Sheridan, in the sixth number of The Intelligencer, contributes an account of the state of Ireland, written to the text, O patria! O divum domus!
When I travel through any part of this unhappy kingdom, and I have now by several excursions made from Dublin, gone through most counties of it, it raises two passions in my breast of a different kind; an indignation against those vile betrayers and insulters of it, who insinuate themselves into favour, by saying, it is a rich nation; and a sincere passion for the natives, who are sunk to the lowest degree of misery and poverty, whose houses are dunghills, whose victuals are the blood of their cattle, or the herbs in the field; and whose clothing, to the dishonour of God and man, is nakedness. Yet notwithstanding all the dismal appearances, it is the common phrase of our upstart race of people, who have suddenly sprang up like the dragon's teeth among us, That Ireland was never known to be so rich as it is now; by which, as I apprehend, they can only mean themselves, for they have skipped over the channel from the vantage ground of a dunghill upon no other merit, either visible or divineable, than that of not having been born among us.
This is the modern way of planting Colonies: Et ubi solitudinem faciunt, id Imperium vocant. When those who are so unfortunate to be born here, are excluded from the meanest preferments, and deemed incapable of being entertained even as common soldiers, whose poor stipend is but four pence a day. No trade, no emoluments, no encouragement for learning among the natives, who yet by a perverse consequence are divided into factions, with as much violence and rancour, as if they had the wealth of the Indies to contend for. It puts me in mind of a fable which I read in a monkish author. He quotes for it one of the Greek mythologists that once upon a time a colony of large dogs (called the Molossi) transplanted themselves from Epirus to Aetolia, where they seized those parts of the countries, most fertile in flesh of all kinds, obliging the native dogs to retire from their best kennels, to live under ditches and bushes, but to preserve good neighbourhood and peace; and finding likewise, that the Aetolian dogs might be of some use in the low offices of life, they passed a decree, that the natives should be entitled to the short ribs, tops of back, knuckle-bones, and guts of all the game, which they were obliged by their masters to run down. This condition was accepted, and what was a little singular, while the Molossian dogs kept a good understanding among themselves, living in peace and luxury, these Aetolian curs were perpetually snarling, growling, barking and tearing at each other's throats: Nay, sometimes those of the best quality among them, were seen to quarrel with as much rancour for a rotten gut, as if it had been a fat haunch of venison. But what need we wonder at this in dogs, when the same is every day practised among men?
Last year I travelled from Dublin to Dundalk, through a country esteemed the most fruitful part of the kingdom, and so nature intended it. But no ornaments or improvements of such a scene were visible. No habitation fit for gentlemen, no farmers' houses, few fields of corn, and almost a bare face of nature, without new plantations of any kind, only a few miserable cottages, at three or four miles' distance, and one Church in the centre between this city and Drogheda. When I arrived at this last town, the first mortifying sight was the ruins of several churches, battered down by that usurper, Cromwell, whose fanatic zeal made more desolation in a few days, than the piety of succeeding prelates or the wealth of the town have, in more than sixty years, attempted to repair.
Perhaps the inhabitants, through a high strain of virtue, have, in imitation of the Athenians, made a solemn resolution, never to rebuild those sacred edifices, but rather leave them in ruins, as monuments, to perpetuate the detestable memory of that hellish instrument of rebellion, desolation, and murder. For the Athenians, when Mardonius had ravaged a great part of Greece, took a formal oath at the Isthmus, to lose their lives rather than their liberty, to stand by their leaders to the last, to spare the cities of such barbarians as they conquered. And what crowned all, the conclusion of their oath was, We will never repair any of the Temples, which they have burned and destroyed, lest they may appear to posterity as so many monuments of these wicked barbarians. This was a glorious resolution; and I am sorry to think, that the poverty of my countrymen will not let the world suppose, they have acted upon such a generous principle; yet upon this occasion I cannot but observe, that there is a fatality in some nations, to be fond of those who have treated them with the least humanity. Thus I have often heard the memory of Cromwell, who has depopulated, and almost wholly destroyed this miserable country, celebrated like that of a saint, and at the same time the sufferings of the royal martyr turned into ridicule, and his murder justified even from the pulpit, and all this done with an intent to gain favour, under a monarchy; which is a new strain of politics that I shall not pretend to account for.
Examine all the eastern towns of Ireland, and you will trace this horrid instrument of destruction, in defacing of Churches, and particularly in destroying whatever was ornamental, either within or without them. We see in the several towns a very few houses scattered among the ruins of thousands, which he laid level with their streets; great numbers of castles, the country seats of gentlemen then in being, still standing in ruin, habitations for bats, daws, and owls, without the least repairs or succession of other buildings. Nor have the country churches, as far as my eye could reach, met with any better treatment from him, nine in ten of them lying among their graves and God only knows when they are to have a resurrection. When I passed from Dundalk where this cursed usurper's handy work is yet visible, I cast mine eyes around from the top of a mountain, from whence I had a wide and a waste prospect of several venerable ruins. It struck me with a melancholy, not unlike that expressed by Cicero in one of his letters which being much upon the like prospect, and concluding with a very necessary reflection on the uncertainty of things in this world, I shall here insert a translation of what he says: 'In my return from Asia, as I sailed from Aegina, towards Megara, I began to take a prospect of the several countries round me. Behind me was Aegina; before me Megara; on the right hand the Piraeus; and on the left was Corinth; which towns were formerly in a most flourishing condition; now they lie prostrate and in ruin.
Thus I began to think with myself: Shall we who have but a trifling existence, express any resentment, when one of us either dies a natural death, or is slain, whose lives are necessarily of a short duration, when at one view I beheld the carcases of so many great cities? What if he had seen the natives of those free republics, reduced to all the miserable consequences of a conquered people, living without the common defences against hunger and cold, rather appearing like spectres than men? I am apt to think, that seeing his fellow creatures in ruin like this, it would have put him past all patience for philosophic reflection.
As for my own part, I confess, that the sights and occurrences which I had in this my last journey, so far transported me to a mixture of rage and compassion, that I am not able to decide, which had the greater influence upon my spirits; for this new cant, of a rich and flourishing nation, was still uppermost in my thoughts; every mile I travelled, giving me such ample demonstrations to the contrary. For this reason, I have been at the pains to render a most exact and faithful account of all the visible signs of riches, which I met with in sixty miles' riding through the most public roads, and the best part of the kingdom. First, as to trade, I met nine cars loaden with old musty, shrivelled hides; one car-load of butter; four jockeys driving eight horses, all out of case; one cow and calf driven by a man and his wife; six tattered families flitting to be shipped off to the West Indies; a colony of a hundred and fifty beggars, all repairing to people our metropolis, and by encreasing the number of hands, to encrease its wealth, upon the old maxim, that people are the riches of a nation, and therefore ten thousand mouths, with hardly ten pair of hands, or hardly any work to employ them, will infallibly make us a rich and flourishing people. Secondly, Travellers enough, but seven in ten wanting shirts and cravats; nine in ten going bare foot, and carrying their brogues and stockings in their hands; one woman in twenty having a pillion, the rest riding bare backed: Above two hundred horsemen, with four pair of boots amongst them all; seventeen saddles of leather (the rest being made of straw) and most of their garrons only shod before. I went into one of the principal farmer's houses, out of curiosity, and his whole furniture consisted of two blocks for stools, a bench on each side the fire-place made of turf, six trenchers, one bowl, a pot, six horn spoons, three noggins, three blankets, one of which served the man and maid servant; the other the master of the family, his wife and five children; a small churn, a wooden candlestick, a broken stick for a pair of tongs. In the public towns, one third of the inhabitants walking the streets bare foot; windows half built up with stone, to save the expense of glass, the broken panes up and down supplied by brown paper, few being able to afford white; in some places they were stopped with straw or hay. Another mark of our riches, are the signs at the several inns upon the road, viz. In some, a staff stuck in the thatch, with a turf at the end of it; a staff in a dunghill with a white rag wrapped about the head; a pole, where they can afford it, with a besom at the top; an oatmeal cake on a board at the window; and, at the principal inns of the road, I have observed the signs taken down and laid against the wall near the door, being taken from their post to prevent the shaking of the house down by the wind. In short, I saw not one single house, in the best town I travelled through, which had not manifest appearances of beggary and want. I could give many more instances of our wealth, but I hope these will suffice for the end I propose.
It may be objected, what use it is of to display the poverty of the nation, in the manner I have done. I answer, I desire to know for what ends, and by what persons, this new opinion of our flourishing state has of late been so industriously advanced: One thing is certain, that the advancers have either already found their own account, or have been heartily promised, or at least have been entertained with hopes, by seeing such an opinion pleasing to those who have it in their power to reward.
It is no doubt a very generous principle in any person to rejoice in the felicities of a nation, where themselves are strangers or sojourners: But if it be found that the same persons on all other occasions express a hatred and contempt of the nation and people in general, and hold it for a maxim: That the more such a country is humbled, the more their own will rise; it need be no longer a secret, why such an opinion, and the advantages of it are encouraged. And besides, if the bayliff reports to his master, that the ox is fat and strong, when in reality it can hardly carry its own legs, is it not natural to think, that command will be given, for a greater load to be put upon it?