I am often asked by Americans why the English do not call an Anglo-Irish convention in the American fashion, and discuss the Irish question with the Irish, find out exactly what they will take to be quiet, and settle with them in a rational way. I generally answer that, in the first place, a convention is a constitution-making agency with which the English public is totally unfamiliar, and that, in the second place, Englishmen’s temper is too imperial, or rather imperious, to make the idea of discussion on equal terms with the Irish at all acceptable. They are, in fact, so far from any such arrangement that—preposterous and even funny as it seems to the American mind—to say that an English statesman is carrying on any sort of communication with the representatives of the Irish people is to bring against him, in English eyes, a very damaging accusation. When a man like Mr. Matthew Arnold writes to the Times to contend that Englishmen should find out what the Irish want solely for the purpose of not letting them have it, and a journal like the Spectator maintains that the sole excuse for extending the suffrage in Ireland, as it has lately been extended in England, was that the Irish as a minority would not be able to make any effective use of it; and when another political philosopher writes a long and very solemn letter in which, while conceding that in governing Ireland a sympathetic regard for Irish feelings and interests should be displayed, he mentions, as one of the leading facts of the situation, that in “the Irish character there is a grievous lack of independence, of self-respect, of courage, and above all of truthfulness”—when men of this kind talk in this way, it is easy to see that the mental and moral conditions necessary to the successful formation of a federal union are still far off. No federal government, and no government requiring loyalty and fidelity for its successful working, was ever set up by, or even discussed between, two parties, one of which thought the other so unreasonable that it should be carefully denied everything it asked for and as unfit for any sort of political co-operation as mendacity, cowardice, and slavishness could make it.
Finally let me say that there is nothing in Mr. Dicey’s book which has surprised me more, considering with what singular intellectual integrity he attacks every point, than his failure to make any mention or to take any account of the large part which time and experience must necessarily play in bringing to perfection any political arrangement which is made to order, if I may use the expression, no matter how carefully it may be drafted. Hume says on this point with great wisdom, “To balance the large state or society, whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason or reflection to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work, experience must guide their labour, time must bring it to perfection, and the feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into in their first trial and experiments."