“The uncivil kerns of Ireland are in arms."
During more recent times, the knowledge of Scotland on this side the border, which before was greatly in advance, has again increased in afar greater degree than the knowledge of Ireland.
It is to Mr. Lecky that we owe the first serious effort, both in his Leaders of Public Opinion and in his History of England in the Eighteenth Century, to produce a better state of things. He carefully and completely dovetailed the affairs of Ireland into English History, and the debt is one to be gratefully acknowledged. But such remedies, addressing themselves in the first instance to the lettered mind of the country, require much time to operate upon the mass, and upon the organs of superficial and transitory opinion, before the final stage, when they enter into our settled and familiar traditions. Meantime, since Ireland threatens to absorb into herself our Parliamentary life, there is a greatly enhanced necessity for becoming acquainted with the true state of the account between the islands that make up the United Kingdom, and with the likelihoods of the future in Ireland, so far as they are to be gathered from her past history.
That history, until the eighteenth century begins, has a dismal simplicity about it. Murder, persecution, confiscation too truly describe its general strain; and policy is on the whole subordinated to violence as the standing instrument of government. But after, say, the reign of William III., the element of representation begins to assert itself. Simplicity is by degrees exchanged for complexity; the play of human motives, singularly diversified, now becomes visible in the currents of a real public life. It has for a very long time been my habit, when consulted by young political students, to recommend them carefully to study the characters and events of the American Independence. Quite apart from the special and temporary reasons bearing upon the case, I would now add a twin recommendation to examine and ponder the lessons of Irish history during the eighteenth century. The task may not be easy, but the reward will be ample.
The mainspring of public life had, from a venerable antiquity, lain de jure within Ireland herself. The heaviest fetter upon this life was the Law of Poynings; the most ingenious device upon record for hamstringing legislative independence, because it cut off the means of resumption inherent in the nature of Parliaments such as were those of the three countries. But the Law of Poynings was an Irish Law. Its operation effectually aided on the civil side those ruder causes, under the action of which Ireland had lain for four centuries usually passive, and bleeding at every pore. The main factors of her destiny worked, in practice, from this side the water. But from the reign of Anne, or perhaps from the Revolution onwards,
“Novus saecorum nascitur ordo.”