Historical and Political Essays
by William Edward Hartpole Lecky
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I am not prepared to say that the reaction of opinion produced by the new school of Indian historians has not been sometimes carried too far, but these writers have certainly dispelled much exaggeration and some positive falsehood. They have shown that, although under circumstances of extreme difficulty and extraordinary temptation, some very bad things were done by Englishmen in India, these things were neither as numerous nor as grave as has been alleged.

On the whole, too, it may be truly said that English colonial policy in its broad lines has to a remarkable degree avoided grave errors. The chief exception is to be found in the series of mistakes which produced the American Revolution, and ended in the loss of our chief American colonies. Yet even in this instance it is, I believe, coming to be perceived that there is much more to be said for the English case than the historians of the last generation were apt to imagine. In imposing commercial restrictions on the colonies and endeavouring to secure for the mother-country the monopoly of their trade, we merely acted upon ideas that were then almost universally received, and our commercial code was on the whole less illiberal than that of other nations. Both Spain and France imposed restrictions on their colonies which were far more severe, and the English restrictions were at least mitigated by frequent partial relaxations and exceptions, by some important monopolies granted in favour of the colonies in the English market and by bounties encouraging several branches of colonial produce. It is at least certain that under the large measure of political liberty granted by the English Government to the English colonies their material prosperity, even in the worst period of commercial restriction, steadily and rapidly advanced. This has been clearly shown by more than one writer on our side of the Atlantic, but the subject has never been treated with more exhaustive knowledge and more perfect impartiality than by an American writer—Mr. George Beer—whose work on the Commercial Policy of England has recently been published by Columbia College, in New York. No one will now altogether defend Grenville's policy of taxing America by the Imperial Parliament, but it ought not to be forgotten that it was expressly provided that every farthing of this taxation was to be expended in America, and devoted to colonial defence. England had just terminated a great war, which, by expelling the French from Canada, had been of inestimable advantage to her colonies, but which had left the mother-country almost crushed by debt. All that Grenville desired was, that the American colonies should provide a portion of the cost of their own defence, as our great colonies are doing at the present time, and he only resorted to Imperial taxation because he despaired of achieving this end by any other means. The step which he took was no doubt a false one. As is so often the case in England, it was made worse by party changes and by party recriminations, and many later mistakes aggravated and embittered the original dispute; but I think an impartial reader of this melancholy chapter of English history will come to the conclusion that these mistakes were by no means all on one side.

It is a story which is certainly not without its lesson to our own time. It is very improbable that any future statesman will follow the example of George Grenville, and endeavour by Act of Parliament to impose taxation on a self-governing colony; but it would be a grave error to suppose that the danger of unwise parliamentary interference in Indian and colonial affairs has diminished. Great as are the advantages of telegraphs and newspapers in the government of the Empire, they are not without their drawbacks. Government by telegraph is a very dangerous thing, and there is, I fear, an increasing tendency to override local knowledge, and to apply English standards and methods of government to wholly un-English conditions. Ill-considered resolutions of the House of Commons, often passed in obedience to some popular fad, and without any real intention of carrying them into effect; language used in Parliament which is often due to no deeper motive than a desire to win the favour of some class of voters in an English constituency, may do as much as serious misgovernment to alienate great masses of British subjects beyond the sea. All really competent judges are agreed that one of the first conditions of successful government in India has been that Indian questions have for the most part been kept out of the range of English party politics, and that Indian government has been conducted on principles essentially different from democratic government at home.

On the whole, however, it is impossible to review the colonial history of England without being struck with the many serious dangers that might easily have shattered the Empire, which were averted by wise statesmanship and timely—or at least not fatally tardy—concession. There was the question of the criminal population which we once transported to Australia. In the early stage of the colony, when the population was very sparse and the need for labour very imperative, this was not regarded as in any degree a grievance; but the time came when it became a grievance of the gravest kind, and the Imperial power had at length the wisdom to abandon it. There was the question of the different and hostile religious bodies existing in different portions of the Empire, at a time when the monopoly of political power by the members of a single Established Church, the exclusive endowment of its clergy, and the maintenance of the purely Protestant character of the English Government were cherished as religious duties by politicians at home. Yet at this very time an established and endowed Roman Catholic Church was flourishing in Canada, and there were numerous examples throughout the British dominions of the concurrent endowment of different forms of religious belief by the State,[5] while in India it abstained, with an extreme, and sometimes even an exaggerated, scrupulousness, from all measures that could by any possibility offend the native religious prejudices. There was the question of Slavery—though we were freed from the most difficult part of this problem by the secession of America. In addition, however, to its moral aspects, it affected most vitally the material prosperity of some of our richest colonies; it raised the very dangerous constitutional question of the right of the Imperial Parliament to interfere with the internal affairs of a self-governing colony, and it brought the Home Government into more serious collision with the local Governments than any question since the American Revolution. Whatever may be thought of the wisdom of the measures by which we abolished slavery in our West Indian colonies, no one at least can deny the liberality of a Parliament which voted from Imperial resources twenty millions for the accomplishment of the work. There was the conflict of race and creed which between 1830 and 1840 had brought Canada to absolute rebellion, and threatened a complete alienation of Canadian feeling from the mother-country. This discontent was effectually allayed and dispelled by the union of Upper and Lower Canada under a system of constitutional government of the most liberal character, which gave the colonists on all subjects of internal legislation a legislative independence that was in practice almost complete. Considered as a measure of conciliation this has proved one of the most successful of the nineteenth century, and in spite of a few discordant notes it may be truly said that there are few greater contrasts in the present reign than are presented between Canadian feeling towards the mother-country when Queen Victoria ascended the throne and Canadian feeling at the present hour. There was also the great and dangerous task to be accomplished of adapting the system of colonial government to the different stages of colonial development. There was a time when the colonies were so weak that they depended mainly on England for their protection; but, unlike some of the great colonising Powers of ancient and modern times, England never drew a direct tribute from her colonies, and, in spite of much unwise and some unjust legislation, I believe there was never a time when they were not on the whole benefited by the connection. Soon, however, the colonies grew to the strength and maturity of nationhood, and the mother-country speedily recognised the fact, and allowed no unworthy or ungenerous fears to restrain her from granting them the fullest powers, both of self-government and of federation. It is true that she still sends out a governor—usually drawn from the ranks of experienced and considerable English public men—to preside over colonial affairs. It is true that she retains a right of veto which is scarcely ever exercised except to prevent some intercolonial or international dispute, some act of violence, or some grave anomaly in the legislation of the Empire. It is true that colonial cases may be carried, on appeal, to an English tribunal, representing the very highest judicial capacity of the mother-country, and free from all possibility and suspicion of partiality; but I do not believe that any of these light ties are unpopular with any considerable section of the colonists. On the other hand, though it would be idle to suppose that our great colonies depend largely upon the mother-country, I believe that most colonists recognise that there is something in the weight and dignity attaching to fellow-membership and fellow-citizenship in a great Empire—something in the protection of the greatest navy in the world—something in the improved credit which connection with a very rich centre undoubtedly gives to colonial finance.

It is the custom of our friends and neighbours on the Continent to bestow much scornful remark on the egotism of English policy, which attends mainly to the interests of the British Empire, and is not ready to make war for an idea and in support of the interests of others. I think, if it were necessary, we might fairly defend ourselves by showing that in the past we have meddled with the affairs of other nations quite as much as is reasonable. For my own part, I confess that I distrust greatly these explosions of military benevolence. They always begin by killing a great many men. They usually end in ways that are not those of a disinterested philanthropy. After all, an egotism that mainly confines itself to the well-being of about a fifth part of the globe cannot be said to be of a very narrow type, and it is essentially by her conduct to her own Empire that the part of England in promoting the happiness of mankind must be ultimately judged. It is indeed but too true that many of the political causes which have played a great part on platforms, in parties, and in Parliaments are of such a nature that their full attainment would not bring relief to one suffering human heart, or staunch one tear of pain, or add in any appreciable degree to the real happiness of a single home. But most assuredly Imperial questions are not of this order. Remember what India had been for countless ages before the establishment of British rule. Think of its endless wars of race and creed, its savage oppressions, its fierce anarchies, its barbarous customs; and then consider what it is to have established for so many years over the vast space from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin a reign of perfect peace; to have conferred upon more than two hundred and fifty millions of the human race perfect religious freedom, perfect security of life, liberty, and property; to have planted in the midst of these teeming multitudes a strong central government, enlightened by the best knowledge of Western Europe, and steadily occupied in preventing famine, alleviating disease, extirpating savage customs, multiplying the agencies of civilisation and progress. This is the true meaning of that system of government on which Mr. Cobden looked with 'an eye of despair.' What work of human policy—I would even say what form of human philanthropy—has ever contributed more largely to reduce the great sum of human misery and to add to the possibilities of human happiness?

And if we turn to the other side of our Empire, although it is quite true that our great free colonies are fully capable of shaping their destinies for themselves, may we not truly say that these noble flowers have sprung from British and from Irish seeds? May we not say that the laws, the Constitutions, the habits of thought and character that have so largely made them what they are, are mainly of English origin? May we not even add that it is in no small part due to their place in the British Empire that these vast sections of the globe, with their diverse and sometimes jarring interests, have remained at perfect peace with us and with each other, and have escaped the curse of an exaggerated militarism, which is fast eating like a canker into the prosperity of the great nations of Europe?

When responsible government was conceded by the British Government to her more important colonies, it was done in the fullest and largest measure. Although the mother-country remained burdened with the task of defending them she made no reservation securing for herself free trade with her colonies or even preferential treatment, and she surrendered unconditionally to the local legislatures the waste and unoccupied lands which had long been regarded in England as held in trust for the benefit of the Empire as a whole. The growing belief that the connection with the colonies was likely to be a very transitory one, and also the belief that free-trade doctrines were likely speedily to prevail, no doubt influenced English statesmen, and it is not probable that any of them foresaw that both Canada and Australia would speedily make use of their newly acquired power to impose heavy duties on English goods. The strongly protectionist character which the English colonies assumed at a time when England had committed herself to the most extreme free-trade policy tended no doubt to separation, and when the English Government adopted the policy of withdrawing its garrisons from the colonies, when the North American colonies, with the full assent of the mother-country, formed themselves into a great federation, and when a movement in the same direction sprang up in Australia, it was the opinion of some of the most sagacious statesmen and thinkers in England that the time of separation was very near.[6]

On the whole, however, these predictions have hitherto been falsified. The federation of North America and, at a later period, the federation of Australia have been followed by an increased and not a diminished disposition on the side of the colonists to draw closer the ties with the mother-country, while in England the popular imagination has been more and more impressed with the growing magnitude and importance of her colonial dominions. The tendency towards great political agglomerations based upon an affinity of race, language and creed, which has produced the Pan-Slavonic movement and the Pan-Germanic movement, and which chiefly made the unity of Italy, has not been without its influence in the English-speaking world, and it is felt that a close union between its several parts is essential if it is fully to maintain its relative position under the new conditions of the world. The English-speaking nations comprise the most rapidly increasing, the most progressive, the most happily situated nations of the earth, and if their power and influence are not wasted by internal quarrels their type of civilisation must one day become dominant in the world.

Whether their harmony and unity are likely to be attained is one of the great problems of the future, but the ideal is one which every patriotic Englishman should at least set before him. It is not one which can be called an assured destiny, and to many the chances seem on the whole against it. Unexpected collisions of interest or passion or ambition may at any time mar the prospects, and in great democracies largely influenced by demagogues and by an irresponsible and anonymous Press there are always powerful agencies that do not make for peace. Immediate party interests both at home and in the colonies too frequently blind men to distant and ulterior consequences, and the many ill-wishers to the British Empire are sure to direct their policy largely to its disruption. The natural bond of union of a great Empire is economical unity, binding its several parts together by a common system of free trade and by a common commercial policy towards other Powers. Unfortunately the profoundly different policy adopted on these matters in England and her colonies has made such a Union almost impracticable, and it is quite possible for the English colonies to be united by closer commercial ties with foreign countries than with the mother-country. The question of the common defence of the Empire and the question of the representation of the colonies in Imperial politics are also questions of great difficulty and of pressing importance.

Something has been done showing at least a disposition to meet them. The concession of preferential duties in favour of England by some of our most important colonies, the small subsidies made to the maintenance of the British navy, and the far more important military assistance given by the colonies to the mother-country in the Egyptian and the South African wars are indicative of the feeling of closer unity which has grown up between England and her colonies, and in addition to the appointment of Agents-General, the introduction of a few eminent colonial judges into the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is the Supreme Court of Appeal of the Empire, has given the colonies some real representation in Imperial affairs. Much more, however, in this direction may be done. There have been several instances of eminent colonials obtaining seats in the English House of Commons to the great advantage of the Empire, but a regular representation of the colonies in this assembly may, I think, be dismissed as altogether impracticable. The mere distance is a sufficient objection, and at least nine-tenths of the business of the House of Commons deals with purely English questions depending for their wise solution on inherited English habits and on compromises with existing institutions, and a large proportion of them are problems which have been already dealt with in the colonies on other grounds and without any of the complexities of an old country. What reason could there be for calling in the colonists to adjudicate, perhaps even to turn the balance, on questions relating to English education, English licensing laws, English taxation, English dispositions of property? The difficulty of distinguishing between Imperial and local questions would be insuperable. The division of the House into two categories of members with distinct spheres of voting power would prove unworkable, and the colonial representatives would during most of their time in Parliament have nothing to do. An increase in the number of peers drawn from the colonies would be less impracticable, but there would be much that is invidious in the choice; much danger that the colonial peers living in England would get out of touch with the colonies and become an object of envy and jealousy; and English lawyers do not think that a large infusion of colonial law peers would raise the competence of the Supreme Judicial Tribunal of the Empire, which represents at present the highest legal talent and attainments in England and deals mainly with English legal questions. A Consultative Council, however, consisting of the Agents-General and perhaps reinforced by additional colonial representatives and dealing exclusively with Imperial questions, does not seem wholly impracticable, and many competent judges believe that a supreme legal tribunal for dealing with inter-colonial and international conflicts might be constructed which would be both more efficient and more representative than any that now exists.

It is probable, however, that the true tie that must unite the different portions of the Empire must be mainly a moral one. In the conditions of modern life no power is likely to maintain long a vast, scattered, heterogeneous Empire if the central governing power within it has declined; if through want of efficiency, or moral energy, or moral purity, it ceases to win the respect of its several parts. It is no less true that the cohesion can only be permanently maintained by the wide diffusion of a larger and Imperial patriotism, pervading the whole like a vital principle; binding men by the ties of pride and of affection to the great Empire to which they belong, and subordinating to its maintenance local and party and class interests. If this spirit dies out, the movement of disintegration is sure to begin. No political machinery, no utilitarian calculation, will in the long run be powerful enough to arrest it.

What may be the future place of these islands in the government of the world no human being can foretell. Nations, as history but too plainly shows, have their periods of decay as well as their periods of growth. The balance of power in the world is constantly shifting. Maxims and influences very different from those which made England what she is are in the ascendant, and the clouds upon the horizon are neither few nor slight. But, whatever fate may be in store for these islands, and for the political unity we so justly prize, we may at least confidently predict that no revolution in human affairs can now destroy the future ascendancy of the English language and of the Imperial race. Whatever misfortunes, whatever humiliations the future may reserve to us, they cannot deprive England of the glory of having created this mighty Empire.

Not Heaven itself upon the Past has power. But what has been, has been—and we have had our hour.


[3] Autobiography, ii. pp. 234, 235.

[4] Mr. Bayard.

[5] See the enumeration of these endowments in Gladstone's State and Church, Ch. IX.

[6] See Cairnes' Political Essays, 49-50, 56.


The kind of interest which belongs to Irish history is curiously different from that which attaches to the history of England and to that of most of the great nations of the Continent. In very few histories do we find so little national unity or continuous progress, or such long spaces which are almost wholly occupied by perplexed, petty internal broils, often stained by atrocious crimes, but turning on no large issue and leading to no clear or stable results. Except during the great missionary period of the sixth and seventh centuries, and during a brief portion of the eighteenth century, we have little of the interest that arises from dramatic situations or shining characters, and in few countries has the highest intellect been, on the whole, so slightly connected with the administration of affairs. To a philosophical student of politics, however, Irish history possesses an interest of the highest order. It is an invaluable study of morbid anatomy. In very few histories can we trace so clearly the effects of political and social circumstances in forming national character; the calamity of missed opportunities and of fluctuating and procrastinating policy; the folly of attempting to govern by the same methods and institutions nations that are wholly different in their characters and their civilisation.

The idea which still floats vaguely in many minds that Ireland, before the arrival of the Normans, was a single and independent nation, is wholly false. Ireland was not a nation, but a collection of separate tribes and kingdoms, engaged in almost constant warfare. In this respect, however, she resembled many countries which have since attained the most perfect unity, and there can be little doubt that, if her development had been impeded by no extraneous influences, Ireland would have followed the same path as England or France. Much stress has been justly laid on the disorganising influence of a long succession of Danish invasions, though it must be remembered that Ireland owes to the Danes the foundation of some of her most important cities. Roman conquest, which introduced into most of Europe invaluable elements of order, organisation, and respect for law, never extended to Ireland. The Anglo-Norman invasion and conquest produced consequences which were almost wholly evil. If the invaders had been driven from the Irish shore, the natural course of development would, no doubt, have been in time continued. If the invaders had completely conquered Ireland, a fusion might have taken place as complete and as healthy as in England. Neither of these two events occurred. The English conquest was prolonged over nearly four hundred years. A hostile and separate power was planted in the centre of Ireland sufficiently powerful to prevent the formation of another civilisation, yet not sufficiently powerful to impose a civilisation of its own. Feudalism was introduced, but the keystone of the system, a strong resident sovereign, was wanting, and Ireland was soon torn by the wars of great Anglo-Norman nobles, who were, in fact, independent sovereigns, much like the old Irish kings. The Scotch invasion of the fourteenth century added enormously to the anarchy and confusion; the English power as a living reality contracted to the narrow limits of the pale; in outlying districts the Anglo-Norman assimilated quickly with the Celtic element, while the English legislators in Ireland, alarmed at the tendency, made it the main object of their policy, in the words of Sir John Davies, 'to make a perpetual separation and enmity between the English and Irish, pretending no doubt that the English should in the end root out the Irish.'

Such a state of things continued till the long and terrible wars of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth broke the power of the independent chiefs and of the Celtic clans, and gave Ireland, for the first time, a political unity. It is one of the great infelicities of Irish history that this result was obtained at the very period of the Reformation. The conquerors adopted one religion, while the conquered retained the other, and thus a new and most enduring barrier was raised between the two nations in Ireland, and a pernicious antagonism was established between law and religion.

Another influence not less powerful than religion had at the same time come into play. It had become the English policy to place great bodies of English and Scotch settlers on the land that was confiscated in consequence of rebellion, and under the impulse of the strong spirit of adventure which grew up in the generation that followed the Reformation, streams of English and Scotch adventurers poured over. The great settlement of Ulster under James I. proved ultimately a success, and laid the foundation of the prosperity of that province. Other plantations were in time absorbed and assimilated by the Celtic population; but vast revolutions in the ownership of land, accompanied by the subversion of the old tribal customs, laid the foundation of an agrarian war which still continues.

Religious and agrarian causes combined with the civil war in England to produce the great rebellion of 1641 and the eleven years of ghastly, exterminating war which followed. Hardly any page in human history is more appalling. A full third of the population of Ireland perished. Thirty or forty thousand of the most energetic left the country and took service in foreign armies. Great tracts were left absolutely depopulated, and after the rearrangement of land, which was accomplished by the Act of Settlement, the immense preponderance of landed property remained in the hands of the Protestant nation.

New elements, however, of great energy had been planted in Ireland, and the field had been thrown open to their exertions. The excellence of Irish wool and the cheapness of Irish labour laid the foundation of a flourishing woollen manufacture, and with peace, mild administration, and much practical tolerance, the wounds of the country seemed gradually healing. The later Stuart reigns, which form a dark page in English history, were a period of considerable prosperity in Ireland, but that period was soon interrupted by the Revolution. There was no general or passionate rising in Ireland resembling that of 1641, but it was inevitable that the Irish Catholics should have adopted the side of the Catholic King, and it was equally inevitable that when a Catholic Parliament, consisting largely of sons of the men whose properties had recently been confiscated, had assembled at Dublin, its members should have made a desperate effort to reverse their fortunes and replace the land of the country mainly in Catholic hands. The battle of the Boyne shattered the Catholic hopes, and it was followed by a new confiscation, by a new emigration of the ablest and most energetic Catholics, by a long period of commercial restraints, penal laws, and complete Protestant ascendancy.

The commercial restraints formed part of a protective policy which was at that time general in Europe, and which was severely felt in the American colonies. Though it did not absolutely originate in, it was greatly intensified by, the Revolution, which gave the manufacturing and commercial classes a new power in English government. The linen manufacture was spared, but the total destruction by law of the flourishing woollen manufacture, followed by a number of restrictions imposed on other branches of industry, deprived Ireland of her most promising sources of wealth, drove great multitudes of energetic Protestants out of the country, and threw the people more and more upon the soil as almost their sole means of support.

The penal laws against the Catholics accompanied or closely followed the commercial restraints. The blame of them may be divided with some equality between the Government of England and the Parliament of Ireland. It was the Irish Parliament which enacted these laws, but an English Act first made the Irish Parliament exclusively Protestant, and the whole legislation was carried at a time when the Irish Parliament was completely dependent, and incompetent even to discuss any measure without the previous approbation of the English Government. In order to judge this legislation with equity, it must be remembered that in the beginning of the eighteenth century restrictive laws against Protestantism in Catholic countries, and against Catholicism in Protestant ones, almost universally prevailed. The laws against Irish Catholics were, on the whole, less stringent than those against Catholics in England. They were largely modelled after the French legislation against the Huguenots, but persecution in Ireland never approached in severity that of Louis XIV., and was absolutely insignificant compared with that which had extirpated Protestantism and Judaism from Spain. The code, however, was not mainly the product of religious feeling, but of policy, and in this respect it has been defended in its broad outlines, though not in all its details, by such Irishmen as Charlemont, Flood, and Parsons. They argued that at the close of a long period of savage civil war it was absolutely necessary for a small minority, who found themselves in possession of the government and land of the country, to deprive the conquered and hostile majority of every element of political and military strength. This was the real object of the code. It was a measure of self-defence justified by necessity and by the fact that it produced in Ireland for the space of about eighty years the most perfect tranquillity.

There is much truth in these considerations, but it is also true that the penal code produced more pernicious moral, social, and political effects than many sanguinary persecutions. In other countries disqualifying or persecuting laws were directed against small fractions of the nation. In Ireland they were directed against the bulk of the community. Being supported by little or no genuine religious fanaticism or proselytising ardour, they made few Protestants except in the upper orders, where many conformed in order to keep their land or to enter professions; but they drove nearly all the best and most energetic Catholics to the Continent; they discouraged industry; closed the door of knowledge; taught the people to look upon law as something hostile to religion; introduced division and immorality into families by the rewards they offered to apostasy; and condemned the whole country to poverty and impotence by fatally depressing the great majority of its people. Under the influence of the penal laws the Catholics inevitably acquired the vices of serfs, and the Protestants the vices of monopolists. A great portion of the code was pronounced, with good reason, to be flagrantly opposed to the articles of the Treaty of Limerick, and it completed the work of the confiscations by making the landlord class in Ireland almost wholly Protestant, while the great majority of the tenantry were Catholics.

There was a moment, however, in the beginning of the century when the whole current of Irish history might easily have changed. Scotland had suffered, like Ireland, from the protective policy that followed the Revolution, and her independent Parliament had retaliated by measures which threatened the speedy separation of the two crowns, and soon led to a legislative Union. In Ireland such a Union was ardently desired by enlightened Irishmen, and there is every reason to believe that it could then have been carried with universal consent. The Catholics were perfectly passive, and would gladly have accepted a change which withdrew them from the direct government of the conquerors in a recent civil war. The Protestants had as yet no distinctively national feeling, and a legislative Union would have emancipated their industry and added enormously to their security. Molyneux, the first great champion of the legislative independence of Ireland, emphatically declared that he and those who thought with him would gladly have accepted the alternative of a Union, and both the Irish Houses of Parliament voted addresses in favour of such a measure. If it had been carried, Ireland would have been at least saved from the evils that rose from the commercial restrictions and from the extreme jobbing that grew up around the local legislature, and she would, perhaps, have been saved from some parts of the penal code. But the golden opportunity was lost. The English commercial classes dreaded Irish competition in their markets, and the petition of the Irish legislature was disregarded.

Nearly seventy years of quiet followed. The establishment of the Hanoverian dynasty, the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745, the different wars in which England was engaged, left Ireland absolutely undisturbed. The House of Commons then sat for a whole reign and met only every second year. It was completely subservient to the English Privy Council, and it consisted so largely of nomination boroughs that a few great nobles commanded a decisive preponderance, and they practically conducted the government and administered the patronage of Ireland. There was great jobbing and corruption, but taxation, on the whole, was exceedingly light, and there was no tendency to throw it unduly on the poor, or to create in Ireland any of the many feudal burdens that prevailed in France and Germany. The practical evil most felt was the system of tithes for the support of the Protestant establishment, and it was aggravated by a very unfair exemption of pasture land, and also by the prevailing system of farming out tithes to a class of men known as tithe proctors. In the country districts all power was concentrated in the hands of the landlords, who, with many faults and under many difficulties, at least succeeded in attaining a large measure of genuine popularity.

There was an Irish army of twelve thousand men, but the greater part of it was always sent abroad in time of war, and Ireland was then often left with not more than five thousand soldiers. No militia and no constabulary force existed, but when Whiteboy or other disturbances arose, the landlords put themselves at the head of their tenantry, and usually succeeded in suppressing them. Law was very little observed; industrial virtues were at the lowest ebb; there was abundance of drunkenness, idleness, turbulence, neglect of duty, extreme ignorance, and extreme poverty; but there was not much real oppression or religious bigotry, and there were no signs of political disturbance or conspiracy. After a few years the portions of the penal code which restricted the Catholic worship became a dead letter, and Catholic chapels were everywhere rising on the Protestant estates. The monopoly, however, of place and power continued, though the legal profession was full of professing converts. The theological temperature in both sects had greatly subsided. Land was usually let by the owner on long leases, and at very low rents, to tenants who almost invariably divided and sublet their tenancies.

At a later period of the century, when population pressed closely on subsistence, the system of middlemen produced a fierce competition which raised rent in the lower grades to an enormous height, but this evil was less felt with a scanty population, and the hierarchy of tenants at least saved the landlords from the dangerous isolation which their circumstances tended to produce. Arthur Young, who examined the condition of the country very carefully between 1776 and 1778, perceived great signs of growing prosperity, especially in the towns, and, although agriculture was far behind that of England, he found a considerable number of active, intelligent, and improving landlords. In the opinion of Young the rental of Ireland was unduly and unnaturally low, but he urged the landlords to exercise a more direct and controlling influence over their estates, and he recommended them, for this purpose, to give leases for shorter periods and gradually to abolish the system of middlemen and subletting.

In the north there was a powerful, intelligent Protestant community, with a strong leaning to republicanism. They were chiefly Presbyterians, and they resented bitterly the commercial restrictions and the obligation of paying tithes to an Episcopal church. The Irish Parliament was so constituted that they had no political power at all equivalent to their importance, and, like the Presbyterians in England, they were burdened by the Test Act, and their marriages were only valid if celebrated in the Established Church. The great power of the bishops, both in the Privy Council and in the House of Lords, formed a very serious obstacle to church reform. In all classes of Protestants, however, in the closing years of George II., there was a strong resentment at the political subjection of Ireland, and a determination to obtain, if possible, those constitutional rights which the Revolution of 1688 had secured for England.

It is impossible, within the narrow limits assigned to me, to give even a sketch of the successive stages by which the independence of the Irish Parliament was established. The movement began with the Octennial Act, limiting the duration of Parliament, and it came to full maturity during the war of the American Revolution. Among the Irish Catholics there appears to have been absolutely no sympathy with the American cause, but Ulster Protestantism was enthusiastically on the side of America. Presbyterians from Ulster bore a considerable part in the American armies, and under the influence of American example public opinion in Ireland rapidly advanced. The great Volunteer movement of 1778 and the following years was originated by the fact that the Government could supply no troops for the defence of Ulster at a time when it was in imminent danger of attack from France. The Protestant gentry called their people to arms; and a great Protestant force was created, which not only secured the country against foreign danger and maintained the most perfect internal order, but also exercised a decisive influence over Irish politics. Volunteer conventions were assembled which represented both property and educated Protestant opinion much more truly than the borough Parliament, and which loudly demanded free trade and Parliamentary independence. Grattan made himself the mouthpiece of the popular feeling; and the English Government and Parliament yielded to the demand. The whole system of commercial restraints, which prevented Ireland from developing her resources and trading with foreign countries and the British colonies, was abolished, leaving the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland to be regulated by special Acts. The power of the Privy Council over legislation was abolished. The appellate jurisdiction of the Irish House of Lords was restored, and, above all, the sole competence of the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland to legislate for Ireland was recognised. The Irish Parliament nearly at the same time made great steps towards uniting the people by relieving the Presbyterians from the Test Act and from the restrictions on their marriages, and the Catholics from those parts of the penal code which chiefly restrained their worship, their education, and their industry. At the same time the Protestant monopoly of political power and of the higher offices remained.

Ireland thus found herself in possession of a Parliament which was, in name at least, perfectly independent. It was a purely Protestant Parliament, elected by Protestants, consisting mainly of landlords and great Protestant lawyers, and representing pre-eminently the property of the country. It was intensely and exclusively loyal, and always ready to adopt far more stringent coercive measures against anarchy and sedition than have ever been adopted by an Imperial Parliament. It included many men of great talents and great liberality, and through the county constituencies and the representatives of the chief towns educated public opinion was seriously felt within its walls; but the large majority of its members sat for nomination boroughs within the control of the government, and places and pensions were inordinately multiplied for the purpose of securing a majority.

Could this constitution last? In framing the course of foreign and Imperial policy, in all questions of peace or war, of negotiations or alliances, the Irish Parliament had no voice. Yet it might in time of war, by withholding its concurrence, withdraw the whole weight of Ireland from the forces and fatally dislocate the policy of the Empire. It might pursue a commercial policy absolutely inconsistent with Imperial interests, and bring Ireland into intimate commercial connection with the enemies of England; and if English party spirit extended to Ireland and ran in opposite directions in the two legislatures, a collision was inevitable. The Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary, who administered the government of Ireland, were appointed by a British Ministry representing the dominant British party; the counsels of the Irish Government were framed in a British Cabinet; the royal consent was given to every Irish Bill under the Great Seal of Great Britain and upon the advice of a British Minister. If a machine so constituted could work as long as it was in the hands of a small and undoubtedly loyal and largely influenced class, could it work if Parliamentary reform made the Irish Parliament subject to the fierce and fluctuating tides of popular opinion? above all, if Catholic enfranchisement brought a vast, ignorant, and possibly seditious element into political life?

It was the recorded opinion of each successive Lord Lieutenant who administered the Irish Government after 1782 that it could not, and that it must sooner or later end either in a union or a separation. They said this, though they fully acknowledged the perfect loyalty hitherto shown by the Irish Parliament; the liberality with which it voted its supplies; the care with which it subordinated its particular measures to the general interests of the Empire. The failure—not solely or even mainly through Irish fault—of an attempt to establish a fixed commercial arrangement between England and Ireland, and a difference between the British and Irish Parliaments on the Imperial question of a regency, strengthened the opinion of the English Government, and for many years before the Union was enacted it was in contemplation. On the two great and pressing questions at issue this policy exercised a powerful influence. The Government obstinately resisted every serious attempt to reform the Parliament, lest they should lose that controlling power which they believed to be essential to the permanence of the connection. On the Catholic question their views were more fluctuating, but their dominant impression was that emancipation could only be safely conceded in an Imperial Parliament, and that it ought to be reserved as a boon which might one day make a legislative Union acceptable to the Irish people.

In Ireland, or at least in Protestant Ireland, the idea of a Union was now intensely unpopular, but the reformers in the Irish Parliament were seriously divided. Flood and Charlemont desired Parliamentary reform on a purely Protestant basis. They believed that this would include in political life the bulk of the property, loyalty, intelligence, and energy of the country, and that the Irish Catholics could not for a long period be safely admitted to political power. Grattan, on the other hand, believed that it was the first interest of Ireland to efface the political distinction between the two creeds and nations, and that an introduction of a certain proportion of Catholic gentry into the Irish Parliament would be in the highest degree beneficial. He, at the same time, always taught that Ireland was utterly unfit for democracy, and that under her peculiar conditions no policy could be more disastrous than one which would 'destroy the influence of landed property'; 'set population adrift from the influence of property'; subvert or weaken the guiding influence of the loyal and educated. When the United Irishmen proposed a Reform Bill which would have made the Irish Parliament a purely democratic body, Grattan denounced it with the greatest vehemence. 'This plan of personal representation,' he said, 'from a revolution of power, would speedily lead to a revolution of property, and become a plan of plunder as well as a scene of confusion.... Of such a representation the first ordinance would be robbery, accompanied with the circumstance incidental to robbery, murder.' He believed, however, that with a substantial property qualification independent constituencies might be formed which would safely represent the best elements of both creeds.

The denial of parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation, and the refusal of the Irish Parliament to deal with the still more pressing question of tithes, produced much disaffection; but still the country was steadily improving, and no serious danger was felt till the French Revolution burst upon Europe. In every country it stimulated the smouldering elements of disorder. In few countries was its influence more fatal than in Ireland. I have very lately described at length the terrible years of growing conspiracy, anarchy, and crime; of fluctuating policy, and savage repression, and revived religious animosity, and maddening panic, deliberately and malignantly fomented, that preceded and prepared the rebellion. It is sufficient here to say that in the beginning of 1798 three provinces were organised to assist a French invasion. But at the last moment the leaders were betrayed and arrested; the French did not arrive; the rebellion was almost confined to a few Leinster counties, and it broke out without leaders and without a plan. In most places the rebels proved to be wretched bands of marauders intent only on plunder, and, although they committed many murders, they were utterly incapable of meeting the loyalists in the field. But in Wexford, priests put themselves at the head of the movement and turned it into a religious war, deriving its main force from religious fanaticism, and waged with desperate courage and ferocity. The massacre of Protestants on Vinegar Hill, in Scullabogue Barn, and on Wexford Bridge, and the general character the rebellion in Leinster assumed, at once and for ever checked all that tendency to rebellion which had so long existed among the Protestants of Ulster. Some twenty thousand persons perished before the flame was extinguished. The repression was as savage as the rebellion, and it left Ireland torn by fiercer religious animosities than at any period since the Restoration.

It will dispel many illusions if the reader will remember that the great Irish rebellion was directed mainly against the Irish Parliament, and that it received its death-blow from Irish loyalists acting under that Parliament before any assistance arrived from England. The conspiracy began among Protestants and Deists, who aimed at a union of sects for the purpose of obtaining a democratic republic. It turned into a war which was scarcely less essentially religious than the wars of the Cevennes or of the Anabaptists. Yet two great Catholic provinces remained quiet during the struggle, and a great proportion of the loyalist force which crushed the rebellion consisted of Catholic militia.

The English Government thought that the time had now come for carrying a legislative Union, and, in the eyes of Lord Cornwallis at least, one of its chief recommendations was that it would take the government of Ireland out of the hands of the triumphant party, and would make Catholic emancipation a possibility. The Catholic bishops were sounded and found to be very favourable. They declared their full willingness to accept an endowment for the priesthood and to give the English Government a right of veto on episcopal appointments, and they warmly, efficiently, and unanimously supported the Union. The great majority of the Catholic landed gentry and probably of the lower priests were on the same side; but in general the Catholic laity seem to have shown little interest and to have taken little part in the contest. In Dublin, Catholics as well as Protestants were generally hostile, but Catholic Cork was decidedly favourable, and an assurance that the Government desired to carry emancipation in an Imperial Parliament proved sufficient to prevent any serious Catholic opposition. The United Irishmen seem to have witnessed rather with pleasure than the reverse the dethronement of the body which had defeated them, and the Presbyterians showed scarcely any interest in the question.

Yet outside the ranks of the Catholic clergy the measure found few active supporters, while the Protestants of the Established Church were in general ardently and passionately hostile. The great majority of the county members and the great preponderance of petitions were against the Union, and the opposition to it, which was led by Foster, Grattan, Parsons, and Plunket, comprised nearly all the independent and unbribed talent in Parliament. The very eminent ability of that small group of Protestant gentlemen never flashed more brightly than in the closing scenes, and there was a moment when the attitude of the Orangemen and the yeomanry was so menacing that the Government were seriously alarmed. But a lavish distribution of peerages and places purchased a majority, and the troops stationed in Ireland were too numerous for armed opposition to be possible. In truth, however, no opposition beyond the dimensions of a riot was to be feared. Outside Dublin, Catholic, Presbyterian, and seditious Ireland remained almost indifferent. Even before the measure had passed, opposition speakers complained bitterly that they were deserted by popular support; and it is a memorable fact that in the general election that followed the Union not a single Irish member of Parliament was defeated because he had voted for it.

Pitt intended the Union to be immediately followed by measures admitting the Catholics into the Imperial Parliament, paying the priests, and commuting the tithes. If these three measures, or even if the last two (which were, in truth, the most important), had been promptly carried, the Union might have become popular. The Catholic question had, of late, been greatly mismanaged. The chief men who directed the government in Ireland were bitterly opposed to any concession of political power to the Catholics, but the views of the English Ministers had been materially changed. They desired above all things to separate the Catholics from the United Irishmen, and in 1793 they forced upon their reluctant advisers in Ireland an Act which extended the suffrage to the vast ignorant Catholic masses, though it left the Catholic gentry still excluded from Parliament. Two years later Lord Fitzwilliam was sent over with instructions to postpone the question if possible, but with authority, as he believed, to carry emancipation if it could not be postponed, and he found the Irish Parliament perfectly prepared to pass it. But the opposition of the King and a question of patronage produced a fatal division and led to the recall of the Viceroy. The passions aroused by the rebellion greatly increased the difficulties of admitting Catholics to a separate Parliament, but there is clear evidence that at the time of the Union the Irish Protestants were in favour of their admission into the Imperial one. The dispositions of the King were well known, but it was believed that, if the scheme of Pitt was submitted to him as the matured policy of a united Cabinet, he must have yielded. It is well known how the plan was prematurely revealed; how Pitt resigned office when the King refused his consent; how the agitation of the question threw the King into an access of insanity; and how Pitt then promised that he would not again raise it during the reign. Pitt's conduct on this occasion is, and probably always will be, differently judged. There can be but one opinion of its calamitous effect upon Irish history.

Ninety years have passed since the Union, and the conditions of Ireland have completely changed. The whole system of religious disqualification and commercial disability has long since passed away. Every path has been thrown open, and English professions, as well as the great Colonial and Indian services, are crowded with Irishmen. The Established Church no longer exists. Representation has been placed on a broadly democratic basis, giving Ireland, however, an absurdly disproportioned weight in the representation of the kingdom, and its poorest and most backward districts an absurdly disproportioned weight in the representation of Ireland. Finally, an attempt has been made to put down agrarian agitation by legislation to which there is no real parallel in English history, and some parts of which would have been impossible under the Constitution of the United States. Landlords who possessed by the clearest title known to English law the most absolute ownership of their estates have been converted into mere rent-chargers. Tenants who entered upon their tenancies under formal written contracts for limited periods have been rooted for ever on the soil. Rents have been reduced by judicial sentence, with complete disregard both to previous contracts and to market value, and the legal owner has had no option of refusing the change and re-entering on the occupation of his land. A scheme of purchase, too, based upon Imperial credit, has been established and will probably soon be largely extended, which is so extravagantly and almost grotesquely favorable to the tenant that it enables him by paying for the space of forty-nine years, instead of his reduced judicial rent, an annual sum which is considerably smaller, to purchase the freehold of his farm. It is a simple and incontestable truth that neither in the United States, nor in England, nor in any portion of the Continent of Europe, is the agricultural tenant so favoured by law as in Ireland, or anything of the nature of landlord oppression made so impossible. But though agitation has diminished, it has not ceased, and the great body of the poorer Catholics still follow the banner of Home Rule.

About a third of the population of Ireland, on the other hand, regard Home Rule as the greatest catastrophe that could befall themselves, their country, or the Empire; and it is worthy of notice that they include almost all the descendants of Grattan's Parliament, and of the volunteers and of those classes who in the eighteenth century sustained the spirit of nationality in Ireland. Belfast and the surrounding counties, which alone in Ireland have attained the full height and vigour of English industrial civilisation; almost all the Protestants, both Episcopalian and Nonconformist; almost all the Catholic gentry; the decided preponderance of Catholics in the lay professions, and a great and guiding section of the Catholic middle-class are on the same side. Their conviction does not rest upon any abstract doctrine about the evil of federal governments or of local parliaments. It rests upon their firm persuasion that in the existing conditions of Ireland no Parliament could be established there which could be trusted to fulfil the most elementary conditions of honest government—to maintain law; to protect property; to observe or enforce contracts; to secure the rights and liberties of individuals and minorities; to act loyally in times of difficulty and danger in the interests of the Empire.

They know that the existing Home Rule movement has grown up by the guidance and by the support of men who are implacable enemies to the British Empire; that it has been for years the steady object of its leaders to inspire the Irish masses with feelings of hatred to that Empire, contempt for contracts, defiance of law and of those who administer it; that, having signally failed in rousing the agricultural population in a national struggle, those leaders resolved to turn the movement into an organised attack upon landed property; that in the prosecution of this enterprise they have been guilty, not only of measures which are grossly and palpably dishonest, but also of an amount of intimidation, of cruelty, of systematic disregard for individual freedom scarcely paralleled in any country during the present century; and finally that, through subscriptions which are not drawn from Ireland, political agitation in Ireland has become a large and highly lucrative trade—a trade which, like most others, will no doubt continue as long as it pays.

The nature, methods, and objects of the organisation which would probably exercise a dominant influence over an Irish Parliament have been established by overwhelming evidence and beyond all reasonable doubt, after a long, careful, and most impartial judicial investigation. The report of the late Special Commissioners[7] and the evidence on which it is founded have been published; and their conclusions have very recently been summed up in an admirable work by Professor Dicey, perhaps the ablest of living writers on political subjects. Readers may find in these works abundant evidence of the true character of the Irish Home Rule movement. If they read them with impartiality they will, I believe, have little difficulty in concluding that there have been few political movements in the nineteenth century which are less deserving of the respect or support of honest men.


[7] The Parnell Commission.—ED.


It was about four years before the great upheaval of beliefs in England, which was partly caused and partly disclosed by the publication of the 'Essays and Reviews,' in 1860, that I entered Trinity College, Dublin. I had then a strong leaning toward theological studies and looked forward to a peaceful clerical life in a family living near Cork; and in addition to the ordinary university course, I went through that appointed for divinity students. I found my life at the university one of more than common intellectual activity, for although circumstances and temperament made me perhaps culpably indifferent to college ambitions and competitions, I soon threw myself with intense eagerness into a long course of private reading, chiefly relating to the formation and history of opinions. The great High Church wave which had a few years before been so powerful, had been broken when Newman and many other leaders of the party had passed to Catholicism. Darwin and Herbert Spencer had not yet risen above the horizon. Mill was in the zenith of his fame and influence. The intellectual atmosphere was much agitated by the recent discoveries of geology, by their manifest bearing on the Mosaic cosmogony and on the history of the Fall, and by the attempts of Hugh Miller, Hitchcock, and other writers to reconcile them with the received theology. In poetry, Tennyson and Longfellow reigned, I think with an approach to equality which has not continued. In politics, the school of orthodox political economy was almost unchallenged. In spite of the protests of Carlyle, all sound Liberals in England then desired to restrict as much as possible the functions of government, and to enlarge as much as possible the sphere of individual liberty; and they regarded unrestrained competition and inviolable contracts as the chief conditions of material progress.

The first great intellectual influence which I experienced was, I believe, that of Bishop Butler, who was at that time probably studied more assiduously at Dublin than in any other university in the kingdom. There were few sermons in the college chapel in which some allusion to his writings might not be found, and few serious students whose modes of thought were not at least coloured by his influence. That influence now appears to me to have been not only various, but even in some measure contradictory. The 'Analogy' is perhaps the most original, if not the most powerful, book ever written in defence of the Christian creed; but it has probably been the parent of much modern Agnosticism, for its method is to parallel every difficulty in revealed religion by a corresponding difficulty in natural religion, and to argue that the two must stand or fall together. Butler's unrivalled sermons on human nature, on the other hand, have been essentially conservative and constructive, and their influence has been at least as strong on character as on belief. Their doctrine is that consciousness reveals in the inner principles of our being a moral hierarchy, 'a difference in nature and kind altogether distinct from strength'; and that among these principles conscience has, by the very structure of our nature, a recognised supremacy or guiding authority which clearly distinguishes it from all others.

'The principle of reflection or conscience being compared with the various appetites, affections, and passions in men, the former is manifestly supreme and chief, without regard to strength.... From its very nature it manifestly claims superiority over all others, so that you cannot form a notion of this faculty, conscience, without taking in judgment, direction, superintendency. To preside and govern, from the very economy and constitution of man, belongs to it. Had it strength as it has right, it would govern the world.'

It was a noble philosophy, well fitted to strengthen and elevate the character, and it has supported many amid the dissolution of positive beliefs. Utilitarian theories of morals move very smoothly as long as their only task is to define the course which it is in the interests of society that each man should pursue. They are less successful in furnishing any firm and adequate reason why a man should pursue that course when individual interests and individual passion are opposed to it. It is the merit of the schools of Kant and of Butler, that they raise the idea of duty above all the calculations of self-interest, and make it the supreme and guiding principle of life.

Among living men, the strongest intellectual influence at that time in Dublin was, I think, Whately, our archbishop, an original and powerful thinker who has scarcely obtained a place in the literary and intellectual history of his time commensurate with the wide and deep influence he undoubtedly exercised. For this there are many reasons. Unlike the High Church leaders who flourished with him at Oxford in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, he never identified himself with any organised party or school of thought, and he thus deprived himself of many echoes and of much support. It was, indeed, one of his first principles that there is no more fatal obstacle to the discovery of truth than the deflecting influence of party and system, and that the jealous maintenance of an independent judgment is the first element of intellectual honesty. Few considerable writers have appealed less to common passions or wide sympathies; and the only passion—if it can be called so—that appears strongly in his writings, is the love of truth for its own sake, which is the rarest and highest of all. He was accustomed to speculate much upon that strange power of intellectual magnetism which enables some men to draw others to their views apart from any process of definite reasoning; and he acknowledged with truth that he was wholly destitute of it; that he had never produced any effect which could not be clearly accounted for, or altered any judgment except by distinct reasons. As a writer, his style, though wholly without grace, was admirable in its lucidity. He had a singular felicity of illustration, and especially of metaphor, and a rare power of throwing his thoughts into terse and pithy sentences; but his many books, though full of original thinking and in a high degree suggestive to other writers, had always a certain fragmentary and occasional character, which prevented them from taking a place in standard literature. He was conscious of it himself, and was accustomed to say that it was the mission of his life to make up cartridges for others to fire. The little volume of 'Miscellanies,' including his commonplace book and his notes for his books, which was published by his daughter, exhibits with great clearness the character of his mind. Though a very candid and, in the best sense of the word, a very tolerant man, and an excellent scholar, he had, I think, little power of reproducing the modes of thought of men whose mental structure was widely different from his own, or of entering into the intellectual conditions of other ages; but he touched a large circle of subjects, social, political, and even scientific, as well as moral and religious, with an original and most independent judgment; and he raised greatly the moral standard of love of truth and the intellectual standard of severe reasoning wherever his influence extended. He delighted in that fine saying of Hobbes that, 'words are the counters of the wise man, but the money of the fool'; he believed that most controversies might be resolved into verbal ambiguities; and his hatred of vagueness, grandiloquence, affected obscurity, and rhetorical exaggeration exercised a very useful influence over young men. He was also a most attentive and sagacious observer of human nature, and few modern writers have written so wisely on the diversities and the management of character and on the science of life. In this respect he had a strong affinity to Bacon—the Bacon not of the 'Organon,' but of the 'Essays'—and perhaps still more to Benjamin Franklin. In theology he challenged the severest inquiry, and believed that if honestly pursued it would lead only to orthodox belief. 'A good man,' he once wrote, 'will indeed wish to find the evidence of the Christian religion satisfactory; but a wise man will not for that reason think it satisfactory, but will weigh the evidence the more carefully on account of the importance of the question.'

His strongest antipathy was to the teaching of the Oxford 'Tracts,' and he wrote about them with great severity, but more from the moral than the intellectual side. He believed the Tractarian doctrines of 'reserve' and 'economy' to be essentially disingenuous; he considered that there was good reason to conclude that leading members of the Oxford school had remained in the Church of England for a considerable time after they had adopted the Roman theology, had used language deliberately intended to mask their position, and had employed their influence as English clergymen to sap the English Church; and he especially denounced as the grossest dishonesty the attempt that was made in Tract XC. to show that a man was justified in subscribing to the Articles of the Church of England and at the same time holding everything laid down by the Council of Trent, 'though the Articles were expressly drawn up to condemn the authoritative teaching of the Roman Church, and after the Council of Trent had held 22 out of its whole number of 25 sessions.' The quibbling, special-pleading, equivocating mind which is consciously or half-consciously endeavouring by subtle distinctions to maintain an untenable position, was of all things the most abhorrent to him, and while the Evangelicals denounced the Tractarians as leading men to Rome, Whately, perhaps alone among his contemporaries, steadily predicted that their teachings would be followed by a great period of religious scepticism. This, he said, would be the result of the discredit they were throwing on the evidential school, of their habit of coupling ecclesiastical with Scripture miracles, and of their doctrine that it is the function of faith to supply the missing links of imperfect evidence and to impart the character of certainty to propositions which in reason rest only on probabilities. He himself was of the school of Grotius and Paley, and believed that simple historical evidence established supernatural facts. This subject long held a foremost place in my thoughts and studies, and I afterward wrote much upon it in connection with the history of witchcraft and the miracles of the Saints.

I owed much to Whately, but I was studying concurrently with him teachers of very opposite schools, among others Coleridge, Newman, and Emerson in English; Pascal, Bossuet, Rousseau, and Voltaire in French. Locke's writings formed part of the college course, and I became very familiar with them, and fully shared Hallam's special admiration for the little treatise 'On the Conduct of the Understanding,' while Dugald Stewart, Mackintosh, and Mill opened out wide and various vistas in moral philosophy. The following passage from Coleridge, which I chose as the motto of almost my first published writing, exercised so great an influence over my later studies, and shows so happily the direction in which I was endeavoring to turn my mind, that I may be excused from quoting it at length:

'Let it be remembered by controversialists on all subjects, that every speculative error which boasts a multitude of advocates has its golden as well as its dark side; that there is always some truth connected with it, the exclusive attention to which has misled the understanding; some moral beauty which has given it charms for the heart. Let it be remembered that no assailant of an error can reasonably hope to be listened to by its advocates, who has not proved to them that he has seen the disputed subject in the same point of view and is capable of contemplating it with the same feelings as themselves; for why should we abandon a cause at the persuasion of one who is ignorant of the reasons which have attached us to it?'

Adopting an illustration which had been employed by Bossuet for another purpose, I came to believe that religious systems resemble those pictures occasionally seen in the museums of the curious, which appear at first to be mere incongruous assemblages of unconnected and unmeaning figures, till they are regarded from one particular point of view, when these figures immediately mass themselves into a regular form, and the whole picture assumes a coherent and symmetrical appearance. To discover in each system this point of view; to cultivate that peculiar form of imagination which makes it possible to realise how different forms of opinions are held by their more intelligent adherents, appeared to me the first condition of understanding them.

In this method of inquiry I was, at a little later period, much aided by the writings of Bayle, a great critic who brought to the study of opinions an almost unrivalled knowledge, and one of the keenest and most detached of human intellects. Gradually, however, by a natural and insensible process I passed into the habit of examining opinions mainly from an historical point of view—investigating the circumstances under which they grow up; their relation to the general conditions of their time; the direction in which they naturally develop; the part, whether for good or ill, which during long spaces of time they have played in the world. It was first of all in connection with the Roman Catholic controversy, with which we were much occupied in Ireland, that I learnt to pursue this course. Of the enormous and essential difference between matured Catholicism and the Christianity of the New Testament, I never doubted, and my convictions were much deepened by long travels in Italy, France, and Spain, during which I endeavoured to study carefully Catholicism in its actual workings as a popular religion, and not as it appears clarified and rationalised in such books as the 'Exposition,' by Bossuet. I often asked myself, who could have imagined from a perusal of the New Testament that Christianity was intended to be a highly centralised monarchy, governed with supreme divine authority by the Bishop of Rome; that this bishop was to be connected, not with the great author of the Epistle to the Romans, but with St. Peter; that the figure which was to occupy the most prominent place in the devotions and imaginations of millions of Christian worshippers was to be the Virgin Mary, who is not so much as mentioned in the Epistles; that in the immediate neighbourhood, and with the full sanction of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, graven images were to be employed in devotion as conspicuously as in a pagan temple, particular images being singled out from all others for particular devotion by special indulgences and by special miracles? I soon convinced myself that popular Catholicism, as it exists in southern Europe and as it has existed through a long course of centuries, is as literally polytheistic and idolatrous as any form of paganism, though it has many beauties, and though much of its very mingled influence has been for good. In the teaching of my early youth, this transformation of Christianity was described as the great predicted apostasy, the mystery of iniquity, the work of Antichrist among mankind. Under the influence of the historic method it assumed a different aspect, and the mystery became very explicable. Hobbes had struck the keynote in a passage of profound truth as well as of admirable beauty:

'If a man consider the original of this great ecclesiastical dominion, he will easily perceive that the Papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.'

Few evolutions in history, indeed, can be more clearly traced than the successive stages through which Rome, by a gradual and very natural process, obtained the primacy of Christendom. In the condition of Europe, again, at the time of the downfall of the Roman Empire, the invasion, the triumph, and the rapid conversion of the barbarians, the chief causes of the materialising transformation which Christian ideas underwent appeared abundantly evident; and it became clear to me that some such transformation was inevitable, and essential to their enduring influence. Was it possible, I asked myself, that in ages of anarchy and convulsion, any religion resembling Protestant Christianity could have prevailed among great masses of wild and ignorant barbarians, with all the associations and mental habits of idolaters, at a time when neither rag paper nor printing was invented, and when a wide diffusion of the Bible was absolutely impossible? But such methods of reasoning could not stop there. I was naturally led to consider how different are the measures of probability, the predispositions toward the miraculous, the canons of evidence and proof, the standards and ideals of morals in different ages, and how largely these differences affect the whole question of evidence. I began to realise the existence of climates of opinion; to observe how particular forms of belief naturally grow and flourish in certain stages of intellectual development, and fade when these conditions have changed; how much that is called apostasy and imposture is in reality anachronism, the survival in one age of forms of belief that were the appropriate product of an earlier one.

A writer of extraordinary brilliancy and power was at this time exercising a great influence either of attraction or repulsion on all serious students of history. Those who are old enough to remember the appearance of the first volume of Buckle's 'History,' in 1857, and of the second volume, in 1861, will remember also how rapidly and how passionately it divided opinion. It was in truth a book in which extraordinary merits were balanced by extraordinary defects. On the special subject of the growth of religions, which most interested me, it was peculiarly deficient, for with all his great gifts Buckle was almost colour-blind to the devotional and reverential aspect of things, and he had little more power than Whately of projecting himself into the beliefs, ideals, and modes of thought of other men and ages. His unqualified, undiscriminating contempt for the ages of superstition is the more remarkable, because fifteen years before the appearance of his first volume, Comte, with whom Buckle had some affinity, and for whom he expressed great admiration, had been placing those ages on a pinnacle of extravagant eulogy. His doctrine that there is no real progress in moral ideas and no real history of morals, I have always believed to be profoundly untrue, and to have vitiated a large part of his conclusions; and although he rendered valuable service in showing by ample illustrations that the capital changes in history are much less due to the great men who directly effected them than to the long train of intellectual, political, or industrial tendencies that had prepared them, he pushed this, like many of his other generalisations, to exaggeration and even to extravagance. Individuals, and even accidents, have had a great modifying and deflecting influence in history, and sometimes the part they have played can scarcely be over-estimated. If, as I have elsewhere said, a stray dart had struck down Mohammed in one of the early skirmishes of his career, there is no reason to believe that the world would have seen a great military and monotheistic religion arise in Arabia, powerful enough to sweep over a large part of three continents, and to mould during many centuries the lives and characters of about a fifth part of the human race. In one respect, too, Buckle was singularly unfortunate in the time in which he appeared. From the days of Bacon and Locke to the days of Condillac and Bentham, it had been the tendency of advanced liberal thinkers to aggrandise as much as possible the power of circumstances and experience over the individual, and to reduce to the narrowest limits every influence that is innate, transmitted, or hereditary. They represented man as essentially the creature of circumstances, and his mind as a sheet of blank paper on which education might write what it pleased. Buckle pushed this habit of thought so far that he even questioned the reality of such an evident and well-known fact as hereditary insanity. But only two years after the appearance of the first volume of the 'History of Civilisation,' Darwin published his 'Origin of Species,' which gradually effected a revolution in speculative philosophy almost as great as it effected in natural science; and from that time the supreme importance of inborn and hereditary tendencies has become the very central fact in English philosophy. It must be added that Buckle had many of the distinctive faults of a young writer; of a writer who had mixed little with men, and had formed his mind almost exclusively by solitary, unguided study. He had a very imperfect appreciation of the extreme complexity of social phenomena, an excessive tendency to sweeping generalisations, and an arrogance of assertion which provoked much hostility. His wide and multifarious knowledge was not always discriminating, and he sometimes mixed good and bad authorities with a strange indifference.

This is a long catalogue of defects, but in spite of them Buckle opened out wider horizons than any previous writer in the field of history. No other English historian had sketched his plan with so bold a hand, or had shown so clearly the transcendent importance of studying not merely the actions of soldiers, politicians, and diplomatists, but also those great connected evolutions of intellectual, social, and industrial life on which the type of each succeeding age mainly depends. To not a few of his contemporaries he imparted an altogether new interest in history, and his admirable literary talent, the vast range of topics which he illuminated with a fresh significance, and the noble enthusiasm for knowledge and for freedom that pervades his work, made its appearance an epoch in the lives of many who have passed far from its definite conclusions. The task which he had undertaken was almost too vast for the longest life, and when he died at Damascus, in 1862, he had not yet completed his fortieth year, and his judgment was probably still far from its full maturity. A few lines of Pliny which I wrote on the title-page of his history, will suffice to show the feelings with which I heard of his death:

'Mihi autem videtur acerba semper et immatura mors eorum qui immortale aliquid parant. Nam qui voluptatibus dediti quasi in diem vivunt, vivendi causas quotidie finiunt; qui vero posteros cogitant et memoriam sui operibus extendunt, his nulla mors non repentina est, ut quae semper inchoatum aliquid abrumpat.'

I do not purpose to pursue these recollections further. I had drifted far from my Cork living and very decisively into the ways of literature, and after I left the university I spent about four years on the Continent. I read much in foreign libraries, and I also derived great profit as well as keen pleasure from the study of Italian art, which throws an invaluable light on the branches of history I was then investigating. In its earlier phase especially, before the sense of beauty dominates over the idea, art represents with a singular fidelity not only the religious beliefs of men, but also the far more delicate and evanescent shades of their realisations, ideals, and emotions.

The result of those years of study was my 'History of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe,' which appeared in the early part of 1865. With many defects, it had at least the merit of describing with great sincerity the process by which the opinions of its author had been formed, and to this sincerity it probably owed no small part of its success.


When Carlyle came to London in 1831, bringing with him the 'Sartor Resartus,' which is now perhaps the most famous of all his works, it is well known that he applied in turn to three of the principal publishers in London, and that each of them, after due deliberation, positively refused to print his manuscript. When at last, with great difficulty, he procured its admission into 'Fraser's Magazine,' Carlyle was accustomed to say that he only knew of two men who found anything to admire in it. One of them was the great American writer, Emerson, who afterwards superintended its publication in America. The other was a priest from Cork, who wrote to say that he wished to take in 'Fraser's Magazine' as long as anything by this writer appeared in it. On the other hand, several persons told Fraser that they would stop taking in the magazine if any more of such nonsense appeared in it. The editor wrote to Carlyle that the work had been received with 'unqualified disapprobation.' Five years elapsed before it was reprinted as a separate book, and in order that it should be reprinted it was found necessary for a number of Carlyle's private friends to club together and guarantee the publisher from loss by engaging to take three hundred copies. But when, a few years before his death, a cheap edition of Carlyle's works was published, 'Sartor Resartus' had acquired such a popularity that thirty thousand copies were almost immediately sold, and since his death it has been reprinted in a sixpenny form; it has penetrated far and wide through all classes, and it is now, I suppose, one of the most popular and most influential of the books that were published in England in the second quarter of the century.

Such a contrast between the first reception and the later judgment of a book is very remarkable, and it applies more or less to all Carlyle's earlier writings. It is a memorable fact in the literary history of the nineteenth century that one of the greatest and most industrious writers in England lived for many years in such poverty that he often thought of abandoning literature and emigrating to the colonies, and he would probably have done so if he had not found in public lecturing a means of supplying his frugal wants. The cause of this long-continued neglect is partly, no doubt, to be found in his style, for, like Browning, Carlyle wrote an English which was so contorted and sometimes so obscure that his readers had to be slowly educated into understanding, or at least enjoying, it. But there are other and deeper causes which I propose to devote the short time at my disposal to indicating.

It has been truly said that there are two great classes among writers. There are those who are echoes and there are those who are voices. There are some writers who represent faithfully and express strongly the dominant tendencies, opinions, habits, characteristics of their age, collecting as in a focus the half-formed thoughts that are prevailing around them, giving them an articulate voice, and by the force of their advocacy greatly strengthening them. There are others who either start new ways of thinking for which the public around them are still unprepared, or who throw themselves in opposition to the dominant tendencies of their times, pointing out the evils and dangers connected with them, and dwelling specially on neglected truths. It is not surprising that the first class are by far the most popular. The public is much like Narcissus in the fable, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. All men like to find their own opinions expressed with a power and eloquence they cannot themselves attain, and most men dislike a writer who, in the first flush of a great enthusiasm, points out all that can be said on the other side. But when the first enthusiasm is over—when the prevailing tendency has fully triumphed and the evils and defects connected with it are disclosed—the words of this unpopular or neglected teacher will begin to gather weight. It will be found that although he may not have been wiser than those who advocated the other side, yet his words contained exactly that kind of truth which was most needed or most generally forgotten, and his reputation will steadily rise.

This appears to me to have been very much the position which Carlyle occupied towards the chief questions of his day, and it explains, I think, in a great degree the growth of his influence. It is remarkable, indeed, how many things there are in his writings which appeared paradoxes when he wrote, and which now seem almost truisms. Thus at a time when the political and intellectual ascendency of France over the Continent was at its height, Carlyle was one of the few men who clearly recognised the essential greatness that lay hid in Germany, and especially in Prussia—a greatness which after the wars of 1866 and 1870 became very evident to the world. He was one of the first men in England to recognise the importance of German literature, and especially the supreme greatness of Goethe. His translation of 'Wilhelm Meister' was published in 1824, and his noble essay on Goethe in 1832; but at first it seemed to find scarcely any echo. The editor for whom he wrote it reported that all the opinions he could gather about this essay were 'eminently unfavourable.' De Quincey, who of all English critics was believed to know Germany best, and Jeffrey, who exercised the greatest influence on English literary opinion, combined to depreciate or ridicule Goethe. But there is now no educated man who disputes that Carlyle in this matter was essentially right, and that his critics were wholly wrong. And to turn to subjects more directly connected with England, Carlyle wrote at a time when the whole school of what was called advanced thought rested upon the theory that the province of Government ought to be made as small as possible, and that all the relations of classes should be reduced to simple, temporary contracts founded on mutual interest. According to this theory, it was the one duty of Government to keep order. For the rest it should stand aside, and not attempt to meddle in social or industrial questions. The most complete liberty of thought and action should be established, and everything should be left to unrestricted competition—to the free play of unprivileged, untrammelled, unguided social forces. This was the theory which was called orthodox political economy—the laisser-faire system—the philosophy of competition or supply and demand, and it was incessantly denounced by Carlyle as Mammon worship, as 'devil take the hindmost,' as 'pure egoism'; 'the shabbiest gospel that had been taught among men.' He declared that in the long run no society could flourish, or even permanently cohere, if the only relation between man and man was a mere money tie. He maintained that what he called the condition of England question, or, in other words, the great mass of struggling, anarchical poverty that was growing up in the chief centres of population, was a question which imperiously demanded the most strenuous Government intervention—which was, in fact, far more important than any of the purely political questions. The whole system of factory legislation, the whole system of legislation about working men's dwellings, which has taken place in this century, has been a realisation of the ideas of Carlyle. When Carlyle first wrote, it was the received opinion that the education of the people was a matter in which the Government should in no degree interfere, and that it ought to be left altogether to individuals, or Churches, or societies. In his work on Chartism, which was published as early as 1834, Carlyle argued that the 'universal education of the people' was an indispensable duty of the Government. It was not until about twenty years ago that this duty was fully recognised in England. In the same work he maintained that State-aided, State-organised, State-directed emigration must one day be undertaken on a large scale, as the only efficient agent in coping with the great masses of growing pauperism. In his 'Past and Present,' which was published in 1843, he threw out another idea which has proved very prolific, and which is probably destined to become still more so. It is that it may become both possible and needful for the master worker 'to grant his workers permanent interest in his enterprise and theirs.'

It is evident how much less strange those ideas appear now than they did when they were first put out some fifty years ago. One of the most remarkable changes that has taken place during the lives of men who are still of middle age has been in the opinion of advanced thinkers about the function of Government. In the early days of Carlyle the whole set, or lie, of opinion in England was towards cutting in all directions the bands of Government control, diminishing as much as possible the sphere of Government functions or interference. It was a revolt against the old Tory system of paternal Government, against the system of Guilds, against the State regulations which once prevailed in all departments of industrial life. In the present generation it is not too much to say that the current has been absolutely reversed. The constantly increasing tendency, whenever any abuse of any kind is discovered, is to call upon Parliament to make a law to remedy it. Every year the network of regulation is strengthened; every year there is an increasing disposition to enlarge and multiply the functions, powers, and responsibilities of Government. I should not be dealing sincerely with you if I did not express my own opinion that this tendency carries with it dangers even more serious than those of the opposite exaggerations of a past century: dangers to character by sapping the spirit of self-reliance and independence; dangers to liberty by accustoming men to the constant interference of authority, and abridging in innumerable ways the freedom of action and choice. I wish I could persuade those who form their estimate of the province of Government from Carlyle's 'Past and Present' and 'Latter-day Pamphlets' to study also the admirable little treatise of Herbert Spencer, called 'The Man and the State,' in which the opposite side is argued. What I have said however, is sufficient to show how remarkably Carlyle, in some of the parts of his teaching that were once the most unpopular, anticipated tendencies which only became very apparent in practical politics when he was an old man or after his death.

The main and fundamental part of his teaching is the supreme sanctity of work; the duty imposed on every human being, be he rich or be he poor, to find a life-purpose and to follow it out strenuously and honestly. 'All true work,' he said, 'is religion'; and the essence of every sound religion is, 'Know thy work and do it.' In his conception of life all true dignity and nobility grows out of the honest discharge of practical duty. He had always a strong sympathy with the feudal system which annexed indissolubly the idea of public function with the possession of property. The great landlord who is wisely governing large districts and using all his influence to diffuse order, comfort, education, and civilisation among his tenantry; the captain of industry who is faithfully and honestly organising the labour of thousands, and regarding his task as a moral duty; the rich man who, with all the means of enjoyment at his feet, devotes his energies 'to make some nook of God's creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God—to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier, more blessed,' always received his admiration and applause. No one, on the other hand, spoke with more contempt of a governing class which had ceased to govern; of titles which had lost their original meaning, and no longer implied or expressed duties performed; of wealth that was employed solely or mainly in selfish enjoyment or in idle show. It was Carlyle's deep conviction that the best test of the moral worth of every nation, class, and individual, is to be found in their standard of work and in their dislike to a useless and idle life. As is well known, he had no sympathy with the prevailing political ideas. He believed that men were not only not equal, but were profoundly unequal; that it was the first interest of society that the wisest men should be selected as its leaders, and that the popular methods of finding the wisest were by no means those which were most likely to succeed. 'No British man,' he complained, 'can attain to be a statesman or chief of workers till he has first proved himself a chief of talkers.' 'The two greatest nations in the world, the English and American, are all going to wind and tongue.' He believed much more than his contemporaries did that there was need and room in our modern English life for strong Government organisation, guidance, discipline, reverence, obedience, and control. 'Wise command, wise obedience,' he wrote in one of his 'Latter-day Pamphlets,' 'the capability of these two is the best measure of culture and human virtue in every man.'

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