« AnteriorContinuar »
The project of Grattan, later in date, was of a nobler and more comprehensive kind; but it aimed at an ideal we believe impossible. Like Flood, Grattan desired to enlarge the basis and to purify the constitution of the Irish Parliament; but he insisted that it should embrace all parts of the nation, and that Catholic and Protestant should have equal rights; and, forgetting the divisions and the misdeeds of centuries, he hoped that in this way it would become the beneficent organ of a united people.
a The Irish Parliament and the condition of Ireland attracted from the first the attention of Pitt. We agree, however, with Mr. Lecky that his knowledge of Ireland was very imperfect; he never gave proof in his Irish policy of the grasp of facts and of the clear insight which marked his conduct on many English questions. Except in one point, on which Fox and North had already expressed decided views, he did not for years perceive the evils of the settlement of 1782; he* perhaps thought that the rival legislatures, the conditions of the
* In 1886 Mr. Gladstone condemned Pitt's conduct to Ireland in language of quite unexampled violence. His fugitive studies of Irish history have since caused him to claim Pitt as a witness in favour of the Home Rule policy happily defeated at the last election. His reasoning, set forth in an article in the Nineteenth Century,' is, no doubt, characteristic, but will scarcely satisfy people of plain understandings. Because Pitt, bound by the recent Constitution of 1782, wrote to the Duke of Portland that he was satisfied that the two countries should .for local concerns be under distinct legislatures,' taking care, however, to add that they should be one in effect,' the author of the Union is to be cited as approving in principle, by anticipation, of a measure which would break up the Imperial Parliament, and in the opinion of most thinking men would separate Ireland from Great Britain ! Because Pitt was silent as to the concession of the franchise to the Irish Catholics—but in the very same letter he insisted that they were to have no share in the representation or government'
- he would not, were he now alive, condemn a revolutionary policy which would secure to Catholic Ireland an ascendency more grievous and tyrannical than Protestant ascendency ever was, and would certainly destroy that Protestant interest, the preservation of which he declared to be a paramount object! A very simple test may be applied to this matter. Pitt dealt pretty summarily with the leaders of the United Irishmen, and treated Jacobin slanders of English rule in Ireland with merited contempt; would this precursor of Mr. Gladstone, were he at the heim in our day, be the submissive ally of the National League, and discern the voice of the “civilised world' in the interested attacks of Yankee politicians and of the Chicago Convention on the Irish policy of Russell, of Peel, and of Palmerston ?
arrangement being what they were, could work together, at least tolerably well; nor did he advocate the necessity, at this time, of a Union. This is the more remarkable because the attitude of the Irish Parliament on the Regency question revealed the extreme peril of the existing system; though he dwelt on the subject in the Union debates, it did not strike him forcibly in 1789. We are greatly surprised that Mr. Lecky, right-minded and candid on most occasions, should, in his zeal for Irish constitutional rights, have thought this an unimportant matter; the disruption of the State, and even civil war, might not improbably have been the consequence. Pitt, however, certainly was alive to the anomalies of our whole commercial system due to the change effected in 1782; and following his true economic instincts, he attempted by a large measure of free trade to lessen the poverty and the social ills of Ireland, and to open unrestricted commerce between the two countries. The cele brated resolutions of 1785 were framed to promote these beneficent ends; and unquestionably Pitt, for the sake of Ireland, confronted an opposition not too scrupulous, and the whole force of British commercial selfishness. The project, however, though in the main judicious, was really open to the objection of Burke, that it had much in common with the unwise policy which had led to the civil war with America; if it would have added to the wealth of Ireland, it limited her constitutional rights; it was largely modified in English interests; and, with Mr. Lecky, we are not surprised that it was ultimately rejected by the Irish Parliament, especially as the outcry was raised that it subjected Ireland to a foreign tribute-a circumstance to be borne in mind with reference to the Bills of 1886. The only other part of Pitt's Irish policy deserving eulogy at this period was his plan for the commutation of the tithe, the oppressive impost of an alien Church ; but he did not give a strenuous support to the project, and he sanctioned its rejection by the Irish Parliament. Parliamentary reform in Ireland opened questions that involved the reconstruction of the State, and went to the very roots of society; but Pitt treated it as a measure simply analogous to that of reform in England, and he ultimately allowed the subject to drop. He seems, besides, to have scarcely understood the problems presented by the existing state of the unenfranchised parts of the Irish people; he was indifferent to Presbyterian and Catholic wrongs; and in these years he appears to have been satisfied with the existing order of things in Ireland, the as
cendency of a sectarian and aristocratic caste, and the domination of a corrupt Parliament principally nominated by the owners of boroughs and seats, who afterwards received compensation for their property.
From 1784 to 1792 the position of affairs in Ireland was but slightly changed. The Constitution of 1782 was given full scope to work, though its disintegrating and centrifugal tendencies had been exhibited in striking instances, and the idea of a Union had become prevalent. The Parliament in College Green remained unreformed with the approval or the concurrence of Pitt; it continued to be the bought agency of aristocratic and ministerial rule; and from the nature of its relations with the dominant State, increasing corruption was the result of any show of independence within its precincts, and the machinery was strengthened by which it was made the satellite of the British Executive. The grievances, too, of Presbyterian Ulster and of the Catholic South were not redressed; and, above all, a small privileged class retained a monopoly of all kinds of power, and the great mass of the people had no influence in the State. Mr. Lecky, true to a favourite theory, looks wistfully back at this halcyon era of parliamentary independence' in Ireland, and places it in the most favourable light; but we differ widely from him in his estimate of it. Though there were seasons of distress and almost of famine, the wealth of the country, no doubt, increased; and the capital showed a marked growth of prosperity scarcely visible in the rural districts. The spirit of intolerance and of sectarian bigotry diminished, too, perhaps among the upper classes, and their intellectual activity was certainly quickened. But the removal of restrictions on Irish trade, the relaxation of the penal code, and the tendencies of the later years of the century, were the principal causes of this general progress; and “liberty,' and a ‘National Parlia'ment,' had not, as Mr. Lecky rather hints than asserts, much to do, in our judgement, with this matter. Unquestionably, too, the Parliament in College Green maintained order and the public peace, though it secured this object through a Draconic code; nor do we deny that, upon the whole, it was really attached to the British connexion, for this was its direct and evident interest; that it was free from socialistic and democratic tendencies, for its nature and character made this certain ; or that, filled as it was with owners of land, it contributed to the material welfare of Ireland, though its extravagance, its jobbing, and its waste were proverbial. But just legislation, and good government, and even administration could not exist in the actual state of affairs in Ireland; and the condition of the nation in various aspects was pregnant with evil and full of danger. The Constitution of 1782 was not only inconsistent with Imperial safety, but with wise reform and with progress in Ireland; it thwarted the enlightened and judicious policy which occasionally was designed at Westminster; it made the corruption of the Irish Parliament a necessary condition of the security of the State; and yet it largely increased the power of that exclusive, selfish, and domineering Assembly. The measures, too, of the
, Irish Parliament, as was to be expected, in the main embodied the ideas and the prejudices of a class; it refused, as we have seen, to commute the tithes; it never approached a land question even then beginning to become formidable ; it paid no regard to the wants or the misery of the teeming millions of a pauper peasantry; it persistently rejected plans of reform and of bringing popular influences within its sphere; its system of government, central and local, was that of a harsh sectarian ascendency iniquitous to the mass of the nation; above all, it had very little in common with two great divisions of the people it ruled, and it could not sympathise with their views or their interests. No wonder, then, that discontent, wretchedness, and disloyalty prevailed throughout the island during this boasted period of national 'freedom;' or that elements of mischief and of peril to the State, ready to break out when the occasion offered, increased in the Presbyterian and Catholic parts of Ireland which were deprived of their just rights and legitimate power.
We have now reached the tremendous crisis in which the old order of France and of Europe was to be overthrown amidst bloodshed and war; in which England was to present the spectacle of reverses abroad succeeded by triumphs, of society stirred to its depths at home, and of an Ireland smitten by the French Terror; and in which the minister who, in peace, had crowned her fortunes, was to be her guide in a worldwide conflict, of which he scarcely perceived the signs or the tendencies. Mr. Lecky has dwelt at great length on the antecedents of the French Revolution, especially on the intellectual movement of which Voltaire and Rousseau were the master spirits; but we have no space to refer to an essay which is not closely linked with the narrative, and we shall only remark that we concur in his view that the effects of this philosophy have perhaps been
magnified, though the spirit of Voltaire, we certainly think, was more destructive than Mr. Lecky admits, and it sapped the throne as well as the altar. He has also given us an instructive sketch of the history of the years before 1789; and he has clearly pointed out how the State was weakened by the spectacle of a conflict between its main powers in the presence of a keen-witted but unenfranchised nation ; how a spirit of mean and grasping selfishness pervaded the upper classes, and destroyed their influence; and what discredit had, for half a century, fallen on every institution of the Bourbon monarchy. He has moreover brought out a special feature of the time, not sufficiently noticed by many writers—how the barbarities of the Revolution were partly due to the distress of 1784-88, which filled Paris with thousands of desperate men, and supplied Jacobinism with its legions of crime, and he has commented justly on the extravagance of Calonne, on the foolishness of Brienne, and on the weakness of Necker. He has scarcely, however, we think, given sufficient prominence to two marked characteristics of these years—how all that was august in the old order of France, the monarchy, the Church, the noblesse, the Parliaments, had become almost effete; and how, though there was little oppression, and a liberal and enlightened spirit was abroad, the community was separated into hostile classes, and widespread misery prevailed in the towns, as well as in many of the rural districts. We agree in the main with Mr. Lecky that, historically, it is unwise to regard the Revolution with a fatalist's eye; it was largely due to remote causes, but it was precipitated by a series of accidents, and its peculiar character must be ascribed to casual and purely special circumstances. Undoubtedly in 1788-89 France, as a nation, had not a thought of overthrowing her ancient monarchy; and had Louis XVI. been Henry IV., or even had Mirabeau held the place of Necker, the course of events might have been quite different. Nor would anarchy have become supreme in France, or Jacobinism won its appalling triumph, had the émigrés stood by the imperilled throne; had the middle class shown more moral courage; had not wicked men been able to gain a mastery over popular passion by pointing to treachery in high places, and screening crime behind a mask of patriotism; had not war aggravated the dire catastrophe.
The States General assembled at Versailles, and even before many months had passed the monarchy had been