in the same irresponsible manner as a yard of calico? The outrage is more enormous than slavery itself. "France, that is I," said the Grand Monarch, and we call that a very utterance of lunacy. Yet precisely the same sentiment in our landed gentry is applauded by the capitalist press. What sheer heartless mockery to congratulate a man on possessing the priceless boon of liberty, when he has no assurance of the roof which shelters him or the ground whereon he treads! Well might the evicted Irish cottier cry, with as natural pathos as the persecuted Jew, "Nay, take my life too, spare not that."

The memory of those wrongs is not going to be forgotten. It is being handed down as an heirloom from the fathers to the sons. I heard Burke, the Fenian, speak in the Boston Music Hall. The house was crowded with Irish Americans, from the boy who had scarcely well learned how to hate to the wrinkled man who had spent fourscore years in learning it. Burke is a rude fanatic, but true as steel to the marrow of his bones; and when he spoke of Ireland's wrongs, her sorrows and her hopes, the house rang with applause straight page 11 from warm Irish hearts. It sounded in mine ears like this: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." Take the first steamer or train of cars anywhere, and go along until you stop. That is the place to find an Irishman. Alas, not unoften he is emerging from a whisky saloon, and all too ready to drink your honor's health to the detriment of his own. Yet good father Mathew labored not in vain; he was worth O'Connell and O'Brien rolled in one. There, too, in the same town with Pat is the ubiquitous Biddy, with her ingenious blunders and occasional naïve repartees. A devout Catholic is she, and confessor of terrible sins to the honest priest, whose portrait she treasures in her sanctum sanctorum, but her sons will be more Irish than religious. Scattered through many parts of Europe, in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, and almost everywhere stationed with the Queen's troops, are the Irish, and they have sucked in treason with their mother's milk, and the tale of that long agony is not concluded, and the seven centuries' drama is not played out yet.

Now, if a less must be sacrificed for a greater, or a worse for a better, let it be done, of course. It is expedient that one man should die for the people. I have nothing to say against Carlyle's figure of the starved rat, only it does not here apply, for Ireland, though starved enough, is not a rat. An intelligent perusal of Irish history affords no warrant for believing that the Irish belong to an inferior stock.

To return from this digression, since the form of our monarchy has undergone a change, it might have seemed appropriate that our land laws should likewise have been remodelled conformably to the principles of 1688—at the least, that some check should have been put upon landlord rapacity. According to Whig principles, a land ruler would deserve a liberal salary, like a constitutional king. But the principles of 1688 were aristocratic. Suppose the people should elect to have a Democratical land law and a Democratical government too?