W. E. H. Lecky, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century [Cabinet Edition] (1892) - extracts.

[Source: Internet Archive online; accessed 11.09.2010.]

I stated in the concluding volume of the English portion of this history that the outbreak of the great French War in 1793 appeared to me the best and most natural termination of a History of English in the eighteenth century, and that it is not my intention to carry my narrative beyond this limit. For the Irish portion, however, a different limit must be assigned, and in order to give it any completeness or unity, it is necessary to describe the rebellion of 1798, the legislative Union of 1800, and the defeat or abandonment of the great measures of Catholic conciliation which Pitt had intended to be the immediate sequel of the Union. In consequence to the addition of these eventful years my Irish narrative has assumed a somewhat disproportionate length, and I have often been obliged to treat Irish affairs with a fulness of detail which was not required in other parts of my work. I have had to deal with a history which has been very imperfectly written, and usually under the influence of the most furious partisanship. There is hard a page of it which is not darkened by the most violently contradictory statements. It is [v] marked by obscure agrarian and social changes, by sudden, and sometimes very perplexing, alterations in popular sentiment, which can only be elucidated and proved by copious illustration. It comprises also periods of great crimes and great horrors, and the task of tracing their true causes, and measuring with accuracy and impartiality the different degrees of provocation, aggravation, palliation, and comparative guilt is an extremely difficult one.


It is only by collecting and comparing many letters, written by men of different opinions and scattered over wide areas, that it is possible to form a true estimate of the condition of the country, and to pronounce with real confidence between opposing statements. Such a method of inquiry tends greatly to lengthen a book and to impair its symmetry and its artistic charm; but it is, I believe, the one method of arriving at truth; it brings the reader in direct contact with the original materials of Irish history, and it enables him to draw his own conclusions very independently of the history. (pp.v-vi.)


Irish crime - How far race has been important in Irish history [sect. of Chap. II]
My own object has been to represent as far as possible both the good and the evil of Irish life, and to explain in some degree its characteristic faults. Irish history is unfortunately, to a great extent, a study of morbid anatomy, and much of its interest lies in the evidence it furnishes of the moral effects of bad laws and of a vicious social condition. It will appear clear, I think, from the foregoing narrative, how largely [396] the circumstances under which the national character was formed explained its tendencies, and how superficial are those theories which attribute them wholly to race or to religion. Without denying that there are some innate distinctions of character between the subdivisions of the Aryan race, there is, I think abundant evidence that they have been enormously exaggerated. [Here quotes Sir. H. Maine in Early Historical Institutions, pp.96, 97, who expresses the view that “theories of race have little merit”, and further quotes J. S. Mill who “justly says, ‘Of all vulgar modes of escaping from the consideration of the effect of social and moral influences on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent national differences.’” (Pol. Economy, i, 390.) Ethnologically the distribution and even the distinction of Celts and Teutons are questions which far from settled [here Lecky cites Mr. Huxley ‘On the Forefathers of the English People’, Pall Mall Gazette, 10 Jan 1870 - and refers to Latin writers account of Celts as tall, light-haired and blue-eyed] and the qualities that are supposed to belong to each have very seldom the consistency that might be expected. Nations change profoundly in the very respects in which their characters might be thought to be indelible, and the theory of race is met at every turn by perplexing exceptions. No class of men have exhibited more fully the best of what are termed Teutonic [397] characteristics than the French Protestants. The noblest expression in literature of that sombre, poet, religious imagination which has been described as especially Teutonic is to be found in the Italian Dante.


The Irish were at one time noted for their sexual licentiousness. For the last two centuries they have been more free from this vice than the inhabitants of any other portion of the empire. As late as the eighteenth century Arthur Young traced the chief evils of France to the early and improvident marriages of the French peasantry (Young, Tour of France). Such marriages are now probably rarer in France than in any other considerable country in Europe.


But even if the distinctive characteristic of different races were fully established, they would throw little light on English or Irish history. In England, the succession of invasions and settlements in the early part of is history, and to a certain extent the later immigration of foreign elements, have produced such a mixture of races that no inference about the connection between race and national character could be safely drawn from English experience. The whole or nearly the whole island at the time of the Roman invasion appears to have been inhabited by a Celtic population, speaking a Celtic tongue; and although the Roman influence was very superficial, and the Teutonic Saxons obtained a complete ascendancy, the Celtic element was still far from [398] extinguished in at least the western half of the island. The Norman invasion, refugee immigrations, and constant intermarriages added to the mixture of the races.


In Ireland the original Celtic stock had been tinctured even before the Norman invasion with a very considerable Scandinavian element, and long before the eighteenth century successive English and Scottish immigrations had made its predominance extremely doubtful. As early as 1612 Sir John Davis said “There had been so many English colonies planted in Ireland, that if the people were numbered at this day by the poll, such as were descended of English race would be found more in number than the native inhabitants.” (Discovery of the True Causes, p.2.) In 1640, in the Remonstrance of Grievances drawn up against the government of Strafford, it was urged that the people of Ireland were “now for the most part of British ancestors” (Leland, History of Ireland, iii, 60.) The Cromwellian period greatly increased the predominance of the English element, both by the introduction of new settlers, and by the extirpation of a great part of the old race, and a similar though less sanguinary process of chance continued for many 399[] years after the Revolution. There is indeed every reason to believe that in Leinster and Ulster, which are the provinces that have played by far the greatest part in Irish history, the Saxon and Scotch elements have long been predominant, and a great modern authority was probably perfectly accurate when he asserted that there was no difference of race between the native of Devonshire and the native of Tipperary. [Cites Huxley [...] ‘On the Forefathers of the English People’]. The more the question is examined, the more fallacious will appear the reasoning that attributes most Irish evils to the Celtic character. Tipperary and other counties, which are largely inhabited by descendants of Cromwellian Puritans, have been foremost in Ireland for the aggressive and turbulent qualities of their inhabitants; while, for a long period at least, no parts of the British empire have been more peaceful, ore easy to govern, and more free from crime than some of the purely Celtic districts in the west or in the south. A proneness to crimes of combination has been one f the worst and most distinctive evils of modern Irish life. But that proneness has been nowhere more conspicuous than in counties where the inhabitants are chiefly descended from Englishmen; it has not been a characteristic of other Celtic nations; and it has never been very widely shown among the great masses of Irishmen who are congregated in England, the United States, and the colonies, though in other respect their moral character has often deteriorated. (Sir C. Lewis, On Irish Disturbances [i.e, in England], p.326) [...; 400]

Hostility to the English Government is so far from being peculiar to Celts, that it has long passed into a proverb that in this respect the descendants of English settlers have exceeded the natives, and there have been few national movements in Ireland at the head of which English names may not be found. Nor can anyone who follows Irish history wonder at the fact. “If”, wrote an acute observer in the beginning of the eighteenth century, “we had a new sette [of officers] taken out of London that had noe knowledge or engagements in Ireland, yet in seven years they would carry a grudge in their hearts against the oppressions of England; and as their interest in Irish ground increased, soe would their aversion to the place they left. So it hath been these five hundred years; so it is with many of my acquaintance but lately come from England; an so it is likely to be till the interests be made one.” (Letter from Lord B. of J., March 1702, Southwell Correspondence, Brit. Mus. Bibl. Egert. 917, p.186.)

For these reasons it appears to me that although the Celtic element has contributed something to the peculiar development of Irish character and history, the part played in later Irish history has been greatly exaggerated. It is probable indeed that climate has been a more important influence than race, both in determining the prevailing forms of industry and in its direct physical operation on the human being.

[On Catholicism]
The influence of the prevailing religion has no doubt [401] been very great. Catholics, like all other religions that have approved themselves to the hearts and consciences of great bodies of men, brings with it its own distinctive virtues, and it has contributed much both to the attractive charm and to the sterling excellence of the Irish character. But it is on the whole a lower type of religion than Protestantism, and it is peculiarly unsuited to a nation struggling with great difficulties. It is exceedingly unfavourable to independence of intellect and character, which are the first conditions of national progress. It softens, but it also weakens the character, and it produces habits of thought and life not favourable to industrial activity, and extremely opposed to political freedom. In nations that are wholly Catholic, religious indifference usually in some degree corrects these evils, and the guidance of affairs passes naturally into the hands of a cultivated laity actuated by secular motives, and aiming at secular ending. But no class of men by their principles and their modes of life and of thought are less fitted for political leadership than Catholic priest. It is inevitable that they should subordinate political to sectarian considerations. It is scarcely possible that they should be sincerely attached to tolerance, intellectual activity, or political freedom. The theological habit of mind is beyond all others the most opposed to that spirit of compromise and practical good sense which is the first condition of free government; and during the last three hundred years the graduation restriction of ecclesiastical influence in politics has been one of the best measures of national progress. It may indeed be sagely asserted that, under the conditions of modern life, no country will every play a great and honourable part in the world if the policy of its rulers or the higher education of its people is subject to the control of the Catholic priesthood. In Irish history especially the dividing influence [402] of religious animosities is too manifest to be overlooked, and there is no doubt that the Catholicism of the bulk of the people has in more than one way largely contributed to their alienation from England. It deepens the distinctive differences of the national type. The Church as an organised body becomes the centre of national affections, bringing in its train political sympathies, affinities, and interests wholly difference from those of the great majority of Englishmen. Besides this, Catholicism, when it has once saturated with its influence the character of a nation, has a strangely antiseptic power, giving a wonderful tenacity to all old traditions, habits, prejudices, and tendencies.

But, notwithstanding all of this, it would have been politically comparatively innocuous had it not been forced by oppression into antagonism to the law; had not the policy of confiscations thrown upon the priesthood the leadership of the people; had not the commercial spirit, which is the natural corrective of theological excesses, been unduly repressed. As it is, its injurious effects have been greatly exaggerated. The Act of William against “robbers, rapparees, and tories”, shows that Protestants and reputed Protestants as well as Papists and reputed Papists were concerned even in the outrages that followed the confiscations of the Revolution [...]. (pp 396-403.)


[Of pilgrimages]
Priests and friars, drawn from the peasant class, and almost wholly destitute of human learning, but speaking the Irish tongue, and intimately acquainted with the Irish character, flitted to and fro among the mud hovels; and in the absence of industrial and intellectual life, and under the constant pressure of sufferings that draw men to the unseen world, Catholicism acquired an almost undivided empire over the affections and imaginations of the people. It consecrated that mendacity which was one of the worst evils of Irish life. Its numerous holidays aggravated the natural idleness of the people. It had no tendency to form those habits of self-reliance, those energetic political and industrial virtues in which the Irish character was and is lamentably deficient; but it filled the imagination with wild and beautiful legends, it purified domestic life, it raised the standard of female honour, it diffused abroad a deep feeling of content or resignation in extreme poverty [here quote Devonshire Commission: ‘This characteristic, which must have struck all who have come in contact with the Irish poor in times of distress, was forcibly noticed in the Report of the Devon Commission: “We cannot forbear [...] expressing our strong sense of the patient endurance which the labouring class have generally exhibited, under sufferings greater, we believe, than the people of any other country in Europe have to sustain.” (ii, 1116)’], an unfaltering faith in a superintending Providence, a sentiment of reverence which is seldom wholly wanting in an Irish nature, and which has preserved it from at least some of the worst vices that usually accompany convulsions and great political agitations on the Continent.

It is remarkable, too, that superstition in Ireland has commonly taken a milder for than in most countries. Irish history contains its full share of violence and massacre, but whoever will examine these episodes with impartiality may easily convince himself that their connection with religion has in most cases been superficial. Religious cries have sometimes been raised, religious enthusiasm has been often appealed to in the agony of the struggle; but the real causes have usually been conflicts of races and classes, the struggle of a nationality against annihilation, the invasion of property in land, or the pressure of extreme poverty. Among the Catholics at least, religious intolerance has not been a prevailing vice, and those who had studied closely the history and the character of the Irish people can hardly fail to be struck with the deep respect for sincere religion in every form, which they have commonly evinced. Their original conversion to Christianity was probably accompanied by less violence and bloodshed than that of any equally considerable [408] nation in Europe; and in spite of the fearful calamities that followed the Reformation, it is a memorable fact that not a single Protestant suffered for his religion in Ireland during all the period of the Marian persecution in England. The treatment of Bedell during the savage outbreak of 1641, and the Act establishing the liberty of conscience passed by the Irish Parliament of 1689 in the full flush of the brief Catholic ascendancy under James II, exhibit very remarkably this aspect of the Irish character; and it is displayed in another form scarcely less vividly during the Quaker missions, which began towards the close of the Commonwealth, and continued with little intermission for two generations.

This curious page of Irish history is but little know. The first regular Quaker meeting in Ireland was established in Lurgan by an old Cromwellian soldier named William Edmundson, about 1654 [...]. (pp.407-09.)

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