Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ART. I.-1. An Historical Review of the State of Ireland,
from the Invasion of that Country under Henry II, to its
Union with Great Britain on the 1st January, 1801.
In 5 vols. By Francis Plowden. Philadelphia Edi-

tion. 1805.
2. History of Europe, from the fall of Napoleon, in 1815, to

the accession of Louis Napoleon, in 1852. In 4 vols. By Sir Archibald Alison, Bart., D. C. S., &c., &c.

. New York Edition. Harper & Brothers. 1860.

One of the saddest spectacles in our world is the wholesale misery of misgoverned millions. And one of the most impressive instances of this vast evil, is the wretchedness for centuries of oppressed, unhappy Ireland ; some of the lessons from whose history we propose presently to consider.

Few things, if any, are more indispensable to man, in his present condition, than government; yet is it scarcely possible to overrate the sufferings with which wicked governments burden the earth. The trite saying is no doubt true, that'any government is better than none,' that any general control, however arbitrary or even monstrous, is less destructive than the license, indefinitely extended, of each individual's lawless nature. But no less true is it, that next to the dying agonies of social chaos, inseparable from universal anarchy, are the miseries which bad systems of organized power, cruelly administered, have wrought among mankind. And the apparent hopelessness of relief from such enormous evils, since the experiment of equitable self-government has so signally failed, adds incalculably to the sadness of the prospect.

A few brief seasons have occurred within the period of authentic history, when some good hope seemed authorized of a better destiny for men in their earthly relations. It was so perhaps in the quieter days of the Ancient Greek Republics. So in some degree it appeared during the calm of Rome's pacification in the Augustan age. The dream of coming temporal welfare for the race may have been cherished, too, when Charlemagne was cultivating as well as tranquillizing a large part of Europe ; when Alfred was illustrating in England the blessings of personal virtue, public justice, and diffused intelligence; and when, at a later day, the republics of Italy, and the free towns of Flanders, were exemplifying to the world the manifold appliances of wealth, involved in unrestricted enterprise and industry. But most conspicuously did the pleasing delusion prevail, of something achieved for the world akin to the joys of a fabled golden age, when our fathers, providentially placed in positions of unexampled advantage, with all the lights before them from past generations, and with all the favouring conditions of a new, securely isolated, and boundless country of unparallelled adaptations to human well-being, devised systems of government, at once local and general, separately sovereign and federally united, free and efficient, bound to the hearts of the people at home, yet expansive enough to embrace the interests of a hemisphere.

So wisely conceived seemed this system, so skillfully adjusted were its elements, and so sincerely was it addressed by noble patriots and genuine statesmen to the judgment and affections of their fellow-citizens, that its results for a number of years really surpassed the sanguine anticipations of the most earnest enthusiasts. And the world had nearly reached the conclusion that the great problem of good government was at length effectually solved, and mankind placed in the sure way to indefinite earthly good. Alas! however, this Utopian vision, proved, like its precursors, but a dream. Eminently wise as were the sages by whose magic skill it was evoked, one essential truth they misunderstood, and in consequence one fatal error

vitiated all their work. They vastly underrated the virulence of human passions-nay, they fondly imagined some realization of universal virtue from advancing intelligence. Against selfish and malignant passions in powerful States, representative rulers, aspiring demagogues, and turbulent multitudes, they did not therefore adequately guard. Wicked lust of power and plunder they vainly conceived might be restrained by a pledge of honour to written articles of agreement; and hence, though solemnly warned by some of the more far-seeing of their number, and while intending to secure home-protection everywhere against powerful alien domination, with mistaken generosity almost romantic, they committed the destinies of their constituents and their children to a confederation, whose only ultimate sanction has proved the treacherous conscience of the numerous and the strong. The issue mankind behold in the aggression, carnage, tyranny and ruin perpetrated for years, and still apparently but begun, by the more powerful section of the late United States upon the weaker and defensive section.

A forfeiture of truth so gigantic, a frustration of human hope and happiness so portentous, and so monstrous a triumph of ambition in the name of liberty, cannot but shake to its foundations the confidence of the civilized world, if not in republican institutions altogether, at least in those forms of them which look to indefinite empire. Assuredly the subjugated portions of this imperial republic (so called), with the bitter experience they have of outraged honour, justice, and humanity, on the part of those once their associates and friends, can never again by possibility trust that vast engine of tyranny, a consolidated popular Union, nor derive from it one ray of hope for their own welfare, or for the happiness of mankind. Nor, loudly as the champions of progressive ideas' may boast their triumph, are the considerate subjects of other despotisms likely to be deceived hereafter into extravagant expectations of secure rights and satisfying rewards, under the auspices here of revolutionized constitutions, destructive radicalism, and popular passion exalted into Supreme Law.

What the issue is to be of all this madness and misery, we pretend not to foresee. That it tends to dissolution we are well persuaded ; and also that it cannot long endure; and that its end will most probably be fearful. But meanwhile how dark is the prospect it presents! Arrogance, insult, oppression, hatred, vengeance on the one side, sanctioned, nay encouraged by fanatical Christian teachers ; --and on the other side bereavement, spoliation, depression, want, and suffering incalculable, perhaps for generations, heroically endured indeed by the good, and, it may be trusted, with such submissiveness to the Almighty as to neutralise revengeful purposes, yet by the rest received with deadliest animosity, and by all the more keenly felt, because accompanied by an enduring, ineradicable sense of cruel wrong

Whether remedy shall come, through God's blessing on wise endeavours to restore genuine constitutional liberty on the one basis of right,-or through the outworking of evil from bad to worse, in strife and blood, till sham-republicanism becomes avowed military despotism, which in its turn shall be hurled into fragments that may re-form into free States; or whether protracted misery under grievous misgovernment, without remedy, must be here experienced, as it commonly has been, and still is elsewhere,not yet may we know. But this we can distinctly perceive : duty and work belong to us, whatever events may develop. Christian virtue in its sacred principles and its practical exercise we have more fully to realize and illustrate. The mind and heart of our generation we have to influence for good, by all the worthy agencies we can bring to bear, of example and instruction, just sentiments, truthful publications, and wise training. While doing this, we have, too, a great field of work in remedying desolation, securing domestic comforts, developing our resources, promoting the welfare of our neighbours, augmenting the wealth and influence of our people, and so contributing to the return of conditions that may, as changes come, command the re-inauguration of governmental right.

Should adverse power, however, long lord it over the

land, leaving us no country to love and serve, we shall only be in the condition illustrated by the Divine Exemplar of human excellence, and experienced by many of the best of heaven's servants then, and in other ages,-and we shall have 'ample room and verge enough,' for all that is noblest in mortal energy,-in endeavouring to make sure for ourselves, and all we can reach, the blessings of that better country' which no tyranny can invade, no agitation disturb.

For this unassailable freedom of the soul, superior forever to harm from direst despotism, gratitude unceasing is due, indeed, from men to the Bestower of all blessing. Yet none the less certain is it that government, as it is equitable and wise, incalculably contributes to human happiness; and as it is irrationally iniquitous, generates sorrow without limit.

Lessons full of instruction, on this subject, are afforded as at first intimated, in the condition and history of the Irish people, and to some of these we now ask attention.

Whoever will take the trouble to examine with even a little care a map of the British Islands, cannot but be struck by the remarkable coast-line of the great western member of the group, the long celebrated Hybernia, or Erin. There is perhaps upon the globe no other maritime country, or island of like extent, with a coast-line so singularly prolonged by the indentations of numerous bays and harbours around its entire circuit. This, of course, climatic and other conditions being supposed, at once marks the country as adapted to be the home of early civilization, successful commerce, and an improving people. To similar physical characteristics of the Greek and Italian Peninsulas were undoubtedly in large measure due the wonderful influence of their populations among the ancients, and the scarcely less important relations they sustained through the middle ages, till modern discovery directed to other regions, even more favourably situated, the energies of commercial life.

Extending examination from this very suggestive coastline of Ireland to the prominent features of its physical

« PreviousContinue »