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About Ireland   By: (1822-1898)

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I am conscious that I ought to make some kind of apology for rushing into print on a subject which I do not half know. But I do know just a little more than I did when I was an ardent Home Ruler, influenced by the seductive charm of sentiment and abstract principle only; and I think that perhaps the process by which my own blindness has been couched may help to clear the vision of others who see as I did. All of us lay folk are obliged to follow the leaders of those schools in politics, science, or religion, to which our temperament and mental idiosyncracies affiliate us. Life is not long enough for us to examine from the beginning upwards all the questions in which we are interested; and it is only by chance that we find ourselves set face to face with the first principles and elemental facts of a cause to which, perhaps, as blind and believing followers of our leaders, we have committed ourselves with the ardour of conviction and the intemperance of ignorance. In this matter of Ireland I believed in the accusations of brutality, injustice, and general insolence of tyranny from modern landlords to existing tenants, so constantly made by the Home Rulers and their organs; and, shocking though the undeniable crimes committed by the Campaigners were, they seemed to me the tragic results of that kind of despair which seizes on men who, goaded to madness by oppression, are reduced to masked murder as their sole means of defence and as, after all, but a sadly natural retaliation. I knew nothing really of Lord Ashbourne's Act; and what I thought I knew was, that it was more a blind than honest legislation, and did no vital good. I thought that Home Rule would set all things straight, and that the National Sentiment was one which ought to find practical expression. I rejoiced over every election that took away one seat from the Unionists and added another vote to the Home Rulers; and I shut my eyes to the dismemberment of our glorious Empire and the certainty of civil war in Ireland, should the Home Rule demanded by the Parnellites and advocated by the Gladstonians become an accomplished fact. In a word I committed the mistakes inevitable to all who take feeling and conviction rather than fact and knowledge for their guides.

Then I went to Ireland; and the scales fell from my eyes. I saw for myself; heard facts I had never known before; and was consequently enlightened as to the true meaning of the agitation and the real condition of the people in their relation to politics, their landlords, and the Plan of Campaign.

The outcome of this visit was two papers which were written for the New Review with the editor of whom, however, I stood somewhat in the position of Balaam with Balak, when, called on to curse the Israelites, he was forced by a superior power to bless them. So I with the Unionists. The first paper was sent and passed, but it was delayed by editorial difficulties through the critical months of the bye elections. When published in the December number, owing to the exigencies of space, the backbone namely the extracts from the Land Acts, now included in this re publication was taken out of it, and my own unsupported statements alone were left. I was sorry for this, as it cut the ground from under my feet and left me in the position of one of those mere impressionists who have already sufficiently darkened counsel and obscured the truth of things. As the same editorial difficulties and exigencies of space would doubtless delay the second paper, like the first, I resolved, by the courteous permission of the editor, to enlarge and publish both in a pamphlet for which I alone should be responsible, and which would bind no editor to even the semblance of endorsement.

I, only half enlightened, write, as has been said, for the wholly blind and ignorantly ardent who, as I did, accept sentiment for fact and feeling for demonstration; who do not look at the solid legal basis on which the present Government is dealing with the Irish question; who believe all that the Home Rulers say, and nothing that the Unionists demonstrate... Continue reading book >>

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