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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39

The Land Law (Ireland) Act

page 41

The Land Law (Ireland) Act.

Ireland has now got her new Land Act, embodying the three F's, and has had an opportunity to express herself upon it, and Mr. Bright says that she ought to be satisfied and pacified, yet she is actually neither the one nor the other. Thank you for nothing, is her response to all our generosity.

Be the new Bill worth to Ireland what it may, much or little or nothing or less than nothing, in any case, to whom does she owe it? Not to the Government, nor to the Liberal party, nor to Messrs. Gladstone and Bright, with all their good intentions, but to the agitators whom England denounces, to the two hundred men who are at present rotting in the gaols of Ireland upon the instance of Mr. Forster, and who are regarded with esteem and gratitude by the mass of their countrymen and especially their neighbors and those who know them best, a gratitude which is not measured by the imagined worth of the Bill which they have won, but by the zeal and courage which they have shown, and by Ireland's recollections of the past, and by what she hopes from such men in the future. But for such men there would have been no Land Bill nor any thought of one. Upon that point there exists no particle of doubt whatever.

But what has the Land Law (Ireland) Act accomplished for Ireland? First of all, it has effectuated a new metamorphosis in the character of the landlord (for so is he still called, though with ludicrous incorrectness), and what has it made of him? Precisely the very thing which Mill declared to have been never contemplated in any well-considered system of landholding, namely, a sinecurist quartered upon the soil. The sinecurist is one of the tares which grow up along with the wheat in the course of civilisation. In every civilised country there always have been sinecurists, but every one of them is one too many; but to select a whole class of men claiming to occupy the front rank among their page 42 fellow-citizens, and to make of this class a class of sinecurists, is, I believe, a feat of statesmanship which has been reserved for the nineteenth century. Whatever involves absurdities must be itself absurd. So argues Euclid; and accordingly I must regard the new Bill as the reductio ad absurdum of current theories about land. The landlord may still go upon his lands for purposes of mining, or quarrying, or road-making, or draining, or sporting, but beyond this he has almost nothing to do with the management of his estates. In general, there are no mines nor quarries, nor any new roads or drains required. What, then, has the Irish landlord left to do, in a usual way Shoot his woodcocks and pocket his rents. Des raisons d'être, les voici.

The Bill further affords facilities to the tenants for the acquisition of their farms. That is to say, England generously offers to sell upon favorable terms to Ireland what ought to have been given to her. Well, half a loaf is better than no bread, and I hope that, after having been for some years protected by the Bill against the capricious tyranny of the landlord (he having been reduced to a cypher), the tenants may gain the confidence and ambition which they at present lack, and learn to take advantage of those facilities.

What has the Land Law (Ireland) Act left undone for Ireland? The lands of Ireland are still in the hands of aliens, and the wealth which her labor and her soil produce still flows into a foreign country. Is this equitable, or is it tolerable? The lands of Ireland were wrested from her, some by sheer violence, some by violence accompanied with fraud; but that was long ago. Yes, the original robbery was committed long ago, but the mischief of it, the drain upon Ireland's resources, still continues. Thefts of money or of goods, or murders done, may be forgiven and forgotten, and Ireland has suffered many thefts and many murders at the hands of England; but a theft of land is an open and a running sore, impossible to be forgotten or forgiven.

Lastly, the Act offers aid to emigrants, and there are still believers in emigration as a panacea for all the woes of the Old World. It seems to be sometimes forgotten by these persons that banishment is a punishment for the worst criminals, and that the office of the soil of a country is not to raise criminals, but to support, a people. I should advise that an American and a Frenchman lay their heads together page 43 and patent a machine for shooting through the ether in defiance of gravitation as a mode of transport to the planet Sirius, because, otherwise, I fear lest we should come to a deadlock after a while with our too much humanity. I am no opponent of prudent emigration, but emigration can never be a remedy against pauperism artificially created by an unnatural drain upon the resources of a country. As a rule the capable man, with or without capital, but especially with it, will improve his lot in a new country; but the poor and the incapable, by quitting their native land, only get out of the frying-pan into the fire. To emigrate hopefully, a man should surpass the average in capacity and wealth. State aid may put the capable poor in a situation to emigrate, but that is nothing else but charity, and it does look to me to be a vicious system. We prefer their room to their company, and so give them something to quit us. It may he the lesser of two evils, but the money so given is a dead loss to the givers of it, to the Exchequer, and it all counts for so much murderous drudgery to be gone through.

In a preceding paragraph I have spoken of England as for the Irish a foreign country, but you may hear it said that the English and the Irish are one people. Are they one people? They are not one people, but two peoples, and scarcely any two peoples of Europe are more dissimilar, nor was there ever any likelihood of their amalgamation, nor has such a contingency been ever more remote than it is now. Closet doctrinaires may ignore, or deny if they chose, the most patent facts in nature, but the statesman who will not be imbecile must recognise them; and assuredly the chief European political developments of the present century afford the least possible encouragement to the opinion that the spirit of race is dead or dying. Mr. Senior, the economist, remarks that almost every considerable community contains some foreign elements. True, that is the case, but the more it is so the more unsatisfactory, as a rule, is the condition of that community. What do we see in the Austro-Hungarian empire and in the East? Races are jumbled up enough together there, and they have had centuries enough to try the experiment of race amalgamation. Yet does it make any progress? They only sometimes unite together like the tarantula upon its victim, to suck each other's blood.

page 44

The dream of Mazzini's life is being by degrees accomplished. It was not in vain that that lofty spirit pined in solitude and exile; it was not in vain that that fine frame, of woman-like delicacy, endured so many hardships. When Orsini died he warned Napoleon that Italy was full of daggers. That was Italian-like, and Napoleon took alarm. But Mazzini rose above patriotism to morality, to philosophy. The principle was with him indeed a passion, but it was likewise a religious faith; it formed for him a part of natural justice. He was a unique figure, belonging not to the age, but to the ages. I remember when I read the news of his death in the local papers a chill ran through me. It is shocking that such men should die. Nature shows her skill so well, and all to leave a lump of carrion. Well, we need not in reason look for Mazzinis among the Irish patriots. They may sometimes more resemble Kossuth. When Kossuth was in America he formed friendships in the South, and the anti-slavery men said to him: "Will you endorse slavery?" "Yes," said Kossuth, "I'll endorse anything to win support for Hungary." That is patriotism. And the Irish patriots are patriots, and whatever merit appertains to that belongs to them. Until so recently as under the rule of Cromwell the native Irish were always styled in the public documents the Irish enemy, but since then we have concluded that they should be our brethren, only the brotherhood must be of the sort described in the "Tale of a Tub," and we will be the lord Peter. The Irish, however, do not, somehow, relish that species of fraternity, and we have continued to remain for them the English enemy. What did O'Connell say? If ever man of strong passions and vigorous understanding were subdued by superstitious awe and devoted to the Church, that man was O'Connell. Yet what did O'Connell say? "I have always declared both before and since I passed the Bill that I would relinquish Catholic emancipation—yes; I would even give up in a minute what I had fought so hard for, for the sake of repeal." They will not be one with us. But the peasant always wants the land, he does not wish to be a slave; whereas the man who may not tread upon the ground without another's leave is not a free man. Why are the Celts of Great Britain, comparatively speaking, tranquil and contented? Because their lands are still held by page 45 Celts, and no attempt has been made to force upon them a union against nature. Let the Irish enjoy the same immunity (I use that word advisedly, the same immunity) and then possibly, but not before, they may bend to our yoke as Wales and the Highlands have done.