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repeal of the Corn Laws as a legislative recognition of the maxim of laissez faire were in error. It was a result of the Reform of Parliament, of legislators becoming more democratic, and setting aside the ideas of great landowners in the interest of the majority. There has long been an Irish land question, but it has only recently assumed its present prominence as a problem for Parliament to solve, and it may be taken for certain that the economic canons of the last generation respecting the sphere of the State will not determine the nature of the solution it shall ultimately receive.
Two opposite errors pervade much that is said on the two sides of the controversy. The advocates of the Irish landlords for the most part show no consciousness that we are in presence of a movement which is not exclusively Irish, but a movement of the age. Some of their opponents, on the other hand, seem to assume that it is enough to call a movement popular, democratic, and in harmony with the temper and spirit of the times, to establish its beneficial tendency. Government grows stronger as it becomes more closely identified with the feelings, convictions, and will of the people whose force it wields, but it does not follow that it must exercise its increased powers wisely or well. The theory of representative Government embodied in Mr. Mill's treatise is that prosperity must attain a greater height, and be more widely diffused, in proportion to the number and variety of personal energies acting on legislation directly or indirectly. As the State becomes more representative of the ideas and feelings of the people at large, it was assumed that the general interest, instead of that of particular classes, must become its object and care. Such has not, in fact, been always the actual result. It is true that a narrow limitation of the franchise led to class legislation, but it does not follow that by its extension class legislation is avoided. The legislatures of the most democratic communities show a strong tendency to sacrifice the interests of the public to those of particular classes of producers, to shape the laws in conformity with the dictates of vigilant and organised bodies, instead of in accordance with the welfare of the inert and unorganised mass of society. Vigilantibus non dormientibus jura succurrunt' is true of law-making as well as of its administration. Free trade itself was carried in England by the exertions of particular classes of traders, and though much was said about the interests of the public, Cotton was King. Were Ireland to get a Parliament to itself, one of the earliest measures would be to protect Irish producers against English and foreign competition; nor would protection stop there-the small farmer would be protected against the large, and in other branches of business defensive measures would be taken against large capital. There was a movement in Ireland twenty or thirty years ago, zealously advocated by Mr. Butt, against monster shops. Mr. Bagehot says in his book on the English Constitution, that the natural idol of the Anglo-Saxon is gold, and that he bows down before a big heap, and sneers as he passes a little one. To bow down to the little heap is no nobler or
less self-seeking a cult, and may have more pernicious effects. The worship of big heaps has some tendency to create them, and they cannot be piled up without some benefit to the community. The worship of little heaps may be so conducted as to leave no heap at all in the end.
We reach thus two points in our inquiry in reference to the Irish Land problem. First, that legislation on the subject will be governed neither by old economic formulas nor by the ideas of landlords, but will be democratic in its character; secondly, that it will not on that account be necessarily politic, just or beneficial. It is thought, however, by some, and such seems to have been M. de Tocqueville's conviction, that, for better for worse, the movement of democracy follows a course over which no control can be exercised. The truth is that the movement is irresistible but not uncontrollable; it has tendencies which will prevail, but it is amenable, in England at least, to reason and guidance in the paths which it takes towards its ends. Universal adult suffrage is sure to arrive, but it will depend much on the wisdom and moderation of popular politicians, whether it shall come suddenly in an angry storm or by gradual and quiet expansion. The majority of the electors of the United Kingdom may be said to have already resolved that Parliament shall grapple with the Irish Land Question, but the manner of doing so is left for the present to particular statesmen. 'Sic volo, sic jubeo' is the principle alike of democracy and of despotism, but it does not follow that Stat pro
The first step then is to consider the economic condition of Ireland. Regarded from this point of view, the greater part of the island is less unprosperous than is generally imagined in England. The true economic line of division in Ireland between advancement and stagnation was never between North and South, or between Ulster and the other provinces, but between East and West, between the English and the Irish side of the island. The manufactures lie in the east of Ulster, but the farming is better in parts of several southeastern counties than in parts of Antrim or Down. Even in Antrim and Down there are mountainous and ill-favoured districts to which the natives were driven by English and Scotch settlers, and which have lagged behind the movement around them. Were Mr. Tuke, however, to revisit even Connaught and Donegal at this moment, he would behold a different prospect from that which he painted last spring. On wild hills and bogs and on remote shores, and in a few localities where cheap and bad seed was sown and the crops have in consequence failed, there is, indeed, immediate want, and the need of relief will be urgent before the winter is over. Yet Mr. Tuke might this autumn have heard women in Mayo, whose families were getting public or private relief when he was among them, asking unprecedented prices for fowls and eggs, and answering objections, 'Well, we don't care whether you buy or not; we can afford to eat them ourselves this year.' The shops of county towns not far from where
Captain Boycott has been beleaguered, have been full of winter goods and of customers on market days.
Comparing England and Ireland, on the whole, and looking at the condition of the rural population of both as they were thirty years ago and as they are now, and at the prospects of agriculture apart from political and civil disorder, Ireland exhibits, on the whole, the more satisfactory aspect. There is greater improvement in the condition of the country people in general, and the outlook of farming in the face of American competition is brighter. Ireland is in soil and climate better adapted than England for the productions which the foreigner finds it hardest to export, and which are most remunerative in price. The peasant is better clad in winter, and leads a happier life summer and winter, in Tipperary than in Dorsetshire. Some of the very facts of which landlords and agents in Ireland complain most, afford by no means unfavourable indications on the whole. It is curious to observe how similar is the language which residents in widely distant parts of the island use with reference to extravagance and debt on the part of tenants. A gentleman in Connaught writes: The Land Act of 1870 enabled small tenants to mortgage the holdings; this they have been doing ever since, and with the money so obtained living in quite a different style from what they did formerly. Their daughters dress extravagantly and receive comparatively large fortunes, much of which is often spent immediately. There are about four times as many banks in Mayo as there were, and most of the business is in loans to small tenants, though sometimes they receive considerable sums on deposit from some of them. There are in all parts of the country tenants who are irretrievably insolvent.' From the county Monaghan, in Ulster, a correspondent reports: The Monaghan farmers are almost universally deeply in debt to banks, shopkeepers, and moneylenders. This was one bad effect of the Land Act, as it procured them unlimited credit, and they are so much in debt that it will take more than one good harvest to make much improvement in their affairs. Besides, they have got into extravagant habits as regards both food and dress, and this will help to keep them poor.' From Cavan, in the same province, a person of great experience writes: Holders of less than ten acres are worse off than the larger holders, for one reason, because they have endeavoured to live up to the standard of larger farmers and have not the means to do so. I should say that the tenantry of this county are so steeped in debt, owing to their reckless borrowing of money during the good years, that a very grave prospect lies before them unless a succession of prosperous years enables them to regain their property, and that they take warning by what has passed.' From the county Tipperary, in Munster, the account comes: There is little poverty in this county, there being few small tenants except on good land. These spend immense sums on drink and consequent fines. They give their daughters good fortunes when they marry, and wives and daughters dress well. A farmer of ten or
twelve acres generally keeps a maid servant. The large farmers lost much on stock this year, but seem none of them to live less well.' A great land agent who manages estates in several eastern and midland counties of Leinster states: Although the larger holders are, I believe, well able to pay their rent, the smaller tenants are, as a general rule, poor. They have had this year an abundant harvest, but the last two years left many of them in debt to shopkeepers and moneylenders, and one good harvest will not set everything straight. At present, however, instead of applying themselves to work out of debt by the ordinary means of thrift and industry, they are all like young hounds with their heads up, expecting that some great revolution in the conditions of land tenure will make them all rich by Act of Parliament.'
The main facts brought out in such accounts have two sides. A rise in the standard of living is in itself good, not only because sufficiency and comfort contribute to happiness, but because a low standard leads to indolence, and leaves nothing to fall back upon or to retrench from. It used to be said that potatoes and rags were the cause of Irish overpopulation and beggary, and, though rather the effect than the cause, they reacted in that way. A higher measure of wants on the part of a peasantry is a mark of the growth among them of ideas of respectability and self-respect; it is a sign that their labour and produce are fetching a better price, and that they themselves are rising in the social scale, and breaking with ancient and barbarous usages. It is but natural to find them at the same time copying their superiors in superfluous consumption as well as in the requisites of healthful existence and decency. In every age when a considerable improvement has shown itself in the modes of living, it has at first been regarded as foolish and hurtful luxury, as in part it commonly has been. In Elizabeth's day Harrison complained that when houses were built of willow and wattles the men were of oak, but now that they must needs live in more durable dwellings, they had become as weak as willow themselves; and, now that chimneys were many, there were many sufferers from rheums and catarrh, whereas formerly the smoke hardened both the house and its inmates. Mr. Tuke has described a turf hovel, which the friends with him at first could not believe to be a human habitation, and a still wretcheder dwelling, scooped out in a bog. Such habitations are not creations either of modern landlordism' or of unprecedented distress; they are survivals of the barbarism of earlier times. Cave men may still be found, not only in Ireland but in more prosperous countries; they are beheld with astonishment by a stranger, but cave men once regarded the builders of houses with much greater astonishment. The drinking in Ireland is a serious evil, but not a new one; what is new is that there is something over for substantial food and good clothing. It's all competition that's ruining the country,' said a Tipperary man to the writer, in the town of Cahir, one October Sunday evening, pointing to a swarm of labourers in and around the publicNo. 612 (No. CXXXII. N. s.)
houses in the market-place, waiting to be hired for potato-digging. Look at them poor boys drinking their money, and the farmers upstairs waiting till the one's more drunk than the other, to bargain with them. And the farmers is drunk themselves.' The poor boys' were nevertheless all comfortably and respectably clothed, and the spokesman would have seen no harm in the drinking had it taken place on an ordinary Sunday. It was the intrusion of business into the pastime of the evening that provoked his censure.
The indebtedness of the Irish tenant at present is not altogether a bad sign. The development of banks, the custom of dealing with them, the ability to give better security than formerly, are all good in themselves. All people in trade are occasionally borrowers, and unexpected disasters may leave them in debt. Indebtedness is common among the happiest peasantry in Europe, that of France, and French country gentlemen, in the evidence published in the Reports of the Enquête Agricole, hold much the same language about the extravagance and the debts of the farming classes that one hears now in Ireland, where a rise in the standard of living has certainly taken place. Two bad seasons came together on tenants who had been both making and spending more money than formerly. There was want of thrift and of providence, but the want of both was greater in old times, when they spent much less on their living and could not get into debt.
The real, radical weakness of Irish rural economy is the existence of a multitude of cottier holdings, the produce of which is insufficient to support the tenants, while other employment on the spot, to eke out the livelihood of the family, is not forthcoming. The change that is taking place in English agriculture will make the position of the cottier in Connaught and Donegal, with a few acres of land, still more precarious and wretched, by diminishing employment in summer and autumn, and drying up an indispensable subsidiary source of subsistence. The practice hitherto has been for the Connaught man to migrate to England in March, April, or May, leaving his little plot to his wife and children to manage, and often not returning himself until December with a good part of a year's wages in hand. During the last two years many of these poor men not only gained nothing, but lost their expenses in going over. English husbandry may recover prosperity, but to do so it must be in a great measure transformed, and the transformation is likely to shorten considerably the demand for Irish labour. And as matters stood heretofore, the Western cottier was always in peril, and in extremity when a bad season occurred. Mr. Tuke's pages are full of evidence on the point, which no one acquainted with Ireland will dispute.
The little farms are the curse of the country; no man can really live on them in the best times. . . . No one can dispute that it is of the utmost importance to realise the fact that farms under ten, fifteen, or twenty acres of land, according to quality, are too small to support a family. It matters not whether a man has fixity of tenure, or being a peasant proprietor has no rent to pay, he cannot, unless he has some other