« AnteriorContinuar »
BRIEF REMARKS ON A LATE LONG DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
I am going to say something new upon the Catholic Question. Nay, suppress that incredulous laugh, my worthy friend; I am very serious, I assure you: I love a joke as well as most people, but I can be serious too upon awful occasions. I think I would have been serious in contemplating the ruins of what had been London, just after the great fire in the year sixteen hundred and something, and I am sure I am serious after reading three long long nights' debate upon the Catholic Question. I well know what a tedious tough subject I have got to deal with-'tis like a piece of Indian rubber, and drag it out to what length you may, even to the length of three nights' debate, the moment it slips from your fingers, slap it goes back again to its old place and dimensions. I do not mean, however, to grapple with the great question upon its own merits, if any it have; but I have something to say about the three nights' debate, which hath not before been said or sung; and in the course of my brief remarks, I hope to expose some of the fallacies which are but too commonly attendant upon the consideration of the Roman Catholic claims.
The first thing that strikes me, from a view of the debate, is that this question is considered and argued throughout as an Irish question. This is perhaps natural enough, from the very important share which Ireland has in it; but still I cannot help thinking it rather hard on the English Roman Catholics, that their claims should be lost sight of in the wide and boisterous sea of Irish politics ;first, because whatever has anything to do with Ireland is pretty sure to go wrong-the course of Irish affairs, like that of love, "never did run smooth ;" and next, because the English Roman Catholics are a much more respectable, better-behaved class of subjects than are the Irish, and there fore more deserving of being favourably regarded. This claim, by the by, on the ground of good behaviour, seems to be entirely lost sight of by the Irish Catholics, or to be thrown by as a thing not worth regarding No, no, they are an organized, rent-paying, seditious-speech-making people; quite above so homely a means
of obtaining emancipation, as that of endeavouring to deserve it. They will terrify the English nation into submission; and, with shame be it said, they find people in the British Senate with folly sufficiently monstrous to echo this sentiment. How miserably short-sighted is this policy. How inadequately, how falsely do they judge of the English nation, who suppose it is to be bullied, or to be frightened, into anything. We were not fright ened when all Europe stood in arms against us, led on by the unquenchable hatred, and lofty abilities of Bonaparte; and shall we give way to the menaces of the Irish Papists ?
"Oh," but say the Catholic advo→ cates in general, and the Times newspaper in particular, "this is all very fine talk; you may pretend to be of fended at intimidation, but we say the enemy is at the gate, and however gall ing it may be to your pride, you must yield to their menaces, or they will compel you after a fashion, to you still more humiliating." Good God! is it not enough to rouse the anger, the loud determined opposition of every English heart, to hear such a falsehood as this put forth in order to influence his vote, Falsehood! I wish I could find a stronger word. It is impossible to conceive anything more false. There is no enemy, nor number of enemies, in Ireland or elsewhere, that England is not able to meet and to defeat, if they attempt to force her to do that which she is unwilling to yield. The Irish Papists force England! Ridiculous!-But I return to the debate.
The Catholic advocates rested their claims upon two grounds, that of the obligation of treaties, and that of expediency; which two were subdivided into,-claims founded on the Treaty of Limeric, claims founded on the pledges given at the Union, the expediency of doing something to relieve the dreadful state of Ireland, and the expediency of giving the Irish Roman Catholics what they asked, to prevent them rising up, and taking it by violence.
The fate of the first two arguments was ridiculous enough, considering the pompous manner and the lengthy speech with which they were introduced. Sir Francis Burdett informed
his auditory that the case of the petitioners rested upon two grounds, the Treaty of Limeric, and the pledges entered into at the Union. He assu red the honourable members, that he should establish the violation of the one and of the other; and on this ground he called for their decision in his favour. Then he talks on for six columns good measure, addressing himself to these topics, and to these topics only, and subjoins, that "this is the case on the part of the Roman Catholics," and he hopes and trusts he has made it out to the satisfaction of the House. Such was the Quinbus Flestrin of the Catholic claims which Sir Francis set up, adorning his champion with a curious quilted garment, composed of numerous irrelevant quotations, pedantically culled from all manner of Latin authors. But lo! on the third day of the debate we find him genubus minor, down on his knees, cheated of his fair proportions, biting the dust, with North, and Huskisson, and Brougham, (et tu, Brute!) pelting him into contempt and derision. Mr North, while he takes up the helmet of necessity, and the sword of expediency, hopes that the advocates of this measure will never again found any argument upon such untenable footing as the Treaty of Limeric, or the Articles of Union, and deeply de plores that these shambling legs were ever allowed to put their foot into the debate. Mr Huskisson most unkindly protests that he agrees not in Sir Francis's view of these questions, but in Mr Peel's, and the Solicitor-General's; but Winchelsea Harry gives the unkindest cut of all, by hastening to say, that though he still thinks there are perhaps some ambiguities, which might be favourably construed, he will not drag back the honourable members to the consideration of arguments, which are now below par on every side of the House. Such was the fate of this grand case, ushered in with so pompous an air of irrefragability. These notable arguments, which occupied the attention of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom for the greater part of two nights' debate, are on the third abandoned by all as too absurd and ridiculous to be worth any consideration in the question at issue.
Nor is there any wonder in this, but rather in the extraordinary front
of the men who could venture to bring forward such arguments upon such a subject. As to the treaty of Limeric, clear as the case is against the construction sought to be put upon it by Sir Francis and some of his friends, yet he might perhaps have expected that, from the remoteness of its date, he should be able, notwithstanding the presence of Mr Peel and the SolicitorGeneral, to make something of the "ambiguities," as Mr Brougham was pleased to call them, which must attend the circumstances of a treaty made in a disturbed country nearly 140 years ago. But to attempt to argue the House into what Mr Pitt's pledge was at the Union, while those were still living and sitting in the House, who had heard Mr Pitt declare, in words as plain as words could be, that no pledge at all was given-this, indeed, was a stretch of oratorical audacity that Sir Francis and the Knight of Kerry have some reason to take credit for. I shall pass over the indecent attack of Sir Francis upon the venerable ornament of the Upper House of Parliament, the late Lord Chancellor. If he be not himself sorry and ashamed by this time that he was betrayed into such indecency, Sir Francis is not the man I took him for. With all the vio lence of his party spirit, I thought he possessed some of the good feelings of the class to which he belongs, and as one of the landed gentlemen of Eng land, I believed him incapable of the low malignity which a deliberate approbation of his own language concerning the late Lord Chancellor would indicate.
Another matter seemingly rather out of the record, into which Sir Francis thought proper to travel after the six columns on the treaty and the pled ges were got over, was the "scandal about Queen Elizabeth;" for if she indeed had displayed any favour or affection for the Roman Catholic body, she would have shewn herself a very foolish old woman, and not what she most certainly was, one of the greatest sovereigns that ever a great people was blessed withal. How sickening it is to hear such stuff talked in the House of Commons! Who does not know, that Elizabeth, (glory and ho nour to her memory,) after a long and patient endurance of Popish plots for her assassination, for insurrection, and invasion, was at length compelled to
spiritual darkness. Thus, on every hand, Ireland is assailed by exagge ration of her faults and her misfor tunes, and the already monstrous heap of her imputed misdeeds gradually increases, like those cairns upon spots where some horrid murder has been committed, upon which, by supersti tious custom, every hand as it passes flings another stone. Again and again, I say, that there is nothing in Ireland to warrant these dark and terrifying descriptions. The country is still fertile, and beautiful beyond compare; the people are in general kind-hearted, hospitable, and good-natured, and though they are unsteady, passionate, and easily led into wrong, yet they are perfectly manageable by a union of kindness with firmness; and if the mass be turbulent, it is chiefly because a few men are allowed to exercise, without control or punishment, their foolish and wicked plans, for the disturbance of the people.
Nor is it to be wondered at that they persevere, since not only are they left unpunished, but their power and their importance is everywhere, even in the Houses of Parliament, spoken of so seriously, and yet so erroneously, that they must feel their vanity most exceedingly gratified, and they are invited to go on in a course which places them, according to the orators, not only on a level with, but above, the legitimate government of the country. "The people," says the Knight of Kerry, in his place in Parliament,
are organized, the country is organized." "He did not mean to say, that this organization was intended for bad purposes, but he did say that it existed, and that it was an awful circumstance, that a country in such a state of disaffection to the Government, from disappointed hope and protracted expectations, could be wielded and directed as one man." Now this is said of all Ireland, and undoubtedly, if it were true, it would be a fact very frightful and alarming; but it is not true that the country could be wielded as one man; on the contrary, it is true, that whatever preponderance the Roman Catholics of Ireland may have in numerical force, yet-for I am forced to the painful comparison, by the way in which Mr Fitzgerald has thought fit to state the matter-it is more than balanced by the superior wealth, in telligence, and firmness of the opposite party; and if the affairs of Ireland
come to that dreadful state, (which God forbid they should come to,) and which there is in reality and truth no reason to apprehend, that it were necessary to withdraw the English troops, and leave the population of Ireland to fight for the sovereignty of it; I maintain, and the Catholics themselves know it to be true, that they would be conquered. What means this imposing word "organization?" If Mr Fitzgerald wishes the country to believe, that the respectable and wealthy part of the Roman Catholic body, are organized in such a way as to be wielded as one man, he wishes it to believe that which is not the fact. The Catholic Association, which those who have been on the spot, and have looked at the matter with their own eyes, know very well does not comprise the real strength of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, but is, with some dozen or two of exceptions, a crew of vulgar, illiterate, uninfluential brawlers-this Catholic Association is no doubt in regular communication with the priests, and the priests have considerable influence over the very lowest of the people, whose ignorance they may take advantage of to lead them into error; but here is the whole machinery of this wonderful " organization." No doubt to certain Irish members this organization appears a very formidable affair, for by means of it the Association may keep them in, or turn them out of, their seats; but the reason it can do this, is because the law unfortunately places the elective franchise in the hands of the very lowest of the people; and, if this law were amended as it ought to be, I have no doubt that the importance of this dreaded organization would sink very fast in Parliamentary estimation. But if it were true, that this organization and wonderful power did really exist, and, if it be also true, that the people are so extremely wicked as they are described to be, what are we to think of the persons who wield this power, and yet who take no steps to prevent the frequent commission of dreadful crimes?
If the Popish leaders have not the power ascribed to them, then the argument for emancipation, grounded upon it, falls to the ground; if, on the other hand, they have the power, and will not exercise it for the prevention of crime in the country, then
they are undeserving of emancipation, and ought not to obtain it. It will perhaps be said, and with some appearance of truth too, that they do not prevent, but encourage crime, for the sake of making the aspect of the country more terrifying to the English; but, if this were true, what politician could advise that to people capable of thus acting, additional political power should be given? I say given, for as to the Irish Catholics taking it by force, it is, as I said before, ridiculous. They have no notion of any such thing. It is possible, but it is not at all likely, that the mass of the population who have nothing to lose, might be led into insurrection, and a dreadful scene of slaughter would then ensue ; but who would be their leaders? The Roman Catholics of Ireland who possess property, know too well the value of what they have, to risk it by any such desperate measure. They must know, that unless they take delight in slaughter, they would obtain no good from the attempt, but that confiscation of property, banishment, and death in the field, or on the scaffold, would be to themselves the final and dreadful conse quences. But I do them wrong in supposing for a moment, that it is fear of the consequences which restrains them. It is a calumny to impute "disaffection" to them; and, whatever the forty-shilling freeholders, lay or ecclesiastical, might be disposed to do, I am sure the Roman Catholic gentlemen of Ireland would, if an insurrection broke out to-morrow, instead of supporting it, give it their zealous opposition.
"Ireland united as one man!" Alas! for Ireland's national honour, never did she exhibit such a union; never did a foreign foe plant his foot on the Irish shore, that he did not find some of her own people ready to join him, for the sake of revenging their intes tine quarrels. What is the disgraceful legend of Irish history-is Dermod forgotten, who, for the sake of avenging himself upon Roderic, brought the English invaders into the heart of his native country? Shall we not remember, that when Henry the Second marched through the land as a conqueror, instead of meeting with opposition, and "a country united as one man,” disunion and private hatred laid the country prostrate at his feet? "O'
Brien of Thomond," says the historian, "having submitted to King Henry, Donchad of Ossory, dreading the advantages which his rival might acquire by his forward zeal, hastened to the King, and submitted to become his tributary and vassal." The conduct of the other Irish chiefs was similar. The manners, customs, and language of nations may alter and improve; but there are certain great national characteristics which, however modified, remain in their leading features the same. England, as long as we know her, has been sturdy, inflexible England. She never would be bullied or driven into anything, nor will she yet. Scotland would never abide the stranger to dwell within her quarters; but whether he came with bow and spear, or with surplice and prayer book, she drove him forth; and still she stands, maintaining her own laws and her own religion. Ireland—wild Ireland, the land of quick feeling and unsettled principles, never was constant or unanimous in any purpose, nor is she now. Leave her to herself, and treachery and disunion would continue to tear her in pieces. " United as one man!" changed indeed must she be, before that can be truly said of her.
Still the insecurity of life and property in Ireland is dreadfully, shamefully exaggerated by the orators.
In some districts, particularly the county of Tipperary, there certainly does prevail a dreadful recklessness of human life, of which the consequences are too horrible to be described; but even this is the result of feuds amongst themselves. They have a wild notion, that their own people should submit to the lawless regulations which they lay down amongst themselves; and, while it is a shocking truth that, in the county of Tipperary, an Irishman who takes a farm from which another has been ejected, may be murdered in the daylight, without his neighbours interfering to prevent the crime, or to secure the criminal, an Englishman who had taken the same farm would probably escape; they would consider him without the pale of their revenge, which is truly with them, as Lord Bacon defines it, a kind of wild jus tice." But the horrid state of Tipperary is by no means general over the whole country; and I myself know of instances in the county Limeric, where