Of course the Government did not persevere in prosecutions from which no parties but the lawyers reaped any advantage; consequently, all processes under the existing law were abandoned. It was found that, after paying to the clergy the arrears of 1831 and 1832, and what would be due in 1833, about a million sterling would be required, and this sum was provided by an issue of exchequer bills. The reimbursement of the advance was to be effected by a land tax. Together with these temporary arrangements to meet the exigency of the case, for the payment of the clergy and the pacification of Ireland, an act was passed to render tithe composition in Ireland compulsory and permanent. But Ireland was not yet pacified.
[Footnote 1: The foregoing sketch of the tithe war was written by the author seven years ago for Cassell’s History of England, from which it is now extracted.]
It had often been predicted by writers on the state of Ireland, that, owing to the rottenness at the foundation of the social fabric, it would come down with a crash some day. The facts reported by the census commissioners of 1841 showed that this consummation could not be far off. Out of a population of 8,000,000, there were 3,700,000 above the age of five years who could neither read nor write; while nearly three millions and a half lived in mud cabins, badly thatched with straw, having each but one room, and often without either a window or a chimney. These figures indicate a mass of ignorance and poverty, which could not be contemplated without alarm, and the subject was, therefore, constantly pressed upon the attention of parliament. As usual in cases of difficulty, the Government, feeling that something should be done, and not knowing what to do, appointed in 1845 a commission to enquire into the relations between landlords and tenants, and the condition of the working classes. At the head of this commission was the Earl of Devon, a benevolent nobleman, whose sympathies were on the side of the people. Captain Kennedy, the secretary to the commissioners, published a digest of the report of the evidence, which presented the facts in a readable form, and was the means of diffusing a large amount of authentic information on the state of Ireland. The commissioners travelled through the country, held courts of enquiry, and examined witnesses of all classes. As the result of their extensive intercourse with the farming classes, and their own observations, they were enabled to state that in almost every part of Ireland unequivocal symptoms of improvement, in spite of many embarrassing and counteracting circumstances, continually presented themselves to the view, and that there existed a very general and increasing spirit and desire for the promotion of such improvement, from which the most beneficial results might fairly be expected.
Indeed, speaking of the country generally, they add: ’With some exceptions, which are unfortunately too notorious, we believe that at no former period did so active a spirit of improvement prevail; nor could well directed measures for the attainment of that object have been proposed with a better prospect of success than at the present moment.’