(Pages 502-540, edited for length)
A melancholy duty we have proposed to ourselves to discharge in treating of the subject indicated in the title we have prefixed. The history of Ireland, since the commencement of the fearful blight with which it has pleased an all-wise God to visit the food of her people, is one in which there is but little to please, although possibly there may be much to instruct. Little is there - in her present condition on which the mind can dwell with any feeling but that of the most intense pain. And gloomy as is the retrospect, and appalling as is the spectacle around us, we grieve to add that in the prospect there seems nothing to vary the monotony of horror. Nevetheless it is a duty to look all this boldly, or we cannot say fearlessly in the face. With a deep, and we had almost said, an awful, sense of the solemnity, and at the same time, the magnitude of our tasks we proceed to do what poor service we can to our afflicted country, in recording the history of the calamity by which her people have been stricken down Ñ in commenting upon the nature of the means by which that calamity has been attempted to be met -- in tracing the effects of that calamity and those measures upon the condition of her people Ñ and in suggesting what yet may be done to mitigate the evils that arc still future, or improve this opportunity for good.
Ireland is now, in one sense, in the midst, in another sense, we fear, in the beginning of a calamity, the like of which the world has never seen. Four millions of people, the majority of whom were ahvays upon the verge of utter destitution, have been suddenly deprived of the sole article of their ordinary food. Without any of the ordinary Channels of commercial interecourse, by which such a loss could be supplied, the country has had no means of replacing the withdrawal of this perished subsistence, and the consequence has been, that in a country that is called civilized, under the protection of the mightiest monarchy upen earth, and almost within a day's communication of the capital of the greatest and richest empire in the world, thousands of our fellow-creatures are each day dying of starvation; and the wasted corpses of many left unburied in their miserable hove]s, to be devoured by the hungry swine; or to escape this profanation, only to diffuse among the living the malaria of pestilence and death.
. . . "Death by starvation" has ceased to be an article of news, and day by day multitudes of our population are swept down into the pit -- literally the pit -- in which the victims of the famine are interred.
We will not take up our space by repeating the testimonies, which prove incontestably tht this is no exaggeration. It is not, perhaps, the least appalling feature of this calamity, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain accurate information upon the extent of the devastation that has already taken place. Nearly a month ago the deaths that had resulted in one shape or another from starvation were estimated at 240,000. Long before the same period, the deaths that were occuring each day in Ireland, beyond those of the same period in the preceding year, were estimated at 1,000 -- 1,000 each day -- a number we apprehend below the truth. In many of the workhouses deaths occurred in numbers that would lead to a much greater estimate of the loos of life in the entire country. In one electoral poor-law division of the county Cork -- one not within the fatal district of Schull or Skibbereen -- out of a population of 16,000, the deaths in the early part of March were averaging 70 a day, a rate of mortality that would sweep away the entire population in about eight months. . . .
So many topics press upon us in relation to the fearful subject we have undertaken, that we scarcely know how to commence its treatment. Let us recall the attention of our readers to the commencement of the potato blight.
In the autumn of 1845, it was discovered that a disease had attacked the potato in Ireland, and in several other parts of the world. Of the actual existence of such a disease there was no doubt. . . . Some of the journals in Ireland, supposed most to represent the aristocracy, persisted in vigorously denying the existence of any failure to to more than a very partial extent. The question of the corn laws, then pending, gave the question an imperial interest. . . . To profess belief in the existence of a formidable potato blight, was as sure a method of being branded a radical, as to propose to destroy the Church.
Sir Robert Peel was then at the head of affairs, and the ministry certainly foresaw the coming calamity. Inquiries were made as to the substance that would be the best and cheapest substitute for the potato. Indian corn was adopted, and without any public excitement on the subject, orders were given by the government for the importation of Indian corn to the amount of L100,000. This timely precaution, and the subsequent judicious distribution of this store, had the effect of bringing the people through the winter of 1845, without exposing them to any sever privations. . . .
Uninfluenced by party representation, the minister had evidently accurately informed himself of the nature of the calamity and clearly foresaw its extent . . .
It was, however, the misfortune of famine-stricken Ireland, and a deep misfortune almost all men in Ireland now feel it to be, that party combinations (we say not now, how justifiable or honourable) removed from office the man who had shown himself alone, perhaps, of living statesmen, alive to the exigencies of the crisis, and capable of boldly and efficiently meeting them. It was an occasion upon which no statesman could efficiently serve the country out of office -- a lamentable proof of this we have later in this sad history, in the rejection of Lord George Bentinck's bill; and with the removal of Peel from office he lost the power of even assisting to obviate the danger, which, we do believe, had he remained in office, he would successfully have met.
Our sketch of this part of our history would be incomplete without alluding to the repeal of the corn laws, by which the session of 1846 was ushered in. On that question, this periodical has already strongly and distinctly expressed its opinion, and that opinion it forms no part of the oject of this article to retract or qualify. Sir Robert Peel stated, however, in parliament, that the determination of ministers to settle the question was forced on by their anticipation of an Irish famine -- that he and his colleagues felt it would be impossible to maintain the protection during the famine -- and that the ports once opened to avert starvation could never be closed -- that the agitation of the question of corn laws in a famine, when arguments in favour of cheap bread could carry with them such a deep appeal to the passions and sympathies of the human heart, would go far to break up society altogether. The coming of the Irish famine was that which he stated forced the ministry to perhaps a premature decision upon this question -- and we well remember the deep and solemn warning in which, with all the authority of premier, he predicted the coming of a calamity in Ireland, of which no one could know or measure the extent. . . .
These arrangements recognized the duty of government to feed the people to the utmost extent to which all the resources of the empire coudl accomplish to that end. . . . Sir Robert Peel, however, paid the penalty which, perhaps, it is well all public men who change their conduct on any great question should pay. He lost the confidence of his party, and in an evil day we shall never cease to believe for the suffering of poor Ireland, he resigned the seals of office, and with them the power and the opportunity of doing good. . . .
The summer of 1846 saw the place of Sir Robert Peel filled by Lord John Russell, and upon the present premier and his colleagues devolved the responsibility of meeting the heaviest calamities of the famine. . . .
. . . we cannot help regarding as a great and a fatal mistake the determination to leave the supply of food entirely to the chances of private enterprise. . . .
The destruction of the potato crop entailed a double misery upon the poor. It destroyed their food, and at the same it took from them their income. . . .
The introduction of the Labour Rate Act was coupled by a declaration on the part of the premier, which appeared almost to amount to a pledge, that with the supply of food to the country government did not intend to interfere; that this should be left entirely to the ordinary resources of commercial enterprise; and that government were resolved in no manner to interfere with the ordinary operations of the speculators or traffickers in human food. . .
By what delusion could any man persuade himself that by the natural operation of this process Indian corn could find its way to the wilds of Mayo, or the villages of Carberry? There were neither retail dealers nor merchants in the article required. The people whose food was gone were, in fact, beyond the pale of all mercantile system -- they had lived upon the produce of their potato gardens, and had been customers of no shop. . . .
While this difficulty was aggravated by the obstinate refusal of ministers, up to the very meeting of parliament, to suspend the navigation laws, and permit foreign vessels to assist in the task of transit, to which the British marine was inadequate. . . . While food was deficient in the country, and the freight of corn from America had risen to three times its ordinary rate, not a vessel of any foreign nation would have been permitted to unload a cargo of grain in any one of our ports. . .
It is difficult to trace this history without indignation. We can understand the verdict of the coroner's jury, who in days, when inquest were held in Ireland upon the bodies of the men found dead upon the highway, returned upon the body of a man who died in starvation while toiling at the public works, and fell dead of exhaustion with the implements of labour in his hand, a verdict of murder against the ministers who had neglected the first responsibility of government. Can we wonder if the Irish people believe -- and believe it they do -- that the lives of those who have perished, and who will perish, have been sacrificed by a deliberate compact to the gains of English merchants, and if this belief has created among all classes a feeling of deep dissatisfaction, not only with the ministry but with English rule. . .
Tell us not that it was beyond the power of the combinations, which the strength of the British empire could have wielded, to have brought to the ports of Ireland subsistence for all her people. . . . The opportunity was lost; and Britian is now branded as the only civilized nation which would permit her subjects to perish of famine, without making a national effort to supply them with food. . . .
We do not undervalue the activity, the omnipresence of commercial enterprise, compared with the partial and cumbrous effects that the best directed commissariat could make. Government might however have fulfilled this duty without throwing over the aid of this enterprise; its contract with merchants for two or three million of quarters of wheat and Indian corn, might have still left all of commercial activity and enterprise in the service of the supply. We confess, compared with the magnitude of the occasion, we see no reason why government might not have contracted for a supply of Indian corn sufficient to prevent any man in Ireland from starving. The offer of such a contract would have stimulated, not retarded, commercial enterprise. It would have bid the corn of the world to our shores; it would have made the poor Irish peasant a sharer in the supremacy of the British empire, and saved this country from the horrors with which it is now inflicted. . . .
While ministers thus declined all exertion of government to increase the supply of food, the Labour Rate Act, as the autumn deepened into winter, came into operation in the country. Of the merits and demerits of this measure, the country has had abundance of discussion. . . .
The provisions of the Labour Rate Act were simple enough. In every barony which the Lord Lieutenant proclaimed in a state of distress, extraordinary presentment sessions were to be held, at which the magistrates and cess-payers were to have the power of presenting for public works to an indefinite extent, subject only to the control of the Board of Works. The sums so presented were to be at once advanced by the Treasury, to be replaced by instalments that would spread the repayment of the entire, with interest, over a period varying at the discretion of the Treasury, from four to twenty years. . . .
In addition to the enormous expenditure under the Labour Rate Act, it must be remembered that, in many districts, the landed proprietors undertook to employ all the poor independently of any such provision; that, in others, the provisions of the summary Drainage Act were made available for the same purpose, and that sums that never or can be calculated distributed as gratuitious relief -- sums unostensibly given which appeared in no list of charity subscriptions, which yet form by far the largest proportion of what has been so given; and remembering all this, some estimate may be formed of what has been done by the holders of property in Ireland for the suffering poor. . . .
We believe and trust that the demoralizing effect of this upon the habits of the Irish labourer have been overrated; partly, perhaps, because the Irish labourer had few lessons or habits of patient industry to unlearn. What we regret is, the lost opportunity of inculcating better habits. Had these labourers been taught to feel that they were employed upon that which it was of real importance should be done-- had they been employed, under active discipline and careful superintendence, in the formation of the earthwork of railway, or engaged in the reclamation of some waste land, how well might they have been taught the lesson, that the remuneration of labour must, in the long run, depend, in a great degree, upon its productiveness. The employment given under the Labour Rate Act had a double fault; the wages were too low, and the work too light; it taught the people neither side of the lesson which employers and labourers in Ireland equally need to learn -- "a good day's wages for a good day's work."
The new year opened gloomily in Ireland. By this time the appalling extent of the calamity, and the inefficiency of the measures adopted to meet it, wer, at least, partially understood. A vague sense of alarm possessed men's minds. The terror was, perhaps, exaggerated, because the evils apprehended were indefinite. The public eye was shocked by whole columns of the daily newspapers occupied exclusively with deaths by starvation. Men's hearts failed them with fear, for lookin for the things which should come. The landlords saw ruin in the enormous imports which the Labour Rate Act placed upon their estates -- the merchant and the trader feared it in the general stagnation which they anticipated as the consequence of general distress. Rents were in many parts of the country withheld, and alarmists stated were so universally. It is impossible to conceive a a more gloomy picture than that presented by Irish society at the close of the disastrous year of '46, yet all men looked forward to the meeting of Parliament with something like hope. The Irish people looked with confidence to Sir Robert Peel, in office or out of office; they calculated that his practiced sagacity and comprehensive mind would have pointed out the inadequacy of what had been done; and one fortnight before the meeting of Parliament, had the choice of premier depended on the suffrages of the Irish nation, Sir Robert Peel would have commanded their unanimous votes.
These expectations, perhaps unreasonable, have been disappointed. The Queen's speech, and the debate on the address, spread through Ireland the conviction that Parliament was as supine as the ministry. Nor ought it to be suppressed that part of the session which is past has shaken the attachment of many to the Imperial and British constitution. Men have asked themselves to what is to be attributed the apparent acquiescence in a policy which right or wong has resulted in the sacrifice of such multitudes of our fellow Christians by the most horrible of deaths? They have asked if the house in which this sacrifice has called forth so little inquiry represent indeed the commons of the empire. How is it that the GRAND INQUEST of the nation has made no inquiry as to death of thousands of people? Men who have hated democracy all their lives began seriously to reflect whether the people have influence enough upon a Parliament in which their sufferings were so little heeded. Irishmen, too, began to feel that they were legislated for by men ignorant of the condition and circumstances of their country. From this feeling arose the meeting of the landed proprietors in January last, of an Irish convention; from this emanated the resolutions of many of the grand juries of Ireland, in which were propounded sentimental bordering very closely upon those of Federalism, if not Repeal.
This unfortunate state of feeling has been aggravated by the rejection of the measure known as Lord George Bentinck's bill -- it has been exasperated, well as aggravated, by the manner in which senators, not perhaps, of much character or influence in either house, have spoken of the Irish nation -- landguage, of which we scarecely know whether we shold most wonder that Englishmen were found base enough to speak it, or that when it was spoken, Irishmen were not found adequately to resent.
We know that in the feelings of these spiteful malignants, the English nation do not participate; it is among the few blessings of the crisis that Irishmen have been taught how deeply the better heart of England sympathizes with their affliction. The aid which Englishmen have generously sent to Ireland has produced this counteracting effect; but Irishmen do still believe that in those feelings of good will, the parliament does not represent the people of England, and contrasts are drawn in the mind of many of the warmest advocates of British connexion, between the manner in which a British parliament have met, and an Irish parliament would have met, the calamity that has befallen us.
What can be more absurd, what can be more wicked, than for men professing attachment to an imperial Constitution to answer claims now put forward for state assistance to the unprecedented necessities of Ireland, by talking of Ireland being a drain upon the English treasury? By such declamation as this some English senators opposed the proposition of Lord Geroge Bentinck, not to advance the money, but to pledge the credit of the empppire to facilitate understandins in this country, which in enriching Ireland, would have increased the strength of the of the empire at large. If the Union be not a mockery, there exists no such thing as an English treasury. The exchequer is the exchequer of the United Kingdom. It separation into provincial departments is never thought of when imperial resources are to be spent, or imperial credit pledged, for objects principally or exclusively of interest to the English people. Ireland has been deprived of the Union with English of all separate power of action. She cannot do now, as in the days of her parliament she might have done -- draw upon her own resources, or pledge her own credit, for objects of national importance. Irishmen were told indeed that in consenting to a Union which would make them partners with a great and opulent nation, like England, they would have all the advantages that might be expected to flow from such a Union. How are these expectations to be realized, how are these pledges to be fulfilled, if the partnership is only to be one of loss and never of profit to us? If, bearing our share of all imperial burdens -- when calamity falls upon us we are to be told that we then recover our separate existence as a nation, jsut so far as to disentitle us to the state assistance which any portion of a nation visited with such a calamity had a right to expect from the governing power? If Cornwall had been visitied with the scenes that have desolated Cork, would similar arguments been used? Would men have stood up and denied that Cornwall was entitled to have the whole country share the extraordinary loss? . . .
It must be remembered that to a very large class in Ireland, upon whom the loss of the potato crop has fallen heavily, no assistance whatever has been given from Imperial treasury; we mean the landed proprietors and the tenant farmers of Ireland. The former, in many instances, found their incomes suddenly stopped. The latter have not only lost severely by their loss of the potatoes which they had planted on their farms; but many of them who had paid their farm-labourers bygiving them a aportion of ground to plant the potatoes, as their wages by anticipation for the year, were obliged in the autmn either to give up their labour, or to pay them over again in money; and we believe that the majority of the small farmers in Ireland have not at this moment the means of paying in cash for the labour that is necessary for the cultivation of the farms, while in too many instances, the landlords have been left entirely without the means of assisting them. . . .
The entire measures which ministers contemplate for the relief of Irish famine, are to be found in an act which on the 20th of February, received the Royal assent, entitled an act for the "Temporary Relif of Destitute Persons in Ireland." The Poor Law Act admitting for the first time of out-door relief, although foreced on no doubt by the exigencies of the present crisis, is one of a permanent, not a temporary nature. Its provisions require therefore a consideration distinct in some respect from the present circumstances of the country.
The provisons of the new act have unquestionably an immense advantage over those of the Labour Rate Act. They give at least the opportunity of boldly and efficiently meeting the destitution in Ireland, as far as the time that has been lsot wil permit it now to be met. But never was there an act passed, the result of which so much depends upon the administration, because every thing is left to the arbitrary power of those who are to carry its provisions into practice.
Relief Commissioners or Finance Committees, appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, are given by this act an unlimited power of taxing the landed interests of Ireland, a power that may indeed be exercised of all landed property in Ireland. In every electoral division, under the Poor-Law in which the Lord Lieutenant considers it expedient that the act should be put in force, a Relief Committee is to be formed, consisting of all justices of the peace resident within th edistrict, the guardians of the poor, the clergy of the different churches, and the three highest ratepayers not included in any of these descriptions. This committee is to make out lists of all persons within their districts entitled to be relieved, and the estimate of the expense; but both lists and estimates are subject to the reivions and alterations of finance committees, appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, and removable at his pleasure, upon which the Lord Lietutenant issues his warrant to the poor-law guardians to assess upon tenements liable to the poor-rate that sum, and all the expense of the staff necessary for the execution of the act, either upon the union at large, or the electorial division, as he shall judge experident; the entire amoutn of such expenditure, unlike that of the Labour Rate Act, must be levied by an immediate rate. The treasury is indeed authorized to advance a sum of L300,000, in anticipation of those rates, but this is plainly a mere temporary accommodation, pending the collection of the rate. So far this act provides, the entire cost of maintaining the destitute in Ireland, a measure which may be carried out so as to involve both classes in utter ruin, and amount to a total confiscation of landed property in Ireland. . . .
It is, in the first place, manifestly impossible to expect that the destitution which must for months to come exist in many districts in Ireland, can be met, as this act proposes, by the assessment of a rate upon these districts, to be levied within the year. We do not now speak of the justice or expediency of such a course, but we speak of its physical impossibility. What rate could be levied in Scariff or Skibbereen that could supply the destitution tht in these districts is to be provided for? It may be very easy to assess a rate, but its collection would be utterly impossible. Gratutious subscriptions must supply the wants of such localities as these, or parliament must make liberal advances from the imperial treasury. This, again, may be done in two ways -- either as a grant, or as a loan, to be repaid by instalments out of future rates. . . .
And above all to make this act effectual even for the sustenation, during the summers, of the poor, government must take immediate steps to insure, by every possible means, an importation of food into Ireland. Commerical enterprise will, we fear, prove as inadequate to supply the wants of the summer as it has of the winter. The last few days, indeed, have brought to us increased importations, and lowerd the prices of grain in our market. But let us bewar of placing too much reliance upon this. Fearful is the responsibility ministers will incur, unless they have information, which the public have not, of the operations of trade, if with the experience of the winter, they leave the supplies of our food to resources proved to be precarious. Five long months must pass away before the next harvest can be available for the people's food. It is a solemn duty which the Queen's ministers owe to the Irish people and to our sovereign to increase by every means that the resources of the empire can command, the supply of food to Ireland. If that supply be unhappily deficient in July or August, the scens of the summer will cause the horrors of the winter to be forgotten. The pestilence that in the history of Ireland has invariably marked the famine will be upon us -- want will increase as long endurance of suffering makes men less able to resist it. The famine is creeping up in society -- men who had some little money stored have been living on their stores, and one by one they will drop into the class of paupers, and become victims of the famine. No Relief Act can give bread to the people, unless the quantity of bread in the country be sufficient to be distributed among all, and this, we fear, it will not be, unless the resources of the state are applied to increase the importation of food. . . .
And when we speak of other nations, need we fear the jealousy of other nations, above all, of that great nation by whose cordial co-operation an enterprise of this nature might be made easy. Is there in the history of the world a nobler trait of national character than that which is exhibited in the recent proceedings in America, in relation to Irish distress? If the American people offer us corn, is it too much to ask of our own government to find the freight that is to convey it to us? We say our own government, for despite of the malice of the malignants, the British government is our own. If, in very truth, it be not, what Irishman will advocate the continuance for one hour of the Union? . . .
But have endeavors been made to ascertain the extent to which government interference could be carried? Have ministers, with all the means of information they possess, which no private individual can possess, exhausted the efforts of ingenuity in discovering by what new means food can be supplied -- what new fisheries might yield to us unknown supplies -- wht countries might send us new supplies of coarser animal or vegetable food? With a summer of unprecedented scarcity before us, has any effort, even now, been made to prepare to bring into the stock of that summer's food the supply that might be obtained from the deep sea fisheries round the Irish coast.
Three steps we believe indispensbly necessary to make the Temporary Relief Act safe or efficient for the purposes of relieving the distress. The funs to meet the demands it will entail must be provided, in a very considerable degree, by grants, almost entirely either by grants or laons from the state. Full power must be left to the local committees to employ the labour as they see best, even though that employment be in the service of individuals upon profitable works; and lastly,and above all, the ministers who have indeed in this act undertaken the commissariat of the Irish people, must be prepared to apply all the the available resources of the state to procure a sufficient importation of food. When all this is done, Ireland must still undergo destitution and misery during the next summer, which we fera it is beyond the reach of human power to avert. No power but that of the Great God, cannot avert the the pestilence which, if all former experience can be relied on, will most assuredly follow with the hot days of the summer the want of sufficient food. Fever is already in its ravages anticpating our predictions. In many of the workhouses the deaths have arisen to a fearful per centage of the inmates. IN one workhouse we read of deths to the amount of 200 per week. But this is but the beginning of the plague. We tremble to think waht is before us. We know not whether in their preparations for summer the government have calculated on this fearful element in the misery that is before us; but sure we are that every day that leaves our population with insufficient food, will fearfully aggravate this worst and last evil of the famine. . . .
All calculations agree that the quantity of ground which planted in potatoes, will feed three persons, sown with wheat will do little more than than supply sustenance to one -- a calculation that leaves out the not unimportant item, that by the very waste of a potato diet, the swine and the poultry were fed. . . . .