Seven centuries are nearly finished since the political connexion began between England and Ireland; and yet Ireland remains to this hour not a well-known country to the general British public. To do something, however small, towards making it better understood, is the aim of this little book.
Since it first appeared in Fraser's Magazine, the aspect of Irish affairs has changed in several particulars. Instead of Ribbonism, we now hear of Fenianism; the latter being a development of the former, with its republican element grown prominent under American influence. Again: although the general British public retains much, if not quite all, of its old feelings (part apathy, part disgust), towards everything Irish, the majority of the House of Commons
p.ivhas taken a new view, and is acting on it with determination.
That Ireland has a very different history and character from England, and needs a very different kind of management, and that Ireland has hitherto been lamentably mismanaged, are facts, put forward from time to time by rash or courageous individuals, by degrees (after the usual ordeal of scorn, anger, and contradiction) accepted and defended by men of high public position, and now in process of being received, as it were by filtration, into the general underlying stratum of English opinion.
The poem of Laurence Bloomfield is likely to repel many readers,those who shun books of verse, and those who seek in them subjects and diction more romantic. As a work of art it has glaring faults and defects, of which no one is more aware than the author; there is too much detail, and the handling is often awkward; yet some indulgence may
p.vpossibly be conceded to an attempt to cultivate English narrative poetry on entirely new ground; and he ventures to plead on its behalf, as a presentment of various characteristics of modern Ireland derived from close acquaintance with life there among all classes, that it has not one unmeaning line or phrase written at random. The title of the poem is intended to indicate that Laurence's work, and its effects on his own life and character, make him the central figure in the picture, not finally as landlord, but as man. Several of the most important problems of life, Irish life and human life, are dealt with in their principles, according to the author's best lights. Fain would he have spoken more acceptably (nobody fonder of sympathy), especially to his countrymen, more especially to his particular friends, had such a consideration been allowable.
A few words on the immediate question of the day, Disestablishment, may not be out of place. It is
p.vito be hoped from the measure now in progress, that its gradual effect will be to relieve the national mind of Ireland from the unwholesome influences of a mediaeval clerical authority, and to allow a healthy lay public opinion to grow up, wanting which, Irish politics must remain contemptible, except as symptomatic of disease and danger, and Ireland, in spite of her many gifts, fail to reach a good position or to exercise a respectable influence in the world. Hitherto in that country politics and polemics have been inextricably mingled, with results too obvious. Among Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants equally, the chief binding element has been hatred, hence in each an aggravation of the evils of dogma and a suppression of the benevolences of religion; hence, for the result of long-continued social intercourse, not mutual tolerance and kindly feeling, and a willingness to meet on ground common to both, but constant exacerbation and inflammation, as from the rubbing of two sore surfaces,perpetual anger and conflict.
What is to be feared, I think, in consequence of Disestablishment is this: all Irishmen, speaking generally, are partisans, of a singularly narrow and violent type; to an educated opposition of parties and a reasonable discussion of contending views they are totally unaccustomed; and now it is possible that agitation may be bolder, and that new centres of disturbance may become active.
But the bad consequences will, I trust, be transient, and the good consequences permanent.
That there is any natural incapacity in Irishmen to govern Ireland I nowise allow; that the nation is at present very unfit for self-government, being almost entirely uneducated in the principles of it, I strongly believe. To my countrymen, one and all, I would fain say, If you desire to have the management of your island in your own hands, strive earnestly to prepare yourselves to manage it. Experience is a great teacher, but there must be some reasonable degree of fitness before undertaking so heavy a piece of work. If, as appears too evident, you do not at present
p.viiipossess any such degree of fitness, to give you the absolute control of things would be to confer an evil gift indeed.
To England, had I a voice to reach her earto mighty and, with all her faults, noble EnglandI would say: Ireland has been in your hands these many long centuries, and you have woefully mismanaged her. Past history, present facts, the consensus of educated opinion throughout the civilized world, put this beyond question. And to systematic maltreatment you have added, in dealing with the most sensitive of races, a coarse and invariable contempt. Justice (as within recent years you have begun to acknowledge) demands a new attitude on your part; generosity prescribes it; nay, self-interest strongly enforces it. Instead of Ireland a scene of chronic misery and discontentharassing, costly, disgraceful, and dangerousimagine Ireland tranquil, prosperous, and loyal; her warm-hearted, kindly-mannered people, gifted with intellectual and artistic vivacity, and
p.ixbrilliant in the battle-field, going hand in hand and heart in heart with the people of England, mutually learning and teaching many things, marching together in the vanguard of human progress.
Is this a mere dream? I believe the obstacles to its realization rest mainly in the foolishnessthe obstinate, but ill remediable, foolishnessof those men of either country who at every turn prefer paltry and essentially selfish party-considerations to the large, simple, and eternal views of truth and duty. Such views carried quietly and fearlessly into action would meet with no brutish resistance in the Irish people, but with intelligence and gratitude.
One word more. England is justifiably proud of her history; yet her position at this moment is not completely and finally satisfactory, and she would do well to bear in mind that some of the so-called Irish Questions have relation not merely to Ireland and England, but to the Modern World. The modern world is disturbed and discontented to the core; full
p.xof vague but profound uneasiness, as though half aroused from trance; full of dim and deep longing for a word of deliverance, for the example of a step into freer and truer life. Will England, not timid or laggard in old times, now speak the wordste to the front?
The scene is a district in Ireland, of extent such as might be seen in panorama from a moderate eminence; inland, but not far from the coast, with mountain-range, hills, moors, and bogs, wide rich plain, a river, and a lake. The parish is named Kilmoylan; the hamlet, Ballytullagh, on Tullagh Hill; the town, Lisnamoy; Sir Ulick's mansion, Lisnamoy House; Mr. Bloomfield's, Croghan Hall, under Croghan mountain and near Lough Braccan.