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monsoons can blow together, and within the same limits. From the same lips we hear a bitter condemnation of the poor laws in England, and an eager advocacy of their introduction into Ireland. It is true, that the condemnation may be combined with some indistinct defence of the principle, and the advocacy is limit ed by a protest against mal-administration. On both these subjects we shall have much to remark hereafter, but, speaking in general terms, the same commanding officers are ordering a charge in Ireland, and a retreat in England; when, in fact, the contest is the same in both countries; or, if there be distinctions, those distinctions ought to prescribe caution and distrust, where there is the greatest disposition to an inconsiderate restlessness, and a dangerous spirit of enterprise.
We are bound in candour to suggest one hypothesis, as the only mode which can possibly reconcile these seeming contradictions. If there be in Ireland a superabundance of good principle, and of sound sense, of thoughtfulness for the wants of to-morrow, of careful providence-if there be a horror of all jobbing, an acknowledged purity in dealing with the public money, and a love and respect for the law and its pure administration-if all these perfections are to be found in Ireland, then it may possibly follow that a system which moralists and philosophers have condemned, and which statesmen have vainly endeavoured to reform at this side of the Channel, may, without risk of abuse, or danger of evil consequences, be safely, wisely, and benevolently introduced at the other. Those who are sanguine enough to adopt this faith, may thereby justify their practice; but to other reasoners we are almost tempted to apply the words used by Sir Robert Peel, in his reply to General Gascoigne, when that gallant statesman and learned officer advocated the question of the Irish Poor Laws, My honourable friend seems to be in the situation of the fox in the fable, who, having lost his tail, felt anxious that all other foxes should lose theirs. If, indeed, it might be shown that the pauper system could be passed like a vagrant from the one country into the other, however difficult it might be to reconcile with Christian charity this mode of shifting a burden from our own shoulders to those of our neighbours, still this policy, though selfish, would be intelligible. This is not, however, the question to be decided; some persons, it is true, contend, upon grounds the truth of which we shall hereafter controvert, that the change they recommend might mitigate some of the symptoms of the disease in England, although it could not effect a cure. But no person is hardy enough to assert, that the real evils of the system in England, would be removed by any alteration of the law as affecting the poor of Ireland.
There are few political propositions which equal in importance that which is by many disposed of as if it were an indisputable truth, or a question which ignorance or selfish interest alone could presume to doubt or to deny. It should be remembered, that the step, once taken, is very nearly irrevocable. It should be remembered, that if once we advance in this path, there is no retreat. If expectations of relief are created in the minds of millions-if millions are taught by the legislature to depend upon any other resources than their own industry,-it will be difficult indeed to withdraw from them hereafter that support on which the law has assured them they might rely. If the mass of those who are without property are informed, by the supreme power of the State, that without labour or exertion they possess an equitable lien on the property of their neighbours, this claim must necessarily have a tendency very speedily to become a right, and to extend itself indefinitely, till the former possessor appears only in the light of a lazy annuitant, or an unfeeling usurper, who stands in the way of those who, under a more sacred title, derived from what is called the law of God and Nature, are called upon to vindicate their pre-existing rights. In all countries, these doctrines are not only questionable, but somewhat dangerous; but in a country in which not only the usual causes of jealousy exist between want and property, but in which confiscation is the original title to eleven-twelfths of the landed estates, and a loose notion of a latent right of reassumption is kept up in the minds of the people, the suggestion of a legal right to relief is one which could not fail to be palatable, and which, if once introduced, would inevitably be carried forward to consequences more extensive, and more formidable, than any anticipated by its British advocates.
We confess that we have felt regret and disappointment at the mode in which this important subject has been discussed, both in and out of Parliament. So far from being approached in a calm and philosophical spirit, it has rarely been touched upon except for the purpose of rousing the most angry and the least generous feelings. To one class of reasoners it seems impossible to resist the introduction of the Poor Laws into Ireland, without denying either the existence of misery and distress in that country, or without an indifference to the moral duty which that misery and distress ought to call into action. To this class it is enough to reply, that it is perfectly consistent to admit and to commiserate the existence of a disease, and yet to doubt the efficiency of the particular remedy suggested. It does not necessarily follow, because the lungs of a patient are affected, that he should therefore submit to the counter-irritant application of
Mr St John Long. Another class seem to trace every objection to the influence of the heartless cruelty of the Irish landed aristocracy; but they cannot suspect Mr Senior to be in the pay of the proprietors of the Bog of Allen, Mr Malthus to be an Irish grand juror in disguise, or Dr Chalmers to be insensible to the voice of Christian charity and benevolence. When, in addition to authorities of this weight and importance, we see a combination of men, who perhaps agree upon no one other topic,-when Repealers are united with Orangemen, Sir Henry Parnell with Colonel Perceval, Mr O'Connell with Mr Spring Rice, it surely becomes a duty to enquire, rather than to dogmatize, and to proceed to the sober investigation of facts, rather than to launch into the vagueness of general assertion, or into personal invective, still less defensible and less conclusive. In the trial of this issue, political economists are met by a peremptory challenge, and all the persons most intimately connected with Ireland are examined on the voir dire; or, in other words, in a question, the solution of which depends upon the knowledge of general principles, and of matters of fact, those who are conversant either with the theory or the practice are considered as incompetent witnesses. The question to be investigated is not whether a penal law is to be enacted to punish the supposed heartlessness and cruelty of Irish landlords and absentees, but whether any modification of the system of legalized relief for the Irish poor can be introduced, so as to improve the condition of Ireland, and of the United Empire.
Before we proceed with this enquiry, it is important to consider in what position the subject is left by the recorded opinion of Parliamentary committees. We do not look back to what took place in the Irish House of Commons; for we plead guilty to the charge, if it be one, of relying mainly on the intelligence, impartiality, and public spirit of the Imperial Legislature, whether its deliberations are directed to a portion of the King's dominions, or to the whole.
So long back as in the year 1804, the subject of the relief and support of the aged and infirm poor of Ireland was considered by a select committee, of which Sir J. Newport was chairman, and Mr Wilberforce was a member. This committee reported, that 'the adoption of a general system of relief for the poor of Ireland, by the way of parish rate, or in any similar manner, would 'be highly injurious to the country, and would not produce any 'real or permanent advantage even to the poorer classes of the 'people, who must be the objects of such support.' From 1804 to 1819, the question does not appear to have been distinctly agitated. During the greater part of that interval, the esta
blishment of a free trade in corn with England, and the excitement of war prices, gave a stimulus to industry, and created an increased demand for labour, which rendered such discussions less urgent. But the fatal epidemic of 1819 induced the House of Commons to appoint a committee, and to enquire into the condition of the labouring poor of Ireland. It is impossible to conceive the existence of any circumstances that could have rendered such an enquiry more necessary, or that could have ensured a more attentive consideration of the subject. Fever had prevailed to a most frightful extent; and the necessity of the interposition both of the Government and of the State, was admitted by all. Over this committee presided that venerable patriot, who succeeded to the duties, and who possessed all the patriotism of Grattan; and the report framed by Sir J. Newport states, that for the ❝ evils of mendicancy and vagrancy existing in Ireland, it was very ' difficult to devise any remedy which would not lead, in its consequences, to the establishment of a system of Poor Laws, producing, in a country like Ireland, incalculable evils to every class of 'the community.' Again, in 1823, the subject of the employment of the Irish poor was considered; and the distress which had prevailed, as well as the generous efforts made by Great Britain to alleviate the calamities of famine which extended over ten counties of Ireland, not only gave a peculiar interest to the enquiry, but furnished a new class of witnesses of great intelligence and perfect disinterestedness.
Of this committee the late Mr Ricardo was a member; and that excellent man, whose uncompromising love of truth was not greater than his gentleness of mind and true benevolence, concurred in a report which stated, that any system of relief, however benevolently extended, leading the peasantry to depend ' on the interposition of others rather than on their own labour, 'cannot but repress all those exertions of industry which are essentially necessary to the improvement of the condition of 'the labouring classes.' We have felt it our duty to refer to these authorities, not that they can or ought to control the judgment which Parliament and the public are now called upon to pronounce, but because opinions thus deliberately formed and expressed, after the examination of evidence, and by persons whose intelligence and impartiality place them beyond all suspicion, may at least prove to those who seem prepared to dispose of the future destiny of millions by a bold assertion, or by a suggestion of interested motives, that their contest is not solely with Irish landlords; but that they are called on to answer and to refute the declared opinions of some of the most benevolent and enlightened practical statesmen and philosophers.
We have referred to some Parliamentary authorities which apply to this question; but it is most remarkable, and, in our mind, very much to be regretted also, that the Committee moved for, in 1830, by Mr Spring Rice, declined or omitted to report on this subject. We regret this the more when we consider, that Mr Sturges Bourne, Sir J. Newport, Lord Althorp, Sir Robert Peel, Sir H. Parnell, Sir T. Acland, and several other members of weight and authority, were members of this Committee; and that Dr Chalmers, Bishop Doyle, Mr M'Culloch, Mr Musgrave, Colonel Page, Mr Bicheno, and others, were examined as witnesses. How it could have been possible for the Committee to avoid expressing an opinion on this subject, we presume not to guess; unless, indeed, they felt it characteristic, in an Irish enquiry, to consider all things except that question which was the principal matter referred to, both in the mover's speech and the evidence given before them. The evidence is, however, of the greatest value and deepest importance; and if we may venture such a suggestion, without having the fear of the Sergeant-atArms before our eyes, the sound and philosophical views of some of these witnesses, and the perfect knowledge of Ireland exhibited by others, are entitled to more weight, as assisting in the formation of just opinions and the enactment of useful laws, than the most studied report that could have been presented to the House.
From this evidence, as well as from papers subsequently presented to Parliament, it is proved beyond all question, that the capital of Ireland has very considerably increased, that agriculture has improved, and agricultural produce advanced both in quality and in quantity; that important branches of manufacture are rapidly extending; that the people have now a greater command of the comforts and necessaries of life than heretofore; that inland navigation, and the trade with Great Britain, have made most rapid strides; that the use of machinery is more common ; that all farming implements are constructed on more improved principles; and that the general system of managing land is much better than it was formerly. But from the same evidence it also appears, that the distress of the very poorest class is extreme; that the amount of redundant labour is in many districts considerable, and the want of employment proportionally great. This combination of national improvement and of individual suffering may, it is evident, take place very frequently. The capital of a country may, under peculiar circumstances, increase; but if the increase of population is more rapid than the augmentation of wealth, it is clear that the condition of the labouring orders may be retrogressive, cotemporaneously with the accumulation of capi