“There is, perhaps, no Government in the world which succeeds more admirably in the functions of eliciting, sustaining, and directing public opinion than that of England. It does not, it is true, escape its full share of hostile criticism, and, indeed, rather signally illustrates the saying of Bacon, that ’the best Governments are always subject to be like the finest crystals, in which every icicle and grain is seen which in a fouler stone is never perceived;’ but whatever charges may be brought against the balance of its powers, or against its legislative efficiency, few men will question its eminent success as an organ of public opinion. In England an even disproportionate amount of the national talent takes the direction of politics. The pulse of an energetic national life is felt in every quarter of the land. The debates of Parliament are followed with a warm, constant, and intelligent interest by all sections of the community. It draws all classes within the circle of political interests, and is the centre of a strong and steady patriotism, equally removed from the apathy of many Continental nations in time of calm, and from their feverish and spasmodic energy in time of excitement. Its decisions, if not instantly accepted, never fail to have a profound and calming influence on the public mind. It is the safety-valve of the nation. The discontents, the suspicions, the peccant humours that agitate the people, find there their vent, their resolution, and their end.
“It is impossible, I think, not to be struck by the contrast which, in this respect, Ireland presents to England. If the one country furnishes us with an admirable example of the action of a healthy public opinion, the other supplies us with the most unequivocal signs of its disease. The Imperial Parliament exercises for Ireland legislative functions, but it is almost powerless upon opinion—it allays no discontent, and attracts no affection. Political talent, which for many years was at least as abundant among Irishmen as in any equally numerous section of the people, has been steadily declining, and marked decadence in this respect among the representatives of the nation reflects but too truly the absence of public spirit in their constituents.
“The upper classes have lost their sympathy with and their moral ascendency over their tenants, and are thrown for the most part into a policy of mere obstruction. The genuine national enthusiasm never flows in the channel of imperial politics. With great multitudes sectarian considerations have entirely superseded national ones, and their representatives are accustomed systematically to subordinate all party and all political questions to ecclesiastical interests; and while calling themselves Liberals, they make it the main object of their home politics to separate the different classes of their fellow-countrymen during the period of their education, and the main object of their foreign policy to support the temporal power