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THE times are troublous,—not devoid of agitation and peril, and ominous of greater trouble yet to come. All over Europe, the long peace is broken, and the fountains of the great deep are opening up. To those who see clearly, the heads of two or three chief perils are already visible above the agitated waters, menacing the welfare of our State, both from without and from within. The country feels instinctively that we are on the brink of important events, and probably also of changes in our foreign and domestic policy, which, for good or for evil, will give a new aspect to the Empire. For ourselves, we have no forebodings as to the issue. At home, if we lose in some respects by impending changes, we shall gain-and we believe gain more-in others. And abroad, if our influence on the Continent experience a rude shock a year or two hence, it will only serve to throw us into closer union with our true allies,—the free-born Anglo-Saxon Powers of the sea. There is never a grand contest without great vicissi tudes; but we know enough of the history of the British nation to have faith in its future, and to feel convinced that once the crisis comes, and our somnolent people gather up their strength to meet it, Old England will again weather the storm, and, despite the forebodings of the late Premier, ride through the troubled seas into a haven of new prosperity.
History is the great Mentor. "What is nearest," said Dr. Johnson, "touches us most." A tiny leaf at hand appears as big as a hill at a distance; and amidst the anxieties of the present, we are
ever apt to take an erroneous view of the proportions and character of the events which are whirling about us. To appearance, there is little plan or connexion in them: they come few know whence, and seem to throng about us in a chance-medley, like the wild dance of leaves in the October gale. But a grand sequence and sympathy pervade them all. The events of each age have a family-likeness, and a common parentage in the past. If you would see what they really are, whence they come, and whither they are tending, Get up higher; leave the level of your own times, and from the heights of History look down. As the traveller on the lofty summit of frozen Jura or burning Etna, sees every object in the lower world in its true proportions, has every feature of the scene in view at once, and can follow each winding of road and river, and track them to their goal, so does History, well read, lift us up as to some calm pinnacle of the upper air, where the joint light of Reason and the Past reveals to us the Future. Let us appeal, then, from the misgivings and trepidations of the hour to the voice of history; and from the story of past troubles draw a lesson of present comfort and reassurance.
Twenty-five years ago! Any on who was old enough to be a thinking man then, must remember how grave were the times. For fifteen years before, the whole country had been suffering. With the exception of a few prosperous gleams, which could almost be reckoned by months, the times had been gloomy, and the people murmuring. Complaints and petitions to Par
"History of Europe from the Fall of Napoleon, in 1815, to the Accession of Louis Napoleon, in 1852." By Sir A. Alison, Bart., D.C.L. Vol. IV. 1855.
VOL. XLVI.-NO. CCLXXI.
liament for redress were unceasing; and now in one part of the kingdom, now in another-now in the towns, now in the country, and sometimes in both simultaneously-riots, strikes, and devastation took place. The whole land
was in a grumble, as if the spirit of the earthquake were moving underneath. Perhaps the misery of those times is more inexplicable than that of any other portion of our history. It extended to the farmer and manufacturer, to landlord and labourer alike. In fifteen years after Waterloo, eighteen millions of taxes were struck off,-and yet misery co-existed with this unparalleled reduction. The universal
phenomenon was, that wages and prices were falling, and that credit (that very life of a community, without which enterprise collapses, and industry stands. still) fluctuated and was shaken symptoms that the country had been overbled by the Currency Restriction Acts, and that the circulation did not flow steadily or in sufficient abundance. This main cause of the malady, however, was too subtile and recondite in its nature to be generally perceived or understood; and the consequence was, that all classes, suffering and groping blindly for a cure, came at length to attribute the national malady to political causes, and to seek a remedy in organic changes of the Constitution. The Constitution did need altering,-the people were ready to try anything in the search for deliverance from evil,the Whig agitators roused the passions by inflammatory appeals and delusive hopes, and at length the flood of revolutionary excitement rose so high, that everything seemed giving way bcfore it; and an ignorantly-constructed Reform Bill, which proved much more democratic than its authors intended, was carried amidst a saturnalia of rioting and political agitation, such as was unknown at the opening of the French Revolution of 1789.
The period embraced in the first half of the new volume of Sir A. Alison's history, is the decade of years which preceded the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832. That event was the culminating result of a long series of preceding causes, the study of which, in his impartial pages, is suggestive of considerations of no little importance at the present time. The second half of the volume gives the history of con. tinental Europe during the first two
years of the reign of Louis Philippe, comprising as its most important events the revolt of Belgium and the Polish Insurrection and war of 1831. As a necessary consequence, the principles wedded to these events and epochnamely, those connected with reform and the currency, with foreign intervention and the balance of power in Europe-are the themes whose discussion forms the salt of the volume and the moral of the narrative. In reality, these themes are as interesting at the present day as they were a quarter of a century ago. He reads the times wrongly who imagines that the first two of them are not destined soon to become the subject of fresh discussion in the legislature; and as for questions connected with foreign policy and war, are we not already in the thick of them?
Let us give a brief glance to the leading features of the epoch treated of in this volume. Ireland was the weak part of the kingdom, and there the general distress took earliest and deepest root. The picture given of the peasantry (that is to say, the mass of the people) of that country, by Mr. North, an Irish barrister of ability, in 1824, though probably suggested a little for the sake of epigrammatic expression, tells a tale of long-standing wretchedness. "In Ireland," said he, "the people have for a series of years suffered every variety of misery; they have proceeded from one affliction to another. Each season brought its peculiar horror. In one it was famine; in the next it was fever; in the third it was murder. These sad events seemed to form a perpetual cycle, the parts of which were of regular and mournful recurrence.
at the very bottom of the scale of human beings, the Irish peasant never looked upwards. He was excited by no emulation-inspired by no hope. He remained fixed on the spot where he first drew breath, without the wish, and still more without the power, of motion. He saw himself surrounded by men of a religion different from his own, whose interests were at variance with his, and whose chief or sole business he supposed to be, by the force of the sword and of the law, to keep him poor. He saw in the violation of the law no culpability; in its chastisement no retribution. His courage was converted into ferocity, his intelli
gence into fraud; and at last the peasant was lost in the murderer and incendiary."
Poor Ireland! she was badly off in those times; she had neither fair play nor wise treatment. There were no manufactures and little means of employment in the country, and there was a redundant population. "The ordinary rate of wages," said O'Connell, “is fourpence a-day; and during the distress of 1822, the peasantry were glad to work for twopence a-day." The landlords (for the most part English noblemen who had been infeft in the forfeited estates) were absentees; and the rents, wrung in driblets from the cotters, were spent abroad. It was as if the dews which rose nightly from the Emerald Isle, from its hills and plains, its lakes and rivers, the skies sent not back,-draining the land of its juices, to pour them in beneficent showers on some more favoured spot. "There is no means of employment for an Irish peasant,' said Mr. Nimmo, in 1823, "nor any certainty of his having the means of existence for a single year, but by getting possession of a portion of land on which he can plant potatoes." No encouragement was given to reclaim or pasture the fertile wastes; and consequently, as population increased, the competition for the plots of ground became tremendous, and the rents rose far above the value of the land. cessive poverty is always reckless and prolific. The cotters bred as fast, and with as little regard to the future, as the lower animals; and as marriage fees constituted a large portion of the income of the priests, no effort to check these improvident alliances was made by those who had the requisite wisdom and influence. The only way a peasant could provide for his family was by subdividing his croft, a suicidal measure, which, for the sake of increasing the number of votes at their disposal, the landlords rather encouraged than otherwise; but the effect of which was to reduce a large portion of the peasantry to the state of the Greek fool's horse, when he boasted he had got it to live upon a straw a-day!
"The competition for land," reported Mr. Nimmo, in 1823, "has attained to something like the competition for provisions in a besieged town, or in a ship that is out at sea." Of course,
when land was so scarce, any Saxon interloper was shot down as a public enemy. Moreover, the land was generally let by the proprietor to large tenants, or middlemen, who sub-let it after through several gradations of sub-tenants, down to the actual cultivators; and as the crop and stocking of each of these could be distrained for the arrears of any superior tenant, the unfortunate peasant was ever liable for others' debts, and the growth of agricultural capital was rendered wholly impossible. Add yet again to the burdens of the peasantry, that they had to support two ecclesiastical establishments one voluntary, the other on compulsion. It was like the attempt to wring water from a pumice-stone. The peasants bid against each other for the land, until they offered more than its entire value to the landlord aloneleaving the chapter of accidents to provide for the parson, armed with the power of distraining, and the priest wielding the thunders of excommunication. So that, between landlord, priest, and parson, as well as their own improvidence, the Irish were then ill off to an extent which, in this year of grace 1855, we should deem incredible. Although there were no poor-rates, the sum yearly raised for the destitute amounted to £2,250,000 — equal to half the public revenue, double the tithes, and a fourth of the land-rent of Ireland, and about four times heavier in proportion than the poor-rate of England at its highest amount. This cess (which was not paid by the absentee proprietors) weighed heavily upon the well-doing portion of the community, without doing more than barely keeping alive the crowds of paupers who overspread the country.
To a people thus living on the brink of starvation, the fall of prices and paralysis of enterprise produced by the contractions of the currency in 1819 and 1826, brought utter misery. "In the town of Kilkee, in the county of Clare," said Mr. Nimmo, "when I was passing through it in the time of the distress in 1822, the people were in a group on the side of the pound, receiving meal in the way of charity, and at the same time the pound was full of [their distrained] cattle. Of course the milk of these cattle would have been worth something if it could have been obtained, but no one could buy it." No one could buy, there
was the hitch. Money had been rendered so scarce, that buying and selling in those poor districts was almost at a stand-still. "I have known a cow sold for a few shillings," said Mr. Nimmo; "nobody would buy, and the driver bought it himself.” It was not, to use Dr. Johnson's phrase, "that cows were plenty, but that money was scarce"-almost vanished, in fact.
Distress is the great revolutionist. Ignorant and excitable, the Irish peasantry did what probably much wiser and calmer folks in their place would have done, they gave way to violence and outrage against the exactions of a Church which they abhorred, and landlords who to their other faults added that of being aliens alike in race and religion. Then arose the Ribbon Lodges then arose also O'Connell. The political chiefs, backed by the priests, turned the agitation into a political channel. Catholic Emancipation was carried. The passing of this just measure might have quieted the agitation, had this been simply of a political character; but the agitation proceeded from general distress, which political concessions could do nothing to alleviate, and so the outrages and discontent went on. The Reform Bill was likewise carried, without the least effect in quieting Ireland. The priests and agitators were worse than ever, and now banded the whole people together in resistance to tithes. The Tithe Composition system (first, though feebly, commenced in 1823) did much to remove occasion for strife; but still the state of smothered rebellion continued. The Repeal of the Union was the next aim of the agitators; and the mad cry of "Ireland for the Irish" soon after began to be heard. this time it was evident the agitators had quite overshot the mark, and were advocating measures which would only have sunk Ireland into deeper wretchedness. Emigration for the pauper Irish at the expense of the State had been scouted by the legislature as a folly. Man had exhausted himself. Providence now stepped in to do the requisite work,-and, as usual, did it sternly and effectively. A famine of the thirteenth came in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the pauper myriads of Ireland died off like rotten sheep. A thinning was wanted, and it came with a vengeance. The abolition of the corn-laws fell with
double weight upon Ireland, a country whose chief produce was agricultural; and from the doubly-devastated land a stream of emigration rushed forth, which, together with the famine, took nearly a-fourth part from the numbers of the population. The Incumbered Estates' Act-a just measure, but one as despotic as ever issued from Czar or Emperor-did the rest. It cleared the country of insolvent landlords, as the famine and emigration had cleared it of a redundant population; and instead of men who retained the privilege, without discharging the duties, of property, it brought in Anglo-Saxon wealth and enterprise,-accompanied, we trust, by a kinder and wiser spirit on the part of the landlords towards a peasantry who need much guidance and no little forbearance. The Ireland of to-day is the antipodes of what it was twenty-five years ago. Rebellion is snuffed out ;-for distress, that root of all evil, is removed. There will still be heartburnings as long as the parson is paid by the State, and the priest by the people. But what fact can be more gratifying to a patriot, or more indicative of Ireland's prosperity, than that the country which once needed the presence of forty thousand British bayonets to keep down rebellion, is now, in this hour of national crisis, tranquil under the guardianship of its own police!
Emigration, which proved the relief of Ireland, was a remedy proposed as early as 1826; but it was scouted out of the House of Commons at the bidding of Mr. M'Culloch, and the class of so-called "political economists,' who in their short century of existence have at least committed as many egregious blunders as they have discovered truths. Give the poor man £20," said Mr. Hume," and he will establish himself as well in Ireland as anywhere else." The idea was as absurd as to propose to treat an unthinned and over-crowded plantation by putting manure at the roots of the feeble trees. Manure to a tree that has room to expand, and a small sum of money to a man who has scope to push his way in the world, will do wonders; but £20 to an Irish cotter in those times of over-population and complete want of employment, would have been money thrown away,-keeping the recipient hardly for a year; before the expiry of which time Paddy, if not previously in possession of them, would certainly