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Byron's Sardanapalus. Events during the past months with which the newspapers have made our readers well acquainted, particularly the ministerial consultations
upon the state of Ireland, render the present article more particularly appropriate.
Ireland and its sufferings have so often been dinned into the public ear, that they have almost exhausted attention ; and whether brought forward in debate or pamphlet, they are as unceremoniously cut, as a button-holding proser. The very multiplicity of discussion, however, only shows how ill the subject is understood; for truth is simple, and ignorance alone is wordy and diffuse. The prevalent fastidiousness, which empties the benches of the House when Ireland is in debate, and which leaves the pages uncut wherein its interests are discussed, is therefore perfectly unjustifiable. Ireland is an integral portion of the empire, and nothing that concerns its welfare can long remain indifferent to the happiness of the whole. If apology be necessary, it is not for those who bring the matter before the public, but for those who treat it with levity, impatience, and contempt.
To the people of England, Ireland, its misfortunes and its turbulence are a perfect riddle; and if Lord Eldon and the old exclusionists are agreeably disappointed in not beholding the Pope carried to the British throne on the shoulders of papistical legislators, the English friends of emancipation are not less so, in witnessing the little progress
which has been made by the measure in tranquillizing the country. When the Duke of Wellington, in the tardy conviction that Ireland could no longer be governed on the old plan, made the Relief Bill a cabinet proposition, a political millennium was thought to be at hand ; a new era of peace, order, and plenty was proclaimed, and Parliament congratulated itself on having at length washed its hands of Irish complaint. Catholic Emancipation had been so loudly and so urgently announced as a panacea for a long term of years, and by a long list of valued statesmen, that nothing could have been less looked for than the events which have followed it; and John Bull is not without some excuse for the wonder in which he is lost on the occasion. The explanation, however, is not difficult. It was never intended by the most confident assertors of the merit of emancipation, that the mere text of an act of parlia
September, 1831,-VOL. II. NO. V.
ment was endowed with any healing efficacy. By emancipation was meant the spirit, as well as the letter, of that act, together with all the legitimate consequences with which it was pregnant : and in this sense the Bill has scarcely been put into execution. Whether the Duke of Wellington felt the desire of keeping this word of promise to the sense is now a matter of little importance. The probability is, that he neither knew the extent to which he was pledged, nor would have been prepared to go the whole length, if others had informed him. It is the curse of those governments in which what is called the conservative principle predominates, that the ameliorations demanded by the progress of society are reluctantly conceded, and are withheld till their apropos has passed away. Like the hind wheel of a chariot, such governments can never overtake their precursors; but turning and toiling in the rear of opinion, they almost uniformly arrive just in time to be too late. Such was the bistory of Catholic Emancipation, and hence the disappointment it has occasioned. Had that boon been granted, as in wisdom it should have been, immediately after the act of Union, it would then have been an adaptation to the exigencies of the times, and would have been followed by universal satisfaction ; but having been delayed till delay was no longer possible, new combinations arose in the interval; the people acquired new wants and new desires ; old evils became inveterate, and new ones were engendered; so that the administration, in at length conceding to the pressure of necessity, found themselves but at the commencement of their task, and at the threshold of the temple of peace, when they imagined themselves in its inmost penetralia. In the year 1829, Catholic Emancipation was but as the first stone of a new edifice, or rather as the clearing of encumbered ground for laying its foundation. In this light it was viewed by its friends; in this sense alone it was taken as a consummation of their wishes; and it is in the disappointment of this expectation, that those new discontents sprang up, which have since ripened into so precocious an harvest. It is of the nature of all delays in the redress of grievances to increase the demands of the party aggrieved : for while evil multiplies itself, and leaves more to be desired, hope deferred exalts the passions of the sufferers; and resistance teaches the multitude the lesson of their own strength.
The changes which had taken place in the condition of Ireland, pending the long agitation of the Catholic Question, were partly in opinion, and partly in the physical circumstances of the nation. The debates of the association had given a democratic turn to the current of ideas. They had developed the intellect and awakened the energies of the population; and, above all, had given them a sense of their own power and importance. A system of passive resistance to authority had been organized, so admirably combined that the slightest touch of the web-work of its sympathies vibrated to the remotest extremity. The nation had fallen into a state of permanent conspiracy, the more efficient because it had no local habitation or name, because it was independent of tangible agency, and possessed no fixed and assailable centre. It had been the system of the association to seek a lever in the exploitation of abuses; so that while the passions were especially excited by a growing sense of religious disqualifications, attention was called to every civil and econo
evil, by which these were accompanied. While the population were urged to bear no one grievance with patience, every wrong was placed in its most striking light, and its workings demonstrated to the level of the commonest understandings. Thus did this anomalous assembly ripen with an accelerating rapidity the political education of Irishmen: but the education it afforded was partial, unsound, and insufficient. While it fitted its subjects to admiration for a factious assertion of their rights, it left them in ignorance of the just bounds of those rights, and of the duties and interests of the people as citizens of a free community. It taught them to overthrow what was established, it gave no lessons in the art of constituting, or on the institutions which it might be necessary to create. Thus, by forcing into existence this body, the government, too wilful to concede to the public will, yet too feeble to control popular aggression, evoked a spirit, and suffered the formation of habits, most hostile to order and tranquillity; while it hatched into being a race of demagogues, whose interests must ever be opposed to good government, because good government would consign them to the obscurity, from which the misfortunes of the times could alone have raised them.
In the mean while, the consequences of misrule had festered to a malignant maturity, affording ample materials for discontent to brood over. Bad government is so qualified because it works evil in the physical condition of the governed ; and the government of Ireland had produced the greatest disorganization of society, and impeded to the utmost the natural developement of industry and wealth. Every year that had been added to the dreary annals of Catholic slavery, had increased the insufficiency of the national resources, and had advanced the population without any corresponding enlargement of capital. Every year the people had sunk in the scale of civilized existence, and had become less able to bear the burdens imposed on them, for the advantage of a long category of the privileged-the necessitated creatures of an exclusive régime. Thus every class became dislocated. The middle ranks had nearly disappeared; fortunes were concentrated in large and unproductive masses, while the labouring poor were in a state of periodical starvation; and distress and embarrassment spread upwards even to the very highest. At the passing of the Relief Bill, therefore, society required to be reconstituted from its foundations ; not only was a world of nuisances to be abated, but their perverse effects were to be obliterated, and a long lee-way of decadence and destruction was to be recovered. Emancipation, then, was invaluable as the sine quâ non of this regeneration, and welcome as the herald of a new era ; but, as be all and the end all” of Tory concession, it was no longer of its original worth.
Such was the state of opinion and of the country at the passing of the Emancipation Act, and such the rationale of that favourable prediction, which the advocates of the Bill ventured to form of its salutary operation. To the fulfilment of their expectations were opposed the old leaven of Tory politics, the unsubdued rancour of the Orange ascendancy, and the reckless impetuosity of a population too distressed to await with sufficient patience the coming on of that time, from whose good employment a practical relief was alone to be expected. Still, under ordinary circumstances and in an ordi
nary age, this great and important measure would have ultimately fulfilled its benevolent mission. Good is the parent of good, and to abandon folly is a marked approach to wisdom. The step which was gained was vantage-ground for the wresting of further victories; and Ireland must have profited by the general improvements going forward in the imperial government. But the bursting of the revolution of July, the ever-memorable three days in Paris, have extended their influence to Ireland. Events march with an uncontrollable rapidity, and new results must follow from the new contingencies, in a great degree independent of all other foregone conclusions.
The recurrence to emancipation had been immediately preceded by an attempt to govern Ireland by a liberal administration of its old exclusive laws; and it seems not improbable that, in passing his Bill, the Duke of Wellington intended only to reverse that system, and to administer his liberal law in an exclusive spirit. If such an idea was really conceived, nothing could be less felicitous. By the passing of that Bill, the state of Ireland was totally changed ; and nothing was left to the government but the frankest adoption of its own measure. To conciliate the Orangemen, after the brain-blow inflicted on their system, was impossible. There was no other power in the State upon which the government might repose but that of the people, which it had just consolidated. The Catholics, strong in their victory, would no longer remain contented with less than its fullest consequences; and it was no longer feasible to balance parties in the old way, and, by alternately flattering either, to compress both. The nation, essentially Catholic, had been legally recognised, and the alliance formed with it should at once have been confirmed and ratified. All show of concession to the Orangemen would be attributed by them to fear, and could serve only to nourish their factious obstinacy; whilst every stint in the amplest measure of justice to their opponents would be resented as matter of suspicion, disappointment, and anger. In half measures there is never strength. This simple truth was overlooked by the emancipating administration; and, from the starting-post, the new régime commenced by a fatal mistake. The individual exclusion of O'Connell, (a gratuitous insult to the people,) the petty malice of passing him over in the lists of professional promotion, though attributed personally to the King, were not • the less the acts of his ministers. These, however, were trifles. The disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders (the heroes of emancipation), the making no provision for the Catholic clergy, the toleration of the Brunswickers' violence, the absurd concession to the spirit of bigotry in the matter of education, followed in rapid succession, and spread alarm and irritation where gratitude and affection should have been suffered to grow. While the government thus failed in its most obvious policy, the Catholic peasantry, released from the salutary control of their leaders in the association, and disappointed in their exaggerated anticipations of food and raiment from the Bill, were little disposed to patience and forbearance. Placing no reliance on an administration which they had been so long accustomed to distrust, they gave way to the rage excited by the antics of the Orangemen, and involved themselves in collisions with those whom they ought to have despised. Blood was