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country," he says, " that the labouring poor are treated with harshness, and are, in all respects, so little considered, that their want of importance seems a perfect contrast to their situation in England, of which country, comparatively speaking, they reign the sovereigns. The age has improved so much in humanity, that even the poor Irish have experienced its influence, and are every day treated better and better; but still the remnant of the old manners, the abominable distinction of religion, united with the oppressive conduct of the little country gentlemen, or rather vermin of the kingdom, who never were out of it, altogether still bear very heavy on the poor people, and subject them to situations more mortifying than we ever behold in England. The landlord of an Irish estate inhabited by Roman Catholics is a sort of despot, who yields obedience, in whatever concerns the poor, to no law but that of his will. To discover what the liberty of a people is, we must live among them, and not look for it in the statutes of the realm : the language of written law may be that of liberty, but the situation of the poor may speak no language but that of slavery. There is too much of this contradiction in Ireland; a long series of oppressions, aided by many very ill-judged laws, have brought landlords into a habit of exerting a very lofty superiority, and their vassals into that of an almost unlimited submission : speaking a language that is despised, professing a religion that is abhorred, and, being disarmed, the poor find themselves, in many cases, slaves even in the bosom of written liberty*. Landlords that have resided much abroad are usually humane
* Out of the three circumstances here enumerated by A. Young, as making the Irish peasants no better than slaves, two concur in the Welsh and the Scotch Highlanders, namely, the speaking of a despised language, and the being disarmed. For although the Highland and Welsh peasants have a right to possess arms, in point of fact they are unarmed. And yet the Highlanders and the Welsh are a happy, and contented, and remarkably tranquil peasantry. It was the third circumstance mentioned by A. Young, the professing a religion that is abhorred," or rather a religion denounced by the law, and importing a civil inequality, which made the condition of the Irish peasants in the last century scarcely superior to villenage.
in their ideas *; but the habit of tyranny naturally contracts the mind; so that even in this polished age there are instances of a severe carriage to the poor, which is quite unknown in England.”
“A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottar dares to refuse to execute. Nothiny satisfies him but unlimited submission. Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness, he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security. A poor man would have his bones broken if he offered to lift his hand in his own defence. Knocking down is spoken of in the country in a manner that makes an Englishman stare. Landlords of consequence have assured me, that many of their cottars would think themselves honoured by having their wives and daughters sent for to the bed of their master; a mark of slavery which proves the oppression under which such people must live. Nay, I have heard anecdotes of the lives of people being made free with, without any apprehension of the justice of a jury. But let it not be imagined that this is common; formerly it happened every day, but law gains ground. It must strike the most careless traveller, to see whole strings of cars whipt into a ditch by a gentleman's footman, to make way for his carriage; if they are overturned or broken in pieces, no matter, it is taken in patience: were they to complain, they would, perhaps, be horsewhipped. The execution of the laws lies very much in the hands of the justices of the peace, many of whom are drawn from the most illiberal class in the kingdom. If a poor man lodges his complaint against a gentleman, or any animal that chooses to call itself a gentleman, and the justice issues out a summons for his appearance, it is a fixed affront, and he will infallibly be called out. Where
* A. Young seems to be mistaken in accounting for the overbearing conduct of the small Irish squires to their tenants, by their never going abroad. The manners of many of the English country gentlemen in the first half of the eighteenth century were probably not very refined; but their roughness took a different turn from that of the Irish landlord. The Squire Westerns of the last century would doubtless have had no objection to drink a tankard of ale, and smoke a pipe with a tenant.
manners are in conspiracy against law, to whom are the oppressed people to have recourse? It is a fact, that a poor man, having a contest with a gentleman, must-but I am talking nonsense; they know their situation too well to think of it; they can have no defence but by means of protection from one gentleman against another, who probably protects his vassal as he would the sheep he intends to eat*.”
Similar remarks on the tyranny formerly practised on the Irish peasantry by their superiors are made by the author of An Inquiry into the Causes of Popular Discontents in Ireland.'
" It has not been unusual in Ireland," he says, " for great landed proprietors to have regular prisons in their houses for the summary punishment of the lower orders. Indictments preferred against gentlemen for similar exercise of power beyond law are always thrown out by the grand juries. To horsewhip or beat a servant or labourer is a frequent mode of correction. But the evil is not so great among the gentlemen of large property, whose manners have generally been softened by education, travelling, and the progress of humanity and civilization. A horde of tyrants exists in Ireland in a class of men that are unknown in England; in the multitude of agents to absentees; small proprietors, who are the pure Irish squires ; middle-men, who take large farms, and squeeze out a forced kind of profit, by reletting them in small parcels; lastly, the little farmers themselves, who exercise the same insolence they receive from their superiors, on those unfortunate beings, who are placed at the extremity of the scale of degradation, the Irish peasantry ."
* A. Young's Tour in Ireland, part ii. p. 29, 4to.
of An Inquiry into the Causes of Popular Discontents in Ireland. By an Irish Country Gentleman. London, 1804, p. 29. “I will add another proof (says the same writer) of a more particular nature, to show that this national habit, like all other national habits, is so strong, that the expression of it is discernible in men whose personal habits are directly the
An acquaintance of mine, possessed of a very large landed pro
It has been often remarked, that one of the chief evils of slavery is that it corrupts the master as well as the slave. The Irish landlord, during the rigour of the anti-catholic code, was subjected to all the temptations arising from the possession of irresponsible power. Not only did he become harsh and tyrannical to his inferiors, but reckless and sensual in his habits of living, profuse in his expenditure, violent in his quarrels, intolerant in the assertion of his religious opinions, corrupt and partial in the exercise of his official authority. Hence, likewise, he did not scruple to employ his tenants and dependants, when it suited his inclination, for any purpose, however mischievous, which he might wish to accomplish. We do not imagine that Irish history offers a second instance of a landlord employing and instructing his tenants to commit a cool and premeditated murder; but it may be questioned whether the records of any civilized European nation, during the last century, would present an authentic picture of such a state of society as is disclosed by the trial of Mr. George Robert Fitzgerald.
The labouring classes, on the other hand, suffered most of the evils of slavery, without enjoying any of its advantages. Deprived of all self-respect by the opera
perty, who has in a high degree that natural affability and politeness which marks the Irish ; who gives his tenants plenty of leisure to pay their rents; who is the father of a little army of labourers, that he keeps in constant employment; whose house is a kind of hospital, where all the sick in the neighbourhood send for medicines and wine; in his courtyard the poor of the parish and the wandering beggar assemble without ceremony, and find in the remnants of his hospitable kitchen more broken victuals than is supplied by any English nobleman's house ; - this essentially amiable and kind-hearted man prefaces a rebuke to a labourer with • You villain ; you! I'll blow your bloody soul in a blaze of gunpowder to hell !'" P. 31-2.
tion of the penal statutes ; prevented from rising in the world, or from bettering their condition, by legal disabilities and the legalized oppression of their landlords ; without education ; excluded from a public participation in the rites of their own religion ; they endured all, and more than the evils which belonged to the lot of a serf, without looking forward to the interested
protection and relief which a master would afford to his bondman. Having neither the means of accumulating a little capital, nor the foresight necessary for making a good use of it when accumulated, the agricultural labourers and cottier tenants were for the most part in a state of extreme destitution, ill-fed, ill-clad, and illlodged *. If at the present day, when the commercial restraints of Ireland have been removed, and so great a reduction has taken place in the price of manufactured goods, and when there has been so vast an improvement in the system of Irish government and the administration of the law, we see in how deep destitution the Irish peasant is plunged, we may judge what was his physical condition in the middle of the last century t.
The poorer classes in Ireland seem moreover at the same time to have been in that precise state which is the most favourable to the growth of population ; namely, where the moral checks on increase scarcely operate at all, and the physical checks operate but feebly $. Not living like slaves in a state of promiscuous concubinage unfavourable to propagation, but
* See O'Conor's History of the Irish Catholics, part i. p. 285. op See note A at the end.
See Malthus on Population, vol. i. p. 469, 6th ed. and compare Clinton's Fasti Hellenici, vol. ii. p. 383.