Wexford, which I viewed the next morning, is an old town, with narrow streets and small houses. The only new, broad, and handsome street is the Quay, which runs along the bay, called Wexford Harbour. No traveller can behold without amazement
p.221the beautiful quays and other facilities for navigation in this great British empire, as they re-appear again and again in every nook and corner of every bay. It is a distinguishing characteristic of Wexford harbour that it possesses more ships of its own than any other port in Ireland. A great many vessels are built here, and American and Baltic timber, and Irish oak, are every where to be seen. At Wexford I saw, for the first time, an interesting piece of machinery called Parkin's patent slip, by means of which ships when building can be raised or lowered in the dock, as may be required by the state of the tide. A machine of this description, which in this country is found in so small a place as Wexford, is not to be met with even in the largest seaport towns of Germany! The proprietor of this machine informed me that the tide here usually rises no higher than four feet, and that the highest spring tides never exceed six feet and a half. The bay of Wexford is the first in the south of Ireland which opens towards the east, and here the eastern coast of Ireland begins. All the southern bays, those of Waterford, Cork, &c., face the south, and are opposed to the tide as it ascends between Ireland, England, and France. At Waterford the ordinary tides rise ten feet, while an extraordinary one might rise as high as sixteen. At the Tuscar Rock, on which there is a lighthouse, a few miles from Carnsore Point, the most south-westerly part of Ireland, high tides rise to twenty-two feet. This seems to be the middle point between the high tides of the Atlantic Ocean and the low ones of the Irish Sea. It is possible, however, that the extraordinary low tide of Wexford may be produced by local causes, such as the numerous sand-banks both before and in the harbour, which prevent the tide from rushing in. There is a further anomaly in the periods of high and low water at Wexford, which I cannot satisfactorily explain; and as there is one other place in Ireland where the flood and ebb does not recur every six hours, but in unequal spaces of time, I shall hereafter have occasion to revert to the subject.
In Wexford I had again an opportunity of admiring what I had already admired in many Irish seaport towns, namely, the strange way in which an Irish porter carries a bag of flour. A German porter usually stoops down to it, grasps it in his arms, and swings it upon his shoulders. In the English ports they carry almost every thing, even the heaviest loads, on the head, or, properly speaking, on the back of the neck. They have a peculiar kind of cushion which they place upon the nape of the neck, and fasten it there with a band that runs round across the forehead. This cushion is thick, high, flat on the top, and fits the hollow between
p.222the neck and the head, when the latter is bent down, thus forming a level surface, on which the heaviest load may be carried. These cushions, or knots, as they are termed, are also used in Ireland, and I have little doubt that they have been introduced into England by the porters, who are mostly Irish. Flour-sacks, however, are not thus carried in Ireland: the porters place them on their backs, and keep them up by passing their arms, not over their shoulders, but behind their backs, at the bottom of the sack. This mode of carrying a burthen seems to me worse suited than any other to the construction of our bodies, and it is besides so ridiculous in appearance, that I cannot conceive how any one, except comical Paddy himself, could have hit upon such an invention.
We often go to see in a small place what we have neglected in a large one: thus, in Wexford, I paid a visit to one of the many hundreds of infant schools which are now established all over England and Ireland. The schools are at present particularly interesting in Ireland, as both Roman Catholic and Protestant children meet together in them, evincing that not only is greater toleration shown towards each other by the two parties, but that, by means of these schools, a still greater degree of toleration will be produced. The one I visited at Wexford, like most of the Irish infant schools, had only been established five years, and contained ninety-one Catholic and thirty Protestant children. The children usually remain till their twelfth year, but the Catholics often send their daughters back again, as they are dissatisfied with the parochial schools, which are attended by those of more advanced age. The Protestant children seldom return, better schools being provided for them. The system of education at these infant schools is very peculiar, and, indeed, extremely poetical. All the instruction is conveyed in verses, which are sung by the little pupils, and, whenever it is possible, accompanied with a pantomimic acting of the subject. Almost every general movement made by the children is attended with singing. For instance, as they come into the school-room they sing the following verse:
- We'll go to our places, and make no wry faces,
And say all our lessons distinctly and slow;
For if we don't do it, our mistress will know it,
And into the corner we surely shall go.
When I entered the school all the little things were in the garden. At the sound of their teacher's bell they immediately took each other's hands, and marched two by two, in a long procession, into the school-room, singing the song of which the above is a portion. I recognised the air as the Infants' March, an old
p.223British national melody which I had already frequently heard in Ireland. They all looked very cheerful, and shrieked to their heart's content; and even the tiny beings of three years old, who did not know how to join the song, opened their mouths as wide as if they were going to be fed with peaches. What joyousness must not this singing entrée of the little ones immediately spread over the entire school! As they all march in procession, every one hastens to join the great train; no one stays behind, and there is no chiding reception at the door. The mistress, indeed, has no time to spare for chiding, for she herself accompanies the little ones in their song. The instruction principally consists in learning and repeating these verses. Thus they have the multiplication table in verse, a natural history in verse, and an A, B, C in verse; and the mistress, while repeating the verses, points out the letter or the picture of the animal she is describing. The pictures now used in all English schools, even in these infant schools, are well drawn; and as each ox, lion, or elephant, or each A, X, or Z, is exhibited to the children, they sing a verse.
A kind of pantomimic action, accompanied with singing, is also frequently used; and in this manner all those occupations of men which can possibly be imitated by the hands and feet are represented by the children. The sowing and reaping of the husbandman, the planing of the carpenter, the hammering of the smith, the churning of the dairy-maid, are all imitated, the children at the same time singing, This is the way the carpenter planes; This is the way we snuff the candle; This is the way we churn the butter. Some remarks are afterwards made on every subject, as, for what purpose the board is planedwhy the candle must be carefully snuffedhow good bread-and-butter tastes, and that if they have any to spare they should give it to those who have none. I have never seen these rhymes except in manuscript, and the teachers informed me some of them were composed by themselves, and some they copied from the collections of others. It is probable, however, that there are printed collections of them which chanced not to fall into my hands.
Many objects are accomplished at the same time by this combination of pantomime and song. In the first place the attention of the children is directed to a multitude of occurrences and occupations that are going on around them, and which they are thus led to imitate; and as children generally possess a strong disposition for this imitation, it is by this means assisted and developed. Being all more or less intended for artizans, labourers, sempstresses, dairy-maids, and similar employments, their arms are thus
p.224exercised and trained, as it were, for those industrious occupations which they are hereafter to follow. The recollection of it will also throw a more cheerful light upon their future hours of labour, when they are actually engaged in that which they only imitated in their youth, in the midst of their playmates, and accompanied by their song. These pantomimes afford a wholesome relaxation from a long sitting posture, as during their performance the children are standing up and in motion; and, lastly, they exercise both the voice and the ear. As the mistress has not time to teach these verses to each child singly, they must in a great degree teach themselves. The youngest at first only open their mouths, or imitate the motions of the hands; they then learn to sing some of the principal words and catch some of the rhymes and notes. To these rhymes the whole verse is gradually added; and, finally, from the verse the clear conception and the fruitful idea begin to dawn on their minds. This practice of embellishing instruction by poetry and learning, and by committing verses to memory, is a favourite mode of teaching in England, and is every where practised, from these infant schools up to Eton College and other academies, and is regarded as a very practical method of teaching. As many very young children attend the infant schools, to whom this instruction for hours together would be too fatiguing, a bed, on which the wearied are put to rest, is part of the usual furniture of the school-room.
These infant schools having been only five years established in Ireland, little is yet visible of their effect on the education of the present generation. There can be no doubt, however, that it must be considerable, for thousands of children who formerly grew up wild in the streets, or in miserable huts, now enjoy the advantage of a more rational superintendence, and are lodged for the day in a far better house than their parents could afford them. As the Irish are intelligent, and desirous of knowledge, one cannot look on the vast numbers of schools with which their island is now being covered, with any other but the highest expectations and the fairest hopes. I believe I did not pass through a single village in which I did not discover one of these new schoolhouses, and in which a distillery, either idle or going to ruin, was not pointed out to me. Nothing can be more gratifying than to perceive the decay of the latter, and at the same time to behold the former every where rising in beauty! In Wexford, which once contained seven distilleries, there is now only one in full work. In New Ross, whence we came, and in Enniscorthy, whither we were going, the principal distilleries had ceased working. Hear, hear! one might justly exclaim on hearing this glorious news,
p.225and once more hear, hear! The discovery of facts like these affords a higher enjoyment to the true friend of man, than the most lovely scenery or the most splendid monuments.
I have before alluded to the new Roman Catholic churches and steeples which are to be seen in almost every Irish town. In Wexford there is also a handsome Catholic college, which has been recently erected. Our young priests, boast the Irish, need now no longer go to Rome or Paris to learn any thing. If to these are added the newly-erected workhouses, with which all Ireland is now studded, one of which is to be found in every town of any importance, we shall have named all the new buildings in Ireland, and shall at the same time have marked out the principal points from which the moral misery of the land is being attackedignorance by the schoolhouses, poverty by the workhouses, and religious thraldom by the Catholic colleges and churches. On the whole, a tolerably clear idea may be formed of an Irish town of the present day, by conceiving it to be composed of the following elements: a number of goodly buildings, a similar number of ruined dwelling-houses, a suburb-quarter of miserable huts, some new well-built national and infant schools, some old and some quite modern Catholic churches, a fever hospital, an extensive fortress-looking workhouse, and lastly, perhaps, some barracks for soldiers.
I have designated the workhouses as fortress-like, and for this reasonthey are generally situated on elevated ground, outside the town, probably for the sake of the fresh air; they are built of a gray, firm stone, are surrounded by lofty walls, and provided with small turrets and other little castellated appendages. They command an extensive prospect over the country, and are the terror of the beggars, who prefer the independence of a mendicant's life to confinement in one of these houses. Some places, in which workhouses have not yet been erected, are at this moment swarming with beggars, who have there retreated to escape from these dreaded buildings. Hitherto the poor of the country were supported almost exclusively by private benevolence, which was probably more freely and extensively bestowed in Ireland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. But this practice is now opposed and discountenanced by the system introduced by the state, and by the attempted application of the English poor-laws. The Irish, however, true to their good and charitable nature, do not like to be deprived of the exercise of their private benevolence; and being doubly affected by the assessment for the support of the poor that has been levied upon them, they are to a man discontented with this reform. Thus the beggars and their benefactors are
p.226alike prejudiced against poor-rates and workhouses, and hope soon to be relieved from both. But the fulfilment of these hopes is far from desirable; for whatever inconvenience may accompany the transition from the maintenance of the poor by private benevolence to their being provided for by the state, there is no doubt that the latter is decidedly to be preferred.
In this respect the Irish beggars and their patrons somewhat resemble the Irish tenants and their landlords. The latter complain that the increased wish for improvement, enlightenment, and independence, which pervades the country people, produced partly by the spirit of the age, and partly by the O'Connell agitation, has destroyed the old good understanding between them, and that the tenants sometimes choose to think for themselves, and even to vote against them, their natural lords and masters. The tenants, on the other hand, lament that they are no longer guided by those who once protected them, that they no longer enjoy the confidence and the regard of their landlords, but that they are now, more frequently than formerly, driven by them from house and home. This is melancholy, and reminds me of Courland, Livonia, and other countries, where the abolition of serfdom produced complaints exactly similar. Yet for the sake of the sacred cause of freedom we must rejoice over these temporary evils, since it is to be hoped that in the end they will be compensated by a glorious result.
During the last Irish rebellion, Wexford was the scene of an unparalleled and revolting deed. At the bridge which leads to the town, across a narrow part of the bay, the rebels deprived of their lives a number of English and Protestant prisoners, by throwing them over it, and drowning them. Musgrave, in his Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion, (a work which is celebrated in Ireland, and now rather scarce,) says that most of the prisoners were piked before and behind at the same time, and flung into the water. When we recollect that these are facts which yet live in the memories of many, and that similar cruelties figure on every page of the history of Irelanda history so rich in civil wars,we cannot venture to put complete confidence in the present tranquil aspect of that country, and can entertain no very sanguine hopes that similar scenes will never again be repeated.